Editing photos

– Posted in: Garden Photography

I am oblivious to the season when I edit my photos. Often it takes me months to do the computer work and to do the fine tuning each photo requires.  I confess I bring out in the photos that which I want to remember, perhaps not the way it really was; but as a gardener, and not just a photographer, I think my interpretation is part of what publishers expect from my work.

I have just finished an edit for the good folks at Taunton who publish the annual magazine Great Gardens to accompany each year’s Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. I won’t be giving away next year’s line-up here but thought it interesting to show a bit of what goes in to the editing process.

The above photo shows how the raw photo came out of the camera into the computer. It is washed out and the color of the rose is too magenta. I won’t attempt to give a full tutorial about editing in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) but this is how I finished:

I realize (as I do this) the color shift may be a bit too subtle for this small image to see in a blog but I will point out the whole photo is warmer and more saturated in the second photo.  I kept the rose from going darker, shifted the color a bit, and added luminocity in ACR.  Does the camera lie ? Is the photographer creating a folly ?

This dark leaf Sambucus ‘Black Lace’ growing with chartreuse ‘Line Mound’ Spirea would be stunning without much enhancement. But what I saw when I looked at this combination needed a good amount of editing to reveal something beyond a garden photo.

While I pride myself as a garden communicator illustrating the “truth” I see in gardens, I sometimes take the luxury of pushing the photograph into the more dramatic.  I added saturation, enhanced what little bit of lavender color there is in the flower, and very carefully cropped it to what I want to see:

This is how I saw it even if the camera did not, and even if it wasn’t there for someone else. We all see differently and with good editing we can get photographs to reveal our own vision.  It may be somewhat subjective to the “truth” of a scene but it is not the camera that lies, rather the photographer that interprets.

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of PhotoBotanic.com, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist with more than 20 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at www.photobotanic.com
Saxon Holt

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susan harris July 15, 2008, 9:32 pm

Thanks. That’s what I try to do with my extremely limited knowledge of Photoshop. You’re inspiring me to learn more.

Thanks for checking in Susan. Photoshop is an overwhelmingly complex tool and intimidates even most pros. You can do most of the editing techniques I use in almost any less complex software. The real trouble is finding the time to do it… Saxon

Nancy Bond July 15, 2008, 10:57 pm

Your photos are lovely! Great editing.

Thanks Nancy and I assume you kind words are meant for the finished photos ;->

Fern July 15, 2008, 11:14 pm

Interesting post! I always thought I was cheating when I used Photoshop to edit my photos, now I know that I am just revealing the truth as I saw it. :-)

The images rarely come from the camera the way we photogs really want them. However, there is a very fine line between revealing the truth and pushing the limits. That is where the art of editing and learning the limitations of printing and publishing factor into our vision. – Saxon

Heather's Garden July 16, 2008, 12:53 am

First, thanks for sharing your process with us. I find the fact that professional photographers routinely adjust their photos fun. It makes me that much prouder when I capture a fantastic image with my little old point & shoot and no image manipulation. Just to clarify, cropping is not image manipulation in my book. I admire your talent to “see” what would make the photo match your vision and the skill that you have in doing so. There is no question that both of your after photos are much better!

Thanks for your comments Heather and am sure your camera takes great pictures for small prints or web use. The biggest reason most pros adjust their images is not simply for color and density but to callibrate them for reproduction. Many colors need adjustments in the file to look accurate in print. I find many publishers these days no longer use their own color experts to compensate for the printing process and it is more and more important for the photographer to prepare technically superior images. Saxon

Helen aka patientgardener July 16, 2008, 7:36 am

I havent thought of editing my photos – but the results are amazing so I may have a look and see what I can do

Hi Helen; like Heather’s last comment your camera probably does a good job at making automatic adjustments and you have not feel the need to edit your pictures. But when you do want to play around with the adjustments you will find it fun to reveal and accent the “truth” of your images.


mss @ Zanthan Gardens July 17, 2008, 8:16 am

Of course, the camera “lies”–as do our own eyes, and for the same reasons. Our lenses are different, our focus is different, and ultimately seeing is a subjective experience.

And if it weren’t photography would be very boring. What makes it an art is that it is not simple documentation, but creation. The photographer’s job is to make me see something in a new way…to make me take a second look by challenging my perceptions. That’s why composition of the whole and editing of the details are so important.

