256 (50?) Shades of Gray (Grey?)

The question “What is permissible post-processing?” has no clear black & white answer. More like lots of shades of gray.

Gray vs. Grey = American vs British respectively

(Gray is used in technical color standards, e.g. photography and internet browsers)

256 = Number of shades of gray (including B&W) with digital cameras

(50 – well, that’s the book/movie)


The best way to answer the question “What is permissible post-processing?” is to begin by answering this question:

What is the purpose of making the image (i.e., what is its intended use)? Common answers are:

  1. Personal use & sharing
  2. Documentation
  3. Competition
  4. Publication

Typically, different post-processing rules apply to each category:

For example, there are no rules for category #1 – anything goes. Some of the most exacting standards apply to photojournalism (a sub-category of #2).

A final note – these four categories aren’t mutually exclusive. Further, their order follows the expected level of photographic quality and expertise – especially during the image capture phase:

For example, the quality of an image intended for print-media publication (book, magazine, etc.) is expected to be higher than one destined for the family photo album or Instagram.


2015-02-20_9-46-12            2015-02-20_9-48-35

Image on left was disqualified by World Press Photo for an ethics violation (3rd place Sports Features, 2010 contest; captured image is at right)

You will never guess why (read the next post for the reason)


The next post will discuss the various post-processing shades of gray commonly (or arguably) associated with the above categories. The message of today’s post is:

  1. What is and isn’t appropriate post-processing depends on the intended use of the image and not the subject matter or genre
    • An image of the Eiffel Tower might be captured for any of the four categories. Each is subject to different post-processing expectations (also different standards of capture quality)

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