Brilliant aurora on a winter night

Can we ditch the term “photoshopped”?
What most people mean when they toss that word around is “manipulated”, an image far from what the photographer saw at the time, an image with elements removed or added in the editing process.

I shoot in RAW, as I’m certain a lot if not most photographers do.
When you shoot in RAW you get an unfinished picture. It will be lacking in contrast, saturation etc. It is up to you to process/edit it to get the final result you desire. This is often done in Lightroom or Photoshop with Camera RAW.
This is when you can make sure your final image reflects what your eyes saw or you can go crazy and create a true work of art nothing like what it really looked like.
Or anything in between.
This is entirely up to you and there are no rights or wrongs in art.


If you’re producing journalistic photos you need to keep it real and true.
If you’re calling your work “nature photography”, well then you need to keep it natural. Don’t merge images taken at different locations at different times and call it a photograph.

Those of you who shoot in jpeg get a finished picture straight out of the camera but guess what? Those edits I mentioned are still made but they’re done in camera and decided for you by the people who made that camera.

When you choose one of the different “shooting styles” that many entry level cameras have, your camera sets everything for you. Doing this can produce pictures that are much more “unreal” than any RAW file heavily processed in Lightroom. (yes I’ve tried).
Many photographers will say “it’s natural, straight out of camera, not photoshopped!” when in fact your camera has done the “photoshopping” for you, basically slapped a filter on the picture and given you zero control over the final product.

You can manipulate the scene in camera when you shoot in RAW as well, of course.
Change the white balance to get weird colors, underexpose, overexpose, create motion blur, zoom in or out during the exposure etc.
Are those pictures entirely natural just because they came out of the camera like that?

GalaxySmallI created this starburst effect by slowly zooming in during a 30 second exposure.

And what is “natural”?
When you stand in a beautiful landscape watching the sunset, is the landscape in front of you pitch black? No?
Well if you take a photo and expose for the sky it will be.
Is that natural? Or is it a more natural result if you pull up the shadows in your RAW-file to show the foreground as you saw it. Or if you take three exposures of different lengths and merge them into an HDR image to show a much higher dynamic range, more in line with what your eyes actually saw.

2019-01-03_12-21-16sunset photo with the shadows pulled up in Lightroom

And then there’s those of us who also do astrophotography. Long exposures of the starry sky.
Our eyes will never see the bright colors in the Orion Nebula or the subtle colors of the Milky Way but our cameras do!
The information is there and our cameras capture it.

2018-09-04_02-32-20Single exposure of the Orion Nebula

A long exposure of the starry sky in a dark location will show many more stars than your eyes can see, straight out of camera with no editing at all. Is that “natural”?
To get a good photo of the Milky Way you absolutely have to do a lot of processing.

I just get so tired of seeing the phrase “photoshopped” thrown around when 90% of the time the person saying it doesn’t have a grasp of the meaning of it or the process.

If you really mean “manipulated” then say that and ask the photographer (politely) about their process. Any honest photographer would gladly answer. 🙂

If there’s any interest I’ll write a post about how I process my aurora photos!

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Wow! You must have a great camera!

Is this something you’ve been told before? Or are you guilty of saying it to someone else?

I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook today when I came across a beautiful aurora photo by a local photographer. I started reading the comments and came across one that said this: “Wow! What a camera you have that gets such beautiful aurora pictures.”

I know that the people who say this always means it as a compliment but it’s really not. It’s a bit like telling someone who’s just built a beautiful house that they must have had a great hammer.

You can take amazing photos with the cheapest, most basic camera and you can take horrible ones with a brand new D850. The camera is your tool, you create the image. The reason the woman on Facebook got a great photo is that she has spent a lot of time learning how to use her tool. She’s practiced for years, developed her artistic eye and figured out how to best use her camera to create the best image.

And let’s kill the misconception that you need a pro-level camera to capture the aurora. Here are a few examples from my journey.

This first one was shot with a Nikon D800, a great FF camera that was pretty much top of the line back when I got it and still going strong! Yes, you can get awesome photos with this camera but you don’t necessarily need a camera like this in order to get great shots.


The next one was shot with a Nikon D7000, a DX camera i used before getting the D800. Also great but very much cheaper and not aimed at the pro market. Still great photos when you know how to use it!


Let’s go even further back in time to one of my very first aurora shoots. Back then I had my very first DSLR, an Olympus E-pl1. This was their most basic camera in the PEN series if I remember correctly, and the cheapest. Back then I still shot in jpeg and I was learning by trial and error which settings to use. As you can see, this exposure was way too long and I got startrails but I still love it! 🙂


And finally a photo I took this winter but not with a DSLR at all. This one was shot hand held with my phone, a Samsung Galaxy s8. Because apparently phones can do this now. 🙂


My point is this: You can get great photos with any camera so don’t feel the pressure to get something “better” and more expensive if you don’t need it. Get to know the camera you have and use it, a lot!

And if you see a great photograph and you want to compliment the photographer, then do just that. Don’t compliment their camera because the image you’re looking at was created by the person behind it.