PHOTOGRAPHY: Edit or Process

Updated: May 25

What's the difference between Editing and Processing, and why it matters?

The difference between editing and image processing relates back to the days of 35mm film and the use of a darkroom. In a pre digital era (pre 1970's) film was literally 'cut' to make structural changes. We've all heard the term, "cut from a film" or "my scene ended up on the cutting room floor". To edit means to cut, remove, correct, condense or modify written text or film.

Now in a digital age things are very different, no actual cutting is done but we still talk in terms of editing and processing an image.


Editing an image is the processes of making structural changes, to remove unwanted elements, Cropping and cloning are good examples of structural changes. Editing is the removal of unwanted elements regardless of how big or small they may be. Editing is to alter the image structurally from what was initially captured. This is an important definition to those who don't want to Edit an image but may still need to Process an image.


Processing an image is to add my means of changes to that image. For example to add in light, colour flare, tonal changes. These changes can be both for image enhancement or creatively.

Creativity has always been at the foundation of photography. The exposer of light on film or sensor, paper or desktop is all part of the process of image making and is as old and the craft is itself.

I started many years ago with a SLR Olympus OM-40 shooting with 35mm film. I have the background training in film photography and can appreciate that there is no such thing as purism in this craft. From initial camera settings, developing a film roll, onto using an Enlarger, types and quality of different photographic papers and finally developing chemical, stop baths and fixers. Every step is a creative process with room for manipulation. The darkroom has simply been replaced by our desktops and programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.

Knowing the difference in these two terms helps to understand the post capture process when photographers talk about making an Edit or their processing workflow. Some photographers will strive to hone their skills so as to avoid Editing altogether. Some types of photography, such as photo journalism, should strictly prohibit all forms of editing and limit processing as it can alter an images 'truth'.


As a professional still-life and floral photographer alway edit and processing me images.

My first Edits will be to crop at 5:7 / 8:10 / square, depending on the project I'm working on. Unfortunately, however much care I take to ensure I avoid damaged leaves, bruised petals or little creepy crawlies (inevitable with garden and wild flowers) I'll always discovery something I missed and have to use my clone tool to rectify it. That's as far as my editing workflow extends. Following this stage I'll move onto image Processing. Principally I'll run my Beyond the Lens Actions to achieve. lightening, brightening, colour correction, creative colour enhancement and sharpening.

NOTE: I recommend Sharpening is left to the end and is done as part of image Processing and not as an Edit. Although some would argue sharpening is a structural change. I leave it to the end of my workflow because I believe it can cause unwanted pixel distortions if done before image processing.

No one wants to spend endless hours editing and processing their photography. When I worked as a Wedding photographer I could easily have over 2000 images to sort through with the aim of getting a client selection down to 600 images. Whilst Batch processing speeding up things up I certainly didn't want to be editing that many photographs. The better you get at taking photographs the less time you'll spend in Editing and Processing.

Processing your photography starts with taking good photographs, you can to some extent Edit and Process your way out of bad photography but life is 100% easier if you get your capture right in the first place. Some of this comes with the foresight in knowing what can and cannot be done in camera and allowing yourself to create from a position of good photographic habits first.