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To start this discussion, i would like to categorize all the post-editing processes into few groups, starting from the good, OK, grey, bad to the evil category.

1) The Good category (No risk)

This is the category that i believe the editing processes are 100% allowed.
* Converting RAW to JPEG
* Resizing the photo (Scaling down image resolution, save in smaller file size) to fulfill the maximum file size restriction for contest submission.
* Lens correction - sometime our tank does not look like a rectangular shape in the photo, but slightly bloated like having a beer belly. Lens correction allows the photo to be adjusted in a way that the tank shape look normal again.
* Rename the file

2) The OK category (very low risk)

In this category, these editing processes are supposedly not allowed but i do not think we are in big danger of being disqualified for doing so. These are in general some editing steps that will not change the content of the aquascape and some of the edited effects can actually be achieved by different camera settings or some photography techniques. The main purpose of these processes are to improve our photo quality.
* Cropping - cutting out the sides, top and bottom to exclude some messy surroundings in the photo.
* Sharpening the image - to make the image clearer
* Adjusting contrast, brightness and exposure - this is basically to make the photo darker or brighter as a whole.

3) The Grey category (Low to Medium risk)

This category involves playing with colors as a whole (full photo, not selective) or manipulating the photo dimensions.
* Adjusting color temperature - to make the photo tone warmer (more yellowish) or colder (more bluish). This can also be done with the camera setting by adjusting the white balance in the camera.
* Adjusting the color tone (Hue, Saturation, luminescent) - this editing process allow us to adjust the overall color tone of the photo to be more yellowish, greenish, reddish etc, or if we want the color to be more subdued or pop, depending on our themes. Again, this is referring to adjusting the whole photo, not selectively editing a certain spots or a certain colors.
* Advance lens correction by tilting or shearing the image - sometime our camera are not straight during photo session. The lens can be pointing downward, upward, tilted to one sides (left or right) or not leveled. So we use post editing to make the photo look straight again. There are also instances where aquascaper purposely shoot the tank at the low and upward angle to get a big water surface reflection and a more dramatic effect, after that they edit the image to make the photo look straight again while maintaining the effect.
* Touching up scratches on tank surface or touching up some big obvious bubbles (it happens ????).

4) The Bad category (High Risk)

This is the category where is it not advisable to do or do it at your own risk.
* Selective adjustment of a certain color on a certain spot (not full photo).
* Altering the fish - adding, erasing, cloning.
* Any other editing techniques that use "layering" method basically is high risk.

5) The Evil category (Dont go there!)

A lot of disqualifications involved editing process were in this category. This is basically "cheating" by changing the basic structure of the aquascape. So please do not do it.
* Adding items (hardscape, plants) that do not belong to the particular photo, or erasing items(hardscape, plants) in the photo.
* Moving items (hardscape, plants) within the same photo
* Distorting (bending, elongating, erasing, etc) hardscape or plants in the photo.
* Basically anything involves physical alteration of the hardscapes or plants fall into this category.

So there you go, these are the 5 categories of post-editing process that i know (there could be more, but i am not familiar). How far would you go and how much risk you are willing to take, i cannot comment.
Personally for me, i would say category 1-3 are still "acceptable" but it does not mean we will not get disqualified for doing that, there are still some risk especially for category 3. Do it in moderation and not against our conscience. Be responsible for our own action and accept the consequences if anything bad happen. This is my mentality.

Now let me tell you what i do for my contest photo:

i) i use Canon software to do my lens correction and if needed, i fixed the 2 very bad scratches on my tank glass by erasing them (my tank is 7 years old).
ii) i use Adobe Lightroom to adjust exposure, contrast, brightness, color tone, color temperature and sharpness of the photo. Dragging the bar left and right to find the best condition. Basically everything on color, brightness and sharpness are adjusted in Lightroom.
iii) i use GIMP (a free ware) to crop, scale down the image and save it to 5MB for contest.

I have done more in the past including some high risk one (guilty!). To be honest, a lot of this editings are mainly to satisfy our own self, you know, the artist's perfectionist nature. i do not think others, including the judges will notice much different with or without the edits, if they dont compare 2 photos side by side.
At the end of the day, just do what you deem fit and be responsible for your action.
ps: i only shoot in JPEG. RAW is too troublesome 
ps: I am not sure if this post will get me in trouble but it is what it is. As i mentioned, be responsible for our own actions.

Author: Josh Sim / Malaysia

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