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Photo Retouching & Editing – Art or Cheating?

by Lyn Pasco February 12,2020 1562 Views

Photo Retouching and Editing

How much photo retouching and editing is too much?

Many photographers spend time on Photoshop, creating digital art out of the photos they took. Other people use the same tool and other photo editing apps to either enhance photos or remove distractions. There are also those who think that retouching and editing photos is cheating.

Over the years arguments whether retouching and editing photos is cheating or as a form of artistic expression seems to be never-ending. This is in light of the fact that people nowadays are fond of using technology in showing off photos. Some people find the use of camera filters and photo editing apps to be superficial and that digital photo retouching kills the true art behind photography.

Is Photo Retouching Really Cheating?

There are photos that have gone through several image editing techniques and end up looking like they are some kind of digital paintings. While some people think that editing photos is cheating, many photographers would disagree simply because there are plenty of reasons why photo editing is a must.

Without digital photo editing, it is impossible to capture the true beauty of the subject. A camera is limited to its specifications. This means that unless all cameras are able to adjust according to the needed focal lengths and apertures, it is not possible to produce near-perfect photos every single time.

Filters, for example, are subtle methods of retouching and editing photos. It allows the photographer to create surreal images that are able to create a certain mood or suggest an emotion. Photos that are not edited may not fully express the artistic vision. Photoshop retouching allows a photographer to express what his visions are from behind the lens and not always according to what is seen by the eyes in plain sight.

Retouching vs. Art

Is making photos look better cheating? 

For a photographer, it is not. Every photographer is an artist and as such, he can afford to express his own artistic perspective. Photographers take photos either for his or other people’s enjoyment. This means that every photo is meant to be counted as an expression of art. Just like a painter who has his own visions and ways in creating perfect paintings, photographers use digital photo editing to show off perfection of his subjects.

Photo Retouching Cheating or Art

Many editing techniques can be used to make artful photographs. Some make use of filters and there are those who are more adept at using different image manipulation tools in a photo editing software. Even as simple as turning colored photos into black and white images can already make a huge impact on the audience. Retouching photos allows the photographer to enhance his photos, using digital tools, for them to be appreciated by more people.

There is effectively no such thing as a real/original/unprocessed photograph.

Whether you are using film or a digital camera, all photographs go through some post-processing or editing stages before they turn out as the final photos. When using film the photos are affected by the chemicals and the different processes used in developing them in the darkroom. Digital cameras, on the other hand, have settings that can alter the photos even without manual manipulation of the photographer. So if you think that JPEG photos are “untouched” unless they have gone through Photoshop, think again.

Digital cameras are already built with programs that automatically adjust some elements in the scene, like brightness, tone, colors, etc. In some instances, the photos that come out straight out of the camera (SOOC) look more unreal than those that are manually edited by the photographer. The camera, in itself, is a computer so, technically, all photos are processed, unoriginal, and fake if using a computer to manipulate a photo is cheating.

If the idea of realistic photography means that the subject should look as is in photos, then retouching and editing photos should be perfectly fine. Letting the camera decide on how the photos should turn out risk the chance of creating vibrant photos that has realistic colors. By retouching and editing photos, the photographer has full control over the whole editing process. Photoshop, and all other photo editing software, is built to let photographers avoid having dull and flat-looking photos.

Control, Not Cheating

As there are a lot of standards when it comes to photography, it is worth considering asking whether photos need to be retouched or left as is. For example, an editor can make a person look flawless using Photoshop. This is fine if the photo is meant to portray the model as such or there is a need to promote a certain makeup brand. However, it can be cheating if the photograph is presented to make the public believe that the model has that perfect skin even without makeup.

Some photographers are retouching and editing photos to share their artistic visions. It may require heavy edits and will produce photos that are far from the original. This is perfectly fine because the photos are expected to be edited according to the photographer’s preferences.


In many industries, photos are used by professionals for their portfolios. The photo editing needs for portraits and headshots vary according to the specific industry that the subject is in. Actors, for example, have to make his personality shine through the photos. Retouching the photo elements can help achieve that. The photo retoucher may adjust the lighting, remove minimal distractions like stray hair, and even iron out wrinkled clothing. It is not cheating because the edited parts do not, in any way, affect the personality of the actor.

This goes to show that photos become unethical only if they are presented to convey something that is not true. The editor must consider the expectations or the preferences of the photographer or model in order to create realistic photos.

Ephotovn can help create stunning headshots from your photos. We have expert photo retouchers who have years of experience in headshot retouching so that your photos will be as effective as you wish them to be.

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