Tuesday, April 12, 2011

To post-process or not to process. . . That is the question.

Kiwi Macro. . .Taken yesterday in my studio--a three image HDR composition. 
This article was published today in England's PhotographyBLOG:
I recently read a thread on one of my favorite photo forums:  "Does anyone else dislike Post Processing for photos?"  

Great topic and conversation starter, really. . .  I think a lot of people are confused by just what defines "Photoshopping" a photograph.  Some landscapes that one comes across, my own included, often provoke such exclamations as, "That is so beautiful, it can't be real!"  

Old Orchard Beach at sunrise in November.  My husband was taking pictures that looked like this with his iPhone!  It truly WAS this beautiful. . .
 I think the goal I always have in mind when I take any photograph is to take the right photo the first time.  I never set out to take a picture thinking, "Now what I really want to do is spend a few good hours at my computer with this one!" 

But the reality is, the digital camera/photography process itself adds some noise or "grain", both color and luminance to most photos, especially the dark areas. It doesn't look naturally "pretty", as film "noise" or grain does. . . In fact, if the noise is pronounced enough, it can look like squiggly little worms when you zoom in on it.

Just plain ugly. . .

Both film and the digital process also don't seem to allow (at least in RAW format) for taking the contrasty, colorful images my eyes see.

I have read multiple sources which suggest that such film greats as Ansel Adams spent a great deal of time in his own "Photoshop" (read: the darkroom) dodging, burning and otherwise contrasting up and tweaking his lovely photographs that hang in museums and private collections all over the world to this day. So "Post Processing" or "Photoshopping" has been around for a loooong time now. Even the artsy pictorialists spent a lot of time getting their delicate, soft-focus compositions to look the way they did after the fact. . .

This photo, taken at Portland's Downtown Showdown, had a lot of noise.  If I hadn't de-noised it, it would have been unusable.  After the fact, it is one of my favorite shots of the night. 
 So, while I strive to take the right image in camera, and often come extremely close to the mark I set, I also have to de-noise my pictures and add a bit more contrast, saturation, and even brighten things up before they can be shown to anyone. And if I am turning an image into a monochrome/black & white, I obviously have to spend some time doing that. . .

Birches in new snowfall.  Taken in color and converted to monochrome in Photoshop.
 So, I guess I would say that while I won't waste my time on an image that was a piece of excrement to begin with, I will spend a little time making it look extra special after the fact, as all of the film greats and now digital greats continue to do with their own images. . .

  Yesterday morning, I was reading an interview with pro Cycling photographer, Seb Rogers in the book Sport & Action: The World's Top Photographers' Workshops by Andy Steel and there was a wonderfully explanatory quote from Seb: 

Andy Steel asks: "How much of your work is manipulated using imaging software?"

Seb Rogers responds: "It depends what you mean by manipulated. I only shoot in RAW format--never JPEG--so every single shot that goes to a client has been individually tweaked for white balance, curves, contrast, saturation, and so on. I like my images to have a fairly film-like look, with plenty of punch, so that's the way I process them. But heavy Photoshop work, such as the occasional insertion of a blue sky into a cover shot, for example, is up to the client."

I hope you've learned a little bit about the behind the scenes work that goes into many (read: most) photographers' photographs and workflow.  Please feel free to write in with questions you might have and as always, feel free to share my blog posts and website with any of your friends and relatives.

Best wishes and Happy Spring!  Cindy


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