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The Eyes Have It

The first mistake photographers make is to assume that the camera can see the world the way the human eye does , this then leads logically to the assumption that images should not need any editing. So how does the eye vary from the camera, the following is a list of the variances I am aware of but there could well be others.

We have two eyes and the camera has one, hence the camera is 2D only.

The human eye can see a far greater contrast range than the camera, even if you shoot RAW.

The human eye can see colours easily which lay outside the colour space of the camera.

The human eye can give the impression of a continuously focused image, with no DOF limitations due to the eye continually refocusing and the brain then building up an impression of a fully sharp image. The camera can only sharply focus on one point at a time.

The human eye and brain really see things as a movie more than a still image, the whole concept of a still is actually quite abstract.

The human eye sees the world in a hemisphere which gets softer and less distinct towards the edges where only the centre is fully sharp, the camera sees it as a framed scene of relatively equal sharpness across the plane of focus.

The eye lacks the ability to zoom in or go really wide.

The brain is quite adept at creating missing information and concentrating on very small areas within ones field of vision.

The eyes are not subject to the same sorts of distortions that the lens of a camera is, we never for example see chromatic aberration, and unless our vision is impaired our eyes will not see vignetting on the edges of our vision field when for example "looking at a landscape".

Our eyes and brain are very capable of adapting to very contrasty scenes as needed, the camera is far less able to, meaning that most images will to the eye look far less contrasty in real life than on the captured image.

Our eyes have vastly greater resolution then even the best current camera sensors.


Overall one could reasonably say that the differences between human and camera sight are so substantial that any camera image is going to be strongly abstracted from the real life experience, and that any attempt to synthesize an image that even comes fractionally close to giving that "being there experience" is going to need a huge amount of post capture adjustment just to simply overcome the technical limitations of the whole photographic process.

All of the above goes a long way towards explaining why it is that almost all photographers have had that unfortunate experience where the image they saw before their eyes on a holiday trip etc. almost never seems to translate into an equivalent image in the final print.

The fact is reproducing reality in print is exceptionally difficult and only those with very high level editing and printing skills, coupled with files that are meticulously exposed are ever likely to get really close. It is much easier to shift the other way and push the image into the realms of the more abstract via highly saturated colour, increased contrast, special effect and the use of extreme lens viewing angles than it is to pursue the goal of immersive photographic reality and there is nothing really wrong with that either, photography is an expressive medium.

Looking at the work of most professional photographers and advanced amateurs I come across very few who even attempt to recreate reality, but even if it is a somewhat more abstractive and expressive image you crave the file will still need editing as the camera has at shooting time a limited array of options for you to tap into.

Of course one may choose to use all the pre-capture editing power of the camera, for example saturation, tone, colour adjustments and more but in truth that is still editing, it is just you are pre-editing the image via the camera’s "in camera processing algorithms", it is a long long way removed from the concept of say shooting film and simply pressing the shutter.

And just in case someone says, "yes that’s it shoot film and all your issues are solved" remember that in the past film days there was still a heck of a lot editing going on, it's just that the lab did it for you and included it in the price you paid for your prints.

So go ahead, edit to your hearts content and throw off those pangs of guilt that some want to foist upon you with silly statements such as "editing is cheating". My take is “to not edit” is actually image creation laziness and it will condemn your images to be far less than they could be.

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