The Art of The Capture

What is your definition of a photograph?

Is it the unadulterated image you snap through the lens of your camera, or your artistic interpretation of the scene? Do you believe you should present a picture As Is, warts and all, oversaturated and uncropped, or is it okay to touch it up with filters and photo editing tools?

I once dated a woman who believed a photo was only “real” if it was untouched. I, on the other hand, contended that it was perfectly okay to manually touch up a picture using readily available tools and technology if doing so improved the quality of the image. She so passionately (and stubbornly) believed she was right, we actually got into arguments over it. To her, editing a photograph was “cheating,” and in doing so, you are compromising the integrity of your image. “The sky didn’t look that blue in real life,” she would say.

But you know what? People don’t have red pupils in real life, either. The “red eye” effect is the result of the flash reflecting off blood in the choroid of the eye. We think nothing of fixing this when developing (or nowadays, uploading) photos. So what’s wrong with enhancing the sky or softening the shadows? Instagram takes this concept and runs with it. The few photos that are displayed naturally are often accompanied by the #nofilter hashtag. Pretty much everything else has been touched up to some degree. I don’t see any harm in that. To me, photographs are art – a creative expression unique to the person behind the lens. They are meant to evoke a mood, and making them “warmer” or “cooler” can help complement the background scenery.

Clearly, you can tell I’ve been playing around with photos lately. ‘Tis true. Here’s en excellent example, two versions of a photo I took in downtown Portland in September.

Original image.
Original image.
Retouched image.
Retouched image.

See what a dramatic difference a little editing can make? I think it improved the photo immensely. Is it “cheating,” as that ex would insist? Or is it enhancing something that was there all along? I guess you’ll have to be the judge of that. All I know is, I’ll make manual improvements to a photo every single time if the end result turns out that stunning. I also think there’s a fine line, and you don’t want to overdo it. A little editing is great, but too much just makes your shot look cartoony. Finding that balance is key.

Speaking of stunning, Saturday night we got all cultured up. We had been wanting to do something special with Audrey, and Tara stumbled upon a concert by a dance troupe called iLumiDance. I’d have a tough time describing them, but if I had to try, I’d call them contemporary dancers who utilize glow sticks, black lights, and other props to tell a unique story. Sounded interesting enough, so Tara bought tickets. That’s when she discovered the show was in Salem, rather than Portland. Oops.

In the overall scheme of things, not a huge deal. Salem’s about an hour south of us. And it was a Saturday night. I decided to set aside my initial skepticism and embrace the evening as an adventure. Which is exactly how it turned out. We arrived in Salem around 5 PM, two and a half hours before showtime. But it was overcast, and the sun had already set. As much as we wanted to explore the city – I’ve only ever passed through a couple of times, usually on my way to the coast – we figured we wouldn’t have much of a chance at sightseeing. Until we found the state capitol building. Even though I’ve lived here almost exactly 19 years (tomorrow’s my anniversary), I had never even seen the building. Well, the way it was lit up after dark, with the sky a purple post-sunset glow, made it appear quite stunning. Check it out. (This photo is NOT touched up in any way – though it could be (and was for Instagram).

Oregon state capitol in Salem.
Oregon state capitol in Salem.

We wandered around the grounds for quite a while, stopping to check out a reflecting pool, a Walk of Flags, and a miniature version of the Liberty Bell. All quite impressive. Then we ducked into a Mexican restaurant and ordered margaritas to kill some time.Had a nice “adult” type chat with Audrey. (It’s still weird that I no longer see my kids every other week). Finally, we headed to the Elsinore Theater, an elegantly restored historic theater dating to 1926. It was beautiful inside, and the show itself was thrilling – an expertly choreographed three-act performance complete with intermissions and an orchestrated version of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” I can’t say I’m a big dance fan, but this really grabbed my attention and held my interest. Tara was near tears, and Audrey was equally impressed. It turned out to be a real fun time. Afterwards, we stopped at Jack In The Box for a late night meal on the ride home. Audrey stayed the night. We had pumpkin pancakes and sausage for breakfast the next morning, hung out for a while afterwards, then I took her home.  Watched the Broncos/Chiefs game in the evening. Made chicken tortilla soup. Our team won.

It was a nice weekend.


