Debates sometimes rage about the degree of retouching that is appropriate – or in the case of photography competitions, acceptable – in the arena of digital photography. Opinions range across the spectrum from purists who feel that photos should be mastered entirely before being taken, through to artistic creatives for whom Photoshop provides a playground where the sky is the limit.
For our part, we agree that it is essential to place maximum emphasis on shooting an excellent image from the outset, in terms of all aspects such as composition, lighting, technical settings and sharpness. A poorly shot photo will simply never be great. However, the nature of digital photography and the way that these cameras function, creates the inherent requirement for skillful retouching, if the image is to fulfill its potential.
In this regard, there is a variety of factors to consider. For example, the dynamic exposure range of cameras cannot remotely compare to that of the human eye, which is truly miraculous. As a result, when shooting in a setting (inside or outside) where perfect lighting is not an option, deep shadows may be unavoidable, especially where it is necessary to underexpose your image in order to avoid blowing out a bright subject.
Certain software alternatives, especially those that cater for processing of RAW images from pro cameras, provide exceptional capability to compensate for this limitation, as well as tweaking specific sections or colours, for example. Post shoot processing also plays an essential role in correcting lens distortion, as in the case of architecture photography. To illustrate, below is the original of the above image of the Sandton Gautrain Station in Johannesburg, shot with a wide-angle lens in order to capture the full building within the available shooting space.
Professional retouching is also key in creating stunning modelling and product portfolios, not only to remove blemishes but again to counter possible unwanted shadows that typically look much more pronounced on an image than they do in general observation. Of course, the amount of retouching required is determined by the objectives of the shoot. For example, showcasing a range of subjects for website and other media images may require an evocative and aspirational, airbrushed effect, whereas straightforward event photography may call for minimal processing and almost immediate delivery.
Regardless of the scenario, however, the fact remains that digital images can always be improved with subtle, skillful retouching, applied with careful attention to detail. Given that we are in the business of providing the best possible imagery, our choice is always to utilize this key step in the digital photography process, with the purpose of optimizing our contribution to our clients’ success.