Photo editing and processing, what’s allowed

I’ve been contacted by a few photographers this week who were under the impression that their images are not eligible for the competition due to digital editing used and I’d like to give some assurances for anyone else under the same impression. I’ve had some really great questions too and I’d like to share the answers I’ve given on email and social media for everyone’s benefit.

I’d like to mention the great Ansel Adams at this point, for he is considered the master of landscape photography. Adams captured his images on film but would spend hours and even days “chemically photoshopping” them in the darkroom and the fruit of his labours are the creative masterpieces that we know today.

If we draw the parrallels with Adams methods and digital photography, then much of the processes in the software produce the same results as he did in the darkroom. Dodging and burning, selective focus, blurring, under and over exposing and toning are all traditional processes that are done digitally now. Digital photography has made things a lot easier and as a result of that, it means lots of photographers have been introduced to photography where they can express their vision and produce results like Adams did in the darkroom.

Adams pushed the boundaries of photography through his methods and this is what photographers are doing today, they’re just using digital tools. (It’s also no accident that the prizes on offer include Photoshop training courses) The SLPOTY competition is progressive in that sense and photoshop isn’t going away any time soon, so it welcomes any photograph that pushes the boundaries, so long as the integrity of the image is maintained. So, to be as helpful as possible, I’ve listed answers to the questions I’ve been asked below.

Please note:  This post is not encouraging you to use digital editing in all your images. This is a photography competition after all, not a photoshop competition, so if your photo doesn’t need photoshopping, then don’t do it. Over editeding is the number 1 reason that a lot of very good photographs fail at the final round. We cannot stress enough that the stronger your original images, the more effective the final result will be. Field craft and proper photograpy skills will always impress the judges more than editing work.

What are the limits?

Each category has different limits on digital adjustments and for full details, you should refer to the relevant category page. (roll your mouse over the categories link on the main menu above)

In general,

1 – if a result can be achieved using software that can be achieved in a traditional darkroom, then it is allowed in the competition – within reason

2 – if your camera has in-built features that can create unusual effects, and the image was created in your camera then it is allowed in the competition. You may be asked for the original image/raw file

3 – if you use a special technique with your camera, shaking, moving, panning, tilting etc., then it is allowed in the competition


Cropping – Allowed


Cropping is allowed but it is best not to crop your image too far as it will reduce the size of the print possible. Ths means if we have to print at A3, quality will be lost in the image.

Multiple exposures – Allowed

Many digital cameras allow multiple exposures to be taken in camera. If your camera does not allow this feature, you may make multiple exposures by combining several images in photo editing software, however, the images must be taken at the same time and place and in sequence. It is not allowed to take a photo an hour, or day later then combine it with a photo taken previously.

In camera creative blurring, Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) – Allowed

The technique of creative blurring or “interntional camera movement” has been around for a very long time. It was very popular around 20 years ago in the field of wildlife photography to capture birds in motion. Competitions such as the Wildlife Photographer of the Year showcased many images using this technique. This video gives a good example of it in use.

Colour conversions, colour changes and toning – Allowed

You may convert your images to black and white, monotone, single colour or split tone your images. These are all techniques developed in traditional photography and are allowed with your digital software. H

Exposure changes – Allowed

Digital cameras are not great with highlights. If you have intentionally under exposed your image to recover shadows and midtones through RAW processing, this is allowed. Some cameras can under expose 5-6 stops stops and still recover shadow and mid tone detail. We recognise this is a skill similar to traditional B&W photography where exposing for the shadows and developing for the highlights produces the desired results.

Post camera selective focussing, blurring post production- Allowed

In traditional darkroom printing, techniques such as blurring and selective focus have been used for a long time. These effects were achieved by holding the paper at an angle under the enlarger or tilting the enlarger head during exposure. These techniques are permitted to use in your photo editing software.

Dodging and burning- Allowed

Dodging and burning is widely used in darkroom techniques and is therefore allowed in digital editing.


Cloning out or in – Not Allowed* in the landscape, seascape or overall awards.

Cloning 1

Cloning out of objects or people, in the landscape, seascape and overall awards is not permitted. *Cloning is allowed in the Urban Category

Composites – Not Allowed*


Composites of two separate images, stripping in skies from one image into another are not allowed.  Composites are allowed in the Urban Category.

Moving or rearranging objects, people etc – Not Allowed*


Moving objects or people around in an image are not allowed in the landscape, seascape or overall awards. Moving objects and people is allowed in the Urban Category.

Adding light or changing the look of the light in an image.

Do not add or change the light in your photograph. For example, painting the image to make it look like there is light on a surface, introducing light etc. There are many plugins that can create sunsets from foggy days for example. Such images may be disqualified or marked downnif in line for a prize. Please use plugins sparingly or not at all as we will request your RAW files to compare.

RAW files, camera jgs and tiff files

Although there is flexibility in the allowed level of editing, where a major prize is concerned, we will ask to see your original camera RAW files.  There are two reasons for this –

  1. to verify the authenticity of your image(s) and
  2. for your protection as well as ours and our sponsors.

There have been well publicised disqualifications in other competitions and this is something we want to avoid.  We only ask to see the RAW files in the Landscape, Overall and Seascape categories and only if you have made the final round and are in the running to win a prize in those categories. We need to see the original RAW or camera jpg to ensure any edits you have made to your image are within the rules.

RAWs converted to DNG Files in Lightroom

RAW files imported into Lightroom, then exported as “DNG” is not an original RAW file. Please see below why we do not accept RAW files converted to DNG.

Native DNG files

DNG files will only be accepted if this is the native format of your camera – e.g. Leica, Pentax cameras etc.

Why we do not accept RAW files converted to DNG in Lightroom.

We strongly advise that you never delete your original camera RAW files. It is a myth that converting to DNG files saves space and is a “future proof” standard. If you delete your RAW file, you are past the point of no return and some programs cannot open DNG files properly. Always keep your original RAW file.

The DNG format is an “open standard” developed by Adobe but not adapted by camera manufacturers. The DNG format can also used to hide editing steps that not permitted in the rules. For example, you can import your original camera RAW file ( CR2, NEF etc), perform lots of editing, hide things, clone things out then export the file as a DNG. For that reason, if you submit a DNG file to us, we cannot verify the authenticity of the image. If your original RAW file has been “embedded” in the DNG file, then you should extract the original RAW file and send it to us.

What if you can’t provide your original RAWs – only DNGs?

If you are shortlisted for the final stage and you can only provide DNG files, your image may at best qualify for a commendation, but this will be subject to thorough analysis of your image, or sequence of images. If you have a portfolio shortlisted and you can only provide one RAW and two DNGs for example, your RAWs will be considered for other single image categories (landscape,seascape) Please see the FAQs page for more information on DNG files.

Good luck!



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