Do you post-process your photo?

This question has been beaten to death really. However, I would like to write about my opinion here.

I have to first admit that I am an advocate for post-processing. There are many arguments proposed by antagonists of post-processing. They would argue that a photo is only “real” if it has not been post-process, that post-processing is “artificial”. Post-processing is a “lazy” way of achieving a good photo and that a good photographer should use good shooting techniques to obtain a good photo.

Well, it is true that one should not substitute basic good shooting techniques with post-processing. Maybe one can improve a poorly shot photo with post-processing slightly, but it is impossible to make a poorly shot photo into a great photo. However, post-processing can be used to enhance many good photos and make them into great photos.

Post-processing is really nothing new. Even in the days of film, many photographers, especially professional photogrpahers perform post-processing in their darkroom. It is at least half the reason why photos by professional photographers were always better than those by shot by the average Joe and processed in your friendly local neighborhood photo lab. Darkroom “post-processing” was a powerful tool that professional had which the average photographer could not afford in the days of film.

One of the major advancement with digital photography over film is that, the average photographer suddenly have this powerful weapon called “darkroom” available to him or her. The digital darkroom lives on your average PC and is available to anyone who is willing to learn how to use it.

If you give up on this powerful weapon, you are giving up on a major ability to improve your work. Many photographers would not give up the chance to own the latest and the best camera body. They would not hesitate to buy expensive lenses with the best optical qualities. All these are done in the hope that they will get better pictures. After buying expensive cameras and lenses, why do some of these photographers want to give up the chance of being able to get better picture quality by giving up on post-processing?

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7 thoughts on “Do you post-process your photo?

  1. Many of the greatest photographers, including Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc., performed extensive post processing in the darkroom. Burning, dodging, tonal control was a standard MO for them. In “Winter Sunrise”, Ansel went as far as removing a huge painted sign “LP” on the side of the side of the mountain which the boy scouts in the town of Lone Pine, CA painted. (It’s still there!) and it sure looks terrible.
    Ansel felt it was a hideous scar in a beautiful environment. He also said his photographs are often representation of an image in his mind which was not literally there. Most of the creative aspect of the art oftentimes happen in the darkroom. Now I’m talking about setting a “mood” or a “feeling” by tonal control, not adding picture elements or doing composites. I believe when you start doing that kind of stuff, you’ve gone too far. I’m talking straight photography, as in landscape, photojournalism, etc.
    From what I can tell though, in fashion and in commercial photography, composites are pretty routine.
    Each to there own.

    My 2 cents.
    btw- nice shot

    J Alan

  2. Hi Alan,

    Thanks or you comment.

    What I really was aiming at was that even just simple post-processing such as adjusting Levels and saturation and adding sharpening can greatly enhance and improve a lot of pics which some people do not want to know about. I am not even talking about complex post-processing techniques.

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Roland

  3. Another point is that if you shoot jpg, the camera does that exact post processing (levels, sharpening, saturation) for you, so generally I think the people complaining about post-processing (by which they usually mean “doing anything to the file in photoshop”) don’t understand shooting RAW format.

    Beautiful picture!

  4. Hi Roland,
    Absolutely agreed your view for post-processing. The one who stick to buy expensive lenses (Zeiss, Leica, ED / Asp lens…) for a best optical qualities. All these are done in the hope that they will get better pictures. After buying expensive cameras and lenses, why do some of these photographers want to give up the chance of being able to get better picture quality by giving up on post-processing ? What’s wrong ??
    I only disagreed to fabricate a photo by adding some feaures which was not existed in the original photos (except in commercial photos which has business need).
    In film era, the process was done at darkroom by a skillman because not everyone could own a darkroom. Now, the post-processing of photos can be done by each one in his own PC. The only difference is done by yourself or by the darkroom skill person. Both film photos/ digital photos were treated by post-processing from previous to now !

    Joe Leung

  5. I would love to post process but feel like I’m just twiddling buttons and knobs in an unfamiliar environment, even though I’ve got some college training in retouching (early photoshop, mid-90s). I can tweak photos to a visually pleasing point, but I don’t know the *correct* things to be doing. I’m always afraid if I show my work to others, they will criticize for taking too heavy of a hand to the shot, even though those turn out to be my favorites.

    I am thinking of getting some updated training, just so I can feel comfortable spending the time without feeling like it’s just wasted play time.

    • Hi Kelly,

      I don’t think you should be afraid of doing post-processing and showing your work to others. Although, there are some guidelines and known techniques, but even after reading all the books and taking all the courses you can, in the end, it’s all a matter of practice and preference.

      Sometimes, there is no right or wrong in post-processing. If the end result, it’s pleasing, then it’s good. And often, you may not be able to please everyone. What looks good to one person can be quite unappealing to another.

      And constructive criticism is not a bad thing. You have to be willing to take the negative comments as well as the positive ones to improve. If 9 out of 10 person said you have overdone the post-processing, then maybe you should really go back and try to do it again. Although you cannot please everyone, I think most people would hope that their work would appeal to the majority. Without showing your work to others, you will never know and improve.

      Practice makes perfect, it’s never a waste of time, unless you lock yourself in the room and continue doing the same thing over and over again without any attempt to improve.

  6. Hi Roland,

    It was once said by someone famous. There are two worlds, one we measure with line and rule, the second we feel with our hearts and imagination.
    In other words create what is in your mind and put it to print is what makes you happy, then do it. Design is in the mind of the beholder but not every one will agree, you must not give up. As Roland said thats what PCs are made for. Technique will always follow later wether in camera or PC we all differ but we all don’t become famous, life is always a challenge don’t give up.
    Regards louis
    Down under

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