With Art, the End Absolutely Justifies the Means

Let me say right off the bat that this article may piss some of you off. I don’t mean to do that, but knowing the make up of my audience, I’m sure that will be one of the outcomes. However, my hope is that MOST of you will be inspired and encouraged. Machiavelli‘s famous quote referenced in this blog post title typically is used in strategic tactics as it relates to politics, business or war.  The idea is simple: if the end result you need is achieved, it doesn’t really matter how you get there–even if you have to lie, cheat or steal.  It’s safe to say I’m NOT talking about that. But, what I AM talking about, to some folks, is almost as bad.


When I say “with art, the end absolutely justifies the means,” I mean that if the end result of what you create inspires, moves, and/or entertains, whatever means you take to get there is justified. For you photographers, that may mean significant use of presets and actions. For you filmmakers, it’s a combination of music, color grading, audio manipulation, and/or visual effects. But whatever YOU use to achieve the “look” that sets you apart, that signifies your mark as an artist, know that there’s no need to feel shame how you get there. I know there are some who feel that some photographs are “over Photoshopped,” or some videos get over “filterized.” I say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. If you’ve found an audience that likes you over Photoshopped or over filterized work of art, more power to you.

The reason that this causes controversy is that there are many who feel that the use of such programs makes for “lazy” photographers/filmmakers. That one should master the art of CAPTURING the image, and not rely so much on post production software to “fix” your imagery. I absolutely agree that you should always strive to improve your craft. In fact, the better the image is out of the “can,” your end result after applying your favorite post production programs will be that much better. But, you are no less a photographer, or filmmaker, or artist, if you choose to use post production software extensively.


The argument that is often made when this topic comes up is that the “masters” don’t (or didn’t) rely too much on post production. But, that would seem not to be the case. I recently interviewed American Photo Top 10 Wedding Photog Anna Kuperberg for my F-Stop Beyond podcast. When I asked her about this topic, she commented on how Ansel Adams did a lot of work in the dark room to achieve the look he wanted. Dark room then, Photoshop now. High profile commercial photographer and Nikon/Hasselblad master Chase Jarvis posted this blog post last week, where he showed a photo from Avedon’s with extensive post processing notes all over it.  Multi-award winning portrait photographer and instructor Kirk Voclain freely admits that 60% of his work is Photoshop.

When it comes to filmmaking, I dare say 90% or more of what you see on the silver screen and the boob-tube is heavily post produced. Whether you’re watching a fantasy epic like “Lord of the Rings,” historical fiction like “Gladiator,” futuristic sci fi like “The Matrix,” or even a love story like Will Smith’s “Seven Pounds,” chances are the editors did some major work to achieve the look they wanted. (With regards to “Seven Pounds” there’s one scene in the movie where Will Smith and Rosario Dawsons’ characters are sitting in a field of tall, golden grass stalks. It’s almost dream-like. However, when you watch the behind the scenes special features, you come to realize those grass stalks in real life were green!)

This all kind of came to me when I saw the end product my wife had when she took a picture of my hand picking cotton. We were driving through Alabama and came across a cotton field with an old abandoned home and barn. The raw picture she took was pretty cool in it’s own right. But once she added her desired presets, a completely different wave of feelings came over me as I saw the processed photos. They almost seemed to transport me back to that by-gone era. (You can see all the photos here.)  I knew then that it didn’t matter she applied a collection of presets to achieve that look. The end result was a beautiful photograph that moved me. One that moved me more than the original unprocessed one. It was her art. It was her vision. And the means by which she got there absolutely justified the beautiful end.

8 thoughts on “With Art, the End Absolutely Justifies the Means

  1. Wonderful article, Ron and Tasra's 365 day project is very inspiring. I, for one, wasn't upset with the content of the article. But if you don't mind, I'd like to critique you on one thing: please watch your grammar and spelling mistakes. They stand out. Sorry for being nitpicky…

  2. Great article!I struggle with this subject constantly: is my art in the capture or in the presentation?!?The truth has to be both. Just as lighting, music and digital effects in film can enhance a scene, so too can Photoshop techniques and post-processing filters affect a emotional feel of a photograph.I am a great photographer (IMHO), but I'm also pretty kick-ass in my “darkroom” too!”Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”Ansel AdamsHilarious ; )

  3. Unless it's bad art and in that case… it's all a waste of time 🙂 You have great points, Ron. Capturing a great image can be compared to having a great story, expressed idea, major concept, appropriate context, element of suprise, or maybe even everything you need to communicate and you don;t need to touch it at all. Typically, the effects applied and the post work is how you tell the story- with passion, with emotion, with candor, maybe mellow dramatic, maybe subtly and quietly? What ultimately makes for bad art is a story that is uninteresting to the viewer, confusing, uninspiring, just plane garbage. There is plenty of garbage out there for sure. Pixar is a good example of always having an amazing story first. Bad movies are that way.. usually.. because the stories fell flat.

  4. This is so true Ron.Why is it when some uses paint, clay, pencils, etc. to create a picture it is called art, but if you take a photo of something and then change it it is not art. I know someone that loves to take photos and then retouch them with color by hand. This would still be an art form.How ever you create it it is art.

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