I will undeceive the last nostalgic people and refute the skeptics’ thesis, but photo retouching is an expertise requested to the professional photographer all along. In analogic age, one intervened during the shutter click, through specific filters, or the development and print process, through chemical procedures to balance the contrast or to increase the brightness, but also projecting light sources directly upon the photographic paper in order to darken or lighten parts of the composition. Today, photo retouching happens through software during the post production phase that follows the shutter click and forestalls the print. If before the photographer spent hours in the dark room, today she/he is glued to the computer!
Many times it happened to me of hearing negative or skeptic comments about the digital and its possibility of being manipulated, but I would like to reassure everybody: image processing is not evil, but just a part of the job. Unretouched image is always thought as completely pure and virgin. It isn’t so: the image, as such, is always filtered, result of manipulations, technical and specious, both you are conscious about that or not. In the case of analogic photography, the choice of the film, in terms of brand, speed and conservation state, is decisive for the final image result. The photographer, in preparation of the desired result, chooses with care the film, the photographic paper and makes lots of proofs before printing to find an optimal solution of exposure, contrast, intensity of whites, greys and blacks, working for hours on a single photograph. In digital photography, it is the camera’s software itself that operates a first interpretation of the light, hardly ever satisfying to an expert eye. Thanks to editing and image processing programs, of which Photoshop is the best known, nowadays we can have more control on the single image factors (as exposure, contrast, balance of white and other colours, intensity of whites and blacks…) and test their relative changes in real time.
The use of software for photo retouching always depends on the communicational aim of the project. Speaking about post production and photo retouching in photography shouldn’t be synonymous of swindle and incompetence, but just the opposite: it is a long and continuous work of study, research and design needed in the creation of any professional image. Any professional considers the post production phase as essential part of the process that goes from design to the print. For this reason, be aware of this next time you will say: “but did you use Photoshop?” or “but is this retouched?”. What do you think about it?