Published by Mark Petruska

I'm a professional writer and editor living my best life in south central Wisconsin.

17 thoughts on “The Art of The Capture

  1. ” Do you believe you should present a picture As Is, warts and all, oversaturated and uncropped, or is it okay to touch it up with filters and photo editing tools?”

    Okay, here are my own personal feelings about that, Mark.

    My feelings is that a photograph is how a photographer SEES the image. Photography is like creating a piece of art (a painting, a drawing, a sculpture), so however the photographer SEES the image is how the image should be shown. If they want to just crop it a little and sharpen it up, so be it. However, if they wish to use photo editing to enhance the image, then so be that too.

    I know several photographs who severely frown upon photo editing because they feel that it’s the easy way to create a photo and that ANYONE can do that. But I don’t think that’s true because it takes talent (and an eye) to do that.

    I do both. Sometimes I just shoot a photograph as is and like it as is. Other times I will play around with editing until I get it to be how I SEE it.

    Photo editing is like any art tool. It’s there to create!

    Btw, I LOVE your photographs, both touched and untouched.

    Well done, buddy!


    1. Thanks for your feedback, Ron. I was particularly interested in your opinion because I know you are a bit of a camera ace and would have some good feedback on the whole to-edit-or-not-to-edit debate.

      “I know several photographs who severely frown upon photo editing because they feel that it’s the easy way to create a photo and that ANYONE can do that. But I don’t think that’s true because it takes talent (and an eye) to do that.” Funny you should write those words, as they were that girlfriend’s exact argument. And I always responded the way you did: it takes talent and an eye to even compose a decent shot in the first place. Well said! Bravo!


  2. When I edit a photo it’s very minimal…..I’m one of those people who thinks if it’s ‘over-edited’, it’s not the “real” photo. With my photos, I usually just edit the sharpness, and the contrast a bit. But…..everyone is different. 🙂


      1. Oy. *shakes head* I love photography, I do have to say. My goal is to buy a DSLR, not that I’ll have any clue how to use it……but oh! the photos I’ll take. 🙂


  3. Sounds like a lovely weekend, Mark. I certainly don’t believe it’s cheating to touch up an image. Is it cheating to rewrite? This could make for a great discussion, however. And you’re right, the second photo is way better!

    Tell Tara I said hi. Hope your week is going well so far.

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. Ahh, yes – great point on rewriting. I suppose it would be cheating to rewrite The Catcher In The Rye and pass it off as your own, but drafting your own work? Of course not. I’m not touching up an Ansel Adams print of Yosemite, for crying out loud. Well put! Thank you from above the equator!

      I passed along your message and Tara says hi right back to you and Sara.


  4. Edit to your heart’s content. Done well, it can add drama to a scene. Rare is the “perfect” shot. There is nothing wrong with cropping out an unsightly drain pipe or making pupils their natural color.


    1. Thank you, Honie Briggs. Your insight is much appreciated. What if I wanted to crop IN an unsightly drain pipe? Like, if I thought it made a bold statement in a picture of Death Valley or something?


  5. I do believe, and correct me if I’m wrong, that nobody is naturally black and white either so for all those people that film and shoot in black and white, according to your ex, are cheating?


    I love the fact that we have creative freedom, to edit any picture anyway we see fit. Some of my best pictures are from using the ‘blackboard’ setting on my phone. I don’t consider it cheating. It’s just another way of looking at something.

    Edit anyway you see fit, Mark!!


  6. I can see both sides. I tend to like my photos untouched. It feels like I captured a moment perfectly and I take pride it that. But there is another skillset that allows you to enhance an image and perfect it after the fact. I guess as long as the photographer lets the purchaser know how it was taken, it’s cool to do either.


    1. I agree. Ideally, you won’t need to make enhancements. But there’s always something you can do to strengthen an image, it seems. Even if that means going minimal and switching it to black & white!


  7. I’m a bit on the fence with this artistic vs. realistic photo idea. If you are trying to show someone what something looks like, then I think you should use a very sparingly edited pic. For instance, I think your pic of the state capital was great & now I know what it looks like for real. The other pic you posted with a lot of editing, I would have a hard time trying to figure out what this place really looked like. I think as long as you tell people the pic has been edited, then I think it’s okay.


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