Loved your comment. It is exactly my job to take a subjective experience and reveal some kind of “truth” Thanks – Saxon

Jan, Always Growing July 17, 2008, 11:46 am

I find that often cameras, esp. digital ones, do not reproduce what the eye actually sees, and, to really show the scene as it was seen by human eyes, the photo must be edited. I don’t think this is cheating, it is just showing what was really there to begin with.

The camera can never capture what the eye sees, if only because we see in 3D and the eye is connected to a human brain that not only adjusts for wide range of light, but is connected to our other senses which invariably affect how we “see” as scene.


Devin Pringle July 18, 2008, 1:32 pm

Photos should certainly be post produced especially when shooting a digital negative in a format designed for the process. I find myself doing a little reconstructive work on top of processing the RAW in Lightroom or CS3. The camera doesn’t lie but it does have the inability to show the entire visual spectrum and color depth that our eyes can see. These turned out nicely! The recovery feature is great for restoring washed out light casted photos. Keep up the good work. It helps photographers bridge the gap. Often times photoshop guru’s are graphic designers and not the photo originators.

Thanks Devin, sounds like you know what you are doing yourself. I will point out that while I do work in RAW myself, most of the image editing tools work in tiff and jpeg formats. The newest version of Bridge (in Photoshop CS3) works on these other formats I find I don’t use Lightroom as much to tweak final master Tif files.


Bob Pool July 19, 2008, 12:15 am

It’s nice knowing that I was able to see the subjects as you saw them and not as the camera did. It was extra work that was well worth it to others even more so than you. Thank you for the extra work.
Thanks Bob; in fact, I do the work for other’s benefit – I remember how it really was :-> Saxon

Catherine, My Garden Travels July 19, 2008, 9:47 am

I’ve always admired your photography. I’m a little intimidated using RAW, so I’ve never tried. Maybe I’ll give it a go. Thanks for your expert tips.
Catherine – you do not have to shoot in RAW to benefit from the various editing tools. As I mentioned above, the main editing tool I use is Bridge (in Photoshop CS3) which works in jpegs too. Also, even when you do shoot RAW, you can have the editing program on Auto Adjust. Only when you really need to push the photo toward your “truth” do you need the full power of these editing tools.

– Saxon

Mr. McGregor's Daughter July 20, 2008, 12:42 pm

The camera does lie about color & color correction is restoring the truth to the image. I wish my photo editing program allowed for color shifting. I do make many of my photos more saturated to reveal the scene I as saw it.

I am surprised to hear your program does not allow even basic color correcting. I assume you have some software that came with the camera and I thought ALL those programs allowed some basic shifting if only warm/cool corrections.

wiseacre July 20, 2008, 11:11 pm

I basically crop – re-size and sharpen photos for web use. Now and then I lighten or darken / contrast if needed. – just enough to improve the image but not to change it.

Paint Shop Pro is a good alternative to Photoshop for those that don’t want or need to get too deep in image editing. It has enough kick to keep the slightly more advanced going too.

The only reason I spend so much time editing photos is I take too darn many :)

Oh do I roll my eyes in agreement over that last statement. I am still editin gfrom shoots last year…

rosalie August 3, 2008, 9:37 pm

Thanks so much for your generosity of information–so many serious photographers want to just impress others with their technical knowhow and jargon. I am an avid gardener and photographer —but new to digital cameras and camera raw dialog–who would appreciate knowing if you still make an unedited copy of the raw image ,
in photoshop, for instance, before any editing, as a fail-safe? With my “old” CS and images scanned from negs or slides, making such dups was the first thing I did, and any changes were only made on the dups. Thanks for your take on a newbie with camera raw!

Rosalie – I make and remake many copies of the raw image as it progresses through my workflow. I always back up the unedited, out of the camera RAW on a back-up hard drive just for that purpose. After I have done a basic edit, entered some global corrections I rename them per my job/file number, I save that raw edit on another hard drive. I proceed to convert the Canon cr2 Raw to dng Raw and make all final corrections and captioning in CS3 Bridge and Lightroom. Once that is complete I select and rate my “winners”, make a master Tiff file, and enter the photos into my database. At that point, the master tiff is done the dng Raw is also final, so I replace my previously saved RAW with the final one and also back-up my master Tiff as well.

It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but it is safe. Hardrives will fail, not if but when, and memory is cheap so back-ups are a must. Not just for the out of camera raw but the final raw and tiff files as well.


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