Editing Photos May Be a Thing of the Past

Filters make everything look the same anyway

Key Takeaways

  • Lightroom adds AI-powered selections and masks.
  • AI and filters make our photos look like everyone else’s.
  • Cameras and phones are so good, we often don’t need to edit at all.
Using Adobe Lightroom to edit a photo of a woman outside

Adobe

Adobe’s latest Lightroom update brings yet another AI editing tool—this time one that lets you quickly select the subject or replace the sky in your photos. This is a huge boon for working photographers, because it takes care of the boring busywork. 

AI filters are getting so good that one click is enough to make almost any photograph look great. In fact, even some pro photographers no longer edit their photos. So, do we need to edit our photos anymore? Or can we let AI take care of it all?

"I’d say that if I’m taking pictures just for fun then, yes, the apps on my iPhone are enough to make my images sharp, accurately exposed, correctly white balanced, and I can remove imperfections at a level that I’d be comfortable to share on social media," Cheryl Dell’Osso, Zenfolio’s director of customer engagement, told Lifewire via email. "However, when I’m shooting professionally, I want to be in complete control,"

Instasame

"Filters" are no longer just passive overlays that change the colors of your images. We now have beauty filters that not only smooth skin, zap zits, and recognize and whiten teeth, but even subtly shift features around the face to make them more "pleasing."

We can click to replace a sky with something more spectacular, and even re-light a scene to add drama. And sometimes you don’t even need to click. Phone cameras do wonders for low-light nighttime shots, and automatically blur the background to make the subject stand out with portrait modes. 

"Sometimes the quick effects can look artificial and lose the 'truth' of the original image."

The trouble with this kind of algorithmic editing is it can make all our photos look the same. Filter apps make our images look similar, approaching a supposed ideal. Then, AI is trained on successful, popular images, and the homogenization continues.

So, while it’s great to be able to pep up an image with a tap, and get an impressive photo to share, it loses any individuality. Worse is that in five or 10 years, you’ll look back on these images and see that their look has dated. Remember the psychedelic nightmare that was 2010s HDR? Or the lifted "matte" black of several years back, which turned all black colors into dark grays? Today’s looks may age just as badly. 

Don’t Edit

There’s another possibility that might seem radical: Don’t edit your photos at all. Of course, even in this case, the camera already has done some edits for you. It has to process the data from the sensor, for example, and turn that into a viewable image, interpreting the colors along the way. 

It’s easy to spot the difference between photos taken on an iPhone and a Pixel phone, because each device has its own look. That’s not a bad thing—one reason to buy a camera is because of how it renders colors and so on. For example, many photographers choose the Fujifilm X-Series cameras because of the way they render color. Fujifilm uses the term "film simulation" to describe its color looks. It interprets the sensor data based on its decades-long history of film.

Editing the water detail of a photo of a waterfall in Lightroom

Adobe

For many photographers, these looks are so good that they can be used straight out of the camera, without any editing, or with minimal tweaking to correct for exposure preferences. Product and editorial photographers will balk at this. They really do need the biggest raw files available, and they have to process the life out of them. But for sports, weddings, journalism, street photography, and many other areas, unedited shots are good enough.

"Sometimes the quick effects can look artificial and lose the 'truth' of the original image," June Escalada, co-founder of PhotoshopBuzz, told Lifewire via email. "That’s why sometimes professionals like to keep the photo as original as possible, meaning only slight [edits] to clean up or adjust the lighting. So, no, in-depth editing is not always necessary."

Using Lightroom to add a red overlay on top on an image of a bird

Adobe

Some may not like the idea of such looks, but when it comes to photography, there’s no objective truth. Film contains dyes, chosen for their look, ditto for paper, and digital is no different. "Unedited" doesn’t mean "unprocessed." You could argue that relying on a camera’s film-sim is no different than applying a beauty filter, and you’d probably be right.

Maybe the lesson is that a photo should be about its subject. With the right shot, all the editing in the world won’t help or hurt it. And if you give up on editing, then you’ll have a lot more time to take better photos.

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