28 Ways To Interpret A Photo

Edit My Photo

On September 18th, I asked my fellow photographers to join me in an artistic experiment. I wanted to see how a single photo could be interpreted by different people, and to do this I presented the test-subjects audience with an unprocessed photograph and asked them to “Edit My Photo“.

I knew that each participant would produce a different photo via post-processing, but how different was unknown. I must say that I'm shocked and amazed at the diversity and creativity of these results. The photographs on this page clearly show the boundless possibilities of artistic interpretation, and it all spawned from a single image.

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Read below the images for more discussion of results AND for part 2 of this experiment — everybody's invited.

Before going any further, I'd like to sincerely thank all of the people who participated in this project so willingly and enthusiastically. Seriously gang, this wouldn't have happened without each and every one of you. Every photo on this page is an integral part of this project. And a huge thanks again to my Grandfather, Ron McCoy, who gave me this great idea for a project. Now… on with the discussion.


You may be asking yourself “Why the heck did this guy pick such a cruddy photo to run the project with?” Well, the image was completely intentional on my part. I literally have hundreds of unprocessed images in the “To-Do” pile, but this one presented unique opportunities for the project.

  • Technical Flaws
    The horizon is crooked, there are dust spots, it's not perfectly exposed, and there are probably other things wrong with it too. I was curious to see how people would either “fix” these flaws, overlook them, or incorporate them into their final image.
  • Lack of Color
    The image contains color — it's just not as vibrant as most of us would like to start with. I wanted to see how people would deal with this, and how color affects the mood of the image.
  • Foreign Objects
    There's a string of buoys in the water, and I was interested in how people would deal with something that seemed out of place.
  • Simple Subject
    The composition is so simple in this image that it opens itself up for a number of interpretations. The overall mood of the processed photo would be highly dependent on the participants.

So basically, I picked the image because it would present the project participants with many processing options. I also wanted to convey (with these results) that typically overlooked images may actually have some life in them — you just have to be creative and open your mind to “out of the box” options.


The photos above represent vastly different artistic styles, each of which is as unique as their creators. The combined effort is much greater than any one person would spend on a single photo, and the results are far more creative and diverse than any one person could achieve. Some of the participants are photographers who I've been following for some time now, and I can certainly see their artistic style showing through even though they didn't take the photo.

This experiment further affirms my own beliefs that photography is 50% capture, 50% processing. You may not hold the same views (I already know I'm going to hear about this comment from the “purists”), but you can't completely dismiss the power of post-processing. When it comes to the artistic side of photography, Photoshop and other similar software is a vital tool of expression.

The main reason I think these results are so amazing is because I gave no instructions or boundaries as to what to do with the original image, other than “process the photo until you're satisfied”. What I got back was a huge range of technique and style. Amazing.


I've learned a lot watching this project take it's course, and I'm sure that the participants learned a few things too. But I think there are many key things that all of us can take away from this.

  • There's More Than One Way to Process a Photo
    In fact, there may be an infinite number of ways, you just have to seek them out and have the creative drive to try different Photoshop techniques.
  • Artistic Style Counts
    Your own style can show through with post-processing just as much as it can in taking the photo.
  • It's Not the Software, It's the Artist
    A ton of different software packages were used in these creations. Find something that works for you and develop your techniques.
  • Give Your Photos a Second Chance
    Just because a photo initially looks unusable, doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. A larger processing skillset will give you more options and allow you to use more of your images.
  • Art is Subjective, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder
    Everybody has a different taste for art and photography. Don't be so quick to judge the work of others as “bad” just because it's different than you would have done it. Instead, study their work and try to understand what the artist has conveyed. Being less critical and judgmental will allow you to enjoy a much wider spectrum of art.

So study the photos presented here, explore the techniques that were used, ask yourself why you're drawn to certain images, and see if you can find an understanding of why the artist arrived where they did. There's a lot more to learn than I've listed here, but you'll have to find it yourself.


Watching one image transform into multiple works of art has been absolutely amazing, but I'd like to take things a step further. What is it that makes certain works of art more appealing than others? Are there any patterns or consistencies to the more “popular” photos? To give us some insight to these questions, I need everybody's help again.

I want you to list your top 3 favorites from the images above. You can vote for up to 3, but no more — the results will be more interesting if you list 3, but you can also list 1 or 2. Each image is numbered from left to right, top to bottom. If you hover your mouse over an image, you should see the little text-tip pop up that shows the number and the artist's name. Vote by leaving a comment on this page with the numbers for your selections, and feel free to tell us what made you vote for them. I know there are a lot of them, but seriously try to view all of them at their higher resolution by following their links — there are a lot of subtleties that can't be seen in the thumbnails.

I tried to set this up with my usual poll plugin, but it didn't like the images very well. Besides, I think voting in the comments will work out better because we can vote for more than just one. So cast your votes now — I'll tally up the results and discuss my findings next Tuesday (10-23-07). Oh yeah, the most voted for artist will receive $50 in cash or giftcards (I'll let the winner decide).

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UPDATE: The votes have been counted, and the winner announced. See the results from this project.