Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing, Part I   5 comments

The Grand Tetons appear  smaller than they really are in this wide view.  Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

The Grand Tetons appear smaller than they really are in this wide view. Often very wide-angle shots call for minimal processing.

Last Friday wrapped up the short series of posts on learning photography.  But I thought I’d follow up this week with one more thing you need to think about: post-processing.  This post will cover general considerations and decisions you’ll need to make.  Next time I’ll go into specific software choices.

When I first bought a digital camera, I was under the naive impression that the photos coming out of the camera were what they were.  I knew you could do fancy things with Photoshop, things like putting several pictures together to make a scene that looked like it belonged on a cover from a Yes album (a 70s era prog. rock band for all you millenials!).  Or even merging my face onto Arnold Schwarzenegger’s body (I never did that!).  But since I knew I didn’t want to get into any of that, I just didn’t see the need to buy software.

Although I was blissfully ignorant of the real situation, I was partly right.  I was shooting in Jpeg.  And when you shoot in Jpeg the camera edits pictures before it displays them on the LCD screen.  You can load those Jpegs into your computer and do a lot of extra editing of course.  But the whole idea of shooting in Jpeg is so that you can do a basic edit “in-camera” and get the pictures out without extra work.  Now we have things like Instagram, which does (often dramatic) extra work on pictures before they are shared on the internet.  And all of this without you spending any extra time.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene.  Above it's in the trees while here it's in the layered clouds.

Like the image above, this one from the Texas Panhandle is processed to maximize the details in the scene. Above it’s in the trees while here it’s in the layered clouds.

Through this entire series I’ve assumed you all are on the road toward excellence in photography, and that you want to optimize your time and money on that journey.  The bad news is that in order to fully control what your pictures look like you’ll need to learn to edit them using one or several computer programs.  And this takes even more time and money.  You can limit the damage for the latter by buying your software while taking a formal photography class (say, at a community college).  Student discounts on the most popular software by Adobe and others are very significant, often well over 50% off!  The time you spend learning is directly related to how quickly you pick up computer software.  My experience included a good amount of frustration, and I consider myself rather an ordinary image-editor.  You may have more success.  But however it turns out, if you embark on learning how to use photo software you will eventually become proficient.  So never mind the misplaced images and other screw-ups, the plateaus in learning.  Stick with it!

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

Fairly soft black and white processing is best for this simple image of fog and trees on the Sandy River delta in Oregon.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

All I wanted to do with this flower shot from a recent trip to Grand Teton National Park was to highlight the blue.

THE ILLUSION OF THE UNTOUCHED IMAGE

One more thing before I continue with recommendations.  You’ll occasionally see folks posting pictures on the web with a caption that seems to brag “straight out of camera”, or words to that effect.  I’m not sure why people do this.  Are they saying their photos are inherently so good that they don’t need any further enhancement on the computer?  Or are they building in an excuse for unedited images because they don’t think they measure up to their usual high standards?  Or are they just feeling guilty about being too lazy to edit?

Whatever it is, they are using flawed logic.  Digital photography is similar to film in a very fundamental way.  Just as with film, in order for a digital photo to be finished it has to be developed, or edited.  Whether you shoot in RAW or Jpeg, the picture that appears on your LCD has been edited on a computer – the computer inside your camera.  Often the editing is quite minimal, but depending on how advanced your camera is you can (automatically) do quite significant things to an image simply by adjusting camera settings.

I can understand if somebody wants to share a picture but they don’t have the time or inclination to edit it.  Just don’t pretend the image hasn’t been “sullied” by computer-based editing, and is thus somehow more pure than an edited shot.  In the film days I didn’t like to look at negatives; I wanted to see the finished product.  It’s the same with digital.  The image starts as a digital file – ones and zeroes – and then gets rendered by a computer (in camera or out) into an image we can all understand and appreciate.

Two wildlife shots are pretty rare for me in one post.  This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

Two wildlife shots in one post are pretty rare for me. This is one of my favorite little animals in the world, the American pika.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

On a trip to Grand Tetons this past September I followed a creek up into the forest from where it entered a lake, and finally found this little waterfall.

YOUR EDITING DECISION

The issue isn’t whether you want your images to look “photoshopped” or real.  The computer only makes images look unreal or unnatural if you tell it to.  No, the real issue is this:  do you want to invest the time and effort to learn software and take full control of the editing process?  Or would you rather just use the camera to edit your photos automatically?  Do you like the idea of an intermediate option, making quick choices using Instagram?  One final option is to hire one of the many outlets that’ll edit your photos for you?

I’m not here to convince you one way or the other.  It’s your time, your pictures.  And your choice on this doesn’t mark you as either serious or casual, pro or amateur.  Believe it or not, pros shoot Jpeg, using in-camera processing.  They’re sports photographers who need to get their photos of the game out to online outlets while the game goes on and they’re still shooting.  I made the choice to learn some software and do my own editing.  But I sometimes question that decision.  Sitting at the computer is not my favorite thing to do by a long shot!

What I’m saying is to think of using a computer to edit a digital image file just as you would using chemicals to transform a film negative into a beautiful color photograph.  How much you do to the file is up to you.  You can keep it as close as memory allows to the way the scene was as you squeezed the shutter button.  Or you can take off on a flight of fancy.  Or something in between.  Your approach will, of course, help to define your style.  But however you swing it, computer-based editing is an inseparable part of the image-making process.

The sun sets early these November days.  Good night!

The sun sets early these November days. Good night!

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5 responses to “Friday Foto Talk: Post-Processing, Part I

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  1. Wonderful and I’m looking forward to future info.

    Annette Arnold-Boyd
  2. Well said. Especially the part of in camera shots – a lot of people don’t have a clue how it works.

    By the way, is this turning into a wildlife blog? Wonderful!

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