My Current Take on Post-Processing…

When I first started taking photos, I used to hate the idea of post-processing.  I figured that there should be a way to get awesome images straight from the camera without any Photoshop, GIMP, or whatever.  The whole game changed for me last year when I decided I wanted to take photography more seriously…

Don’t get me wrong; I will never really be a fan of the perfectly smooth faces on models with absolutely no wrinkles, blemishes, or other marks that make people human… that’s just not real to me.  I still view post-processing as an enhancement tool, not a panacea.  In order to get an image that’s worthy of post, you still need to get the basics down and get a picture with sharp focus and good composition.  A totally bad photo can’t be fixed in post but a good photo can be enhanced.

Modern photography allows us to do in smaller amounts of time what people in film darkrooms spent a considerably greater amount of time doing years before I even picked up a camera.  I can take an image and enhance things in an hour’s time… it’s pretty amazing!  That being said, it’s still an hour of work and remember if you’re paying a photographer, the “Digital Darkroom (or Lightroom)” is where most of time is spent.  It may take an hour to get a set of 100 photos (typical portrait shoot for me when I’m being deliberate), to 1000 photos (wedding pros) but going through those photos and choosing “keepers” is time spent, then after that, depending on the extent of the edit, expect your photographer to spend 15 minutes to over an hour per image.  This means a set of 20 images could take in excess of a day’s time to edit.  This is why the pros charge what they do.

Let’s see an example of what typically goes on in rensu’s digital Lightroom…

Nikon D600 | AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8D @ 145mm | f/2.8 | 1/500 | IS0 100

This is the base image from a photo shoot I did last weekend.  Focus is good, subject is exposed fairly well (slightly underexposed but that’s okay) for the scene, overall it’s a pretty nice composition and image.  There’s one thing I can say about it right away that could be enhanced though… the subject looks a little bit washed out.  If I did nothing to this image but enhanced the contrast a little bit, it would already be an improvement since it would make the subject stand out more.  There’s more than just the contrast though; there’s a large blemish on her neck, a few small blemishes on her face, and her eyes look pretty dark.  Also, the top of her head is a bit dark compared to the lower half due to the light reflection off of the surface on the right side.  The overall shot (this is personal preference) is a bit warmer than I generally like so I’m going to adjust that too. Here’s the final image…

Nikon D600 | AF-S 80-200mm f/2.8D @ 145mm | f/2.8 | 1/500 | IS0 100 | Lightroom 4.2

This was all done in Lightroom 4.2.  If it wasn’t for the things that seemingly broke or became worse with the latest update, I may have been able to cut off a few minutes from the overall fix time, but in about 30 minutes I was able to turn this picture from the first one to the second.  Blemishes were removed and the skin around her eyes was softened (within reason), the big mark on her neck was reduced to almost nothing, her eyes were brightened, contrast was increased, color temperature was decreased, some curves adjustments were done to bring her out from the background more, and some selective brightening of her face (cheeks and above) was done.  I also applied a vignette which is a feature I like to put on almost all of my portraits because it draws attention away from the edges and to the subject.

And post-processing isn’t limited to this at all.  For this portrait, I wanted to enhance as well as bring out a very cool mood with the photo.  Post-processing can definitely help to bring out what a photographer’s vision was from the shoot.  Without post, there are certain looks I wouldn’t have been able to create.  A good example of this is the Dark Snow White photo from a few months back (featured in this post, second from bottom).  I saw the final photo in my head as I was shooting it and without the post-processing tools to selectively darken and de-saturate the parts I wanted to, it wouldn’t have been possible.

Remember, your camera is a tool, your lens is a tool, and your post-processing software is also a set of tools. How you combine all of those tools is what will produce the final result!


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