Digital photo editing is a skill that requires a lot of training and practice to get right, but the results can be truly spectacular once you know how to get the best out of the tools you have to hand. Having said that, as photographers and editors we do need to understand that technology has limits, and ultimately the best art will probably be created with less digital assistance than you might think.
Technically, it’s definitely amazing what kind of results you can get by polishing up photos that started off looking quite disappointing. Subtle effects can brighten up dark skies, switch facial expressions with those taken from other shots, remove unwanted objects from the frame, or otherwise completely change major points of interest in your pictures.
However, layering up effects can eventually begin to show, especially if you are not the most experience editor. It’s likely that any major changes will be obvious, even if you’ve technically done all the right things. It simply won’t look quite right in many cases. When you’re able to capture an image perfectly the first time, it really tends to show and look completely natural when compared against a picture that’s been improved in post production.
Perhaps because the differences can be hard to explain, it seems there is still a widespread misunderstanding that editing photos can save even sub-standard photography work. If you really want to produce good quality work and get better at what you do, we would definitely argue this isn’t the case.
Tweaks are one thing, and if you want to completely change certain aspects of your photos then that’s probably fine. You might not be staying true to the reality of what happened at the moment you took the photo, but in many contexts that’s not really important.
What does matter is when you consider the things digital software will never be able to do, no matter how much you learn about photo editing. A blurry subject can’t truly be brought back into focus if you used the wrong lens, or the wrong shutter speed, or the camera was shaken. Ultimately you might actually like some of the minor mistakes you make when taking pictures, though, as you have the satisfaction of knowing that it was purely your photography skills that allowed you to capture that exact shot. Maybe you can’t always save a bad photo with editing software, but that might be for the best after all.