Post Processing - How much of yours is experimental?

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by jordan2240, Nov 8, 2014.

  1. The recent WPPC threads in the digital darkroom forum (which we're still looking for volunteer 'challengers' for, by the way) have piqued my interest in post-processing, and where I used to be a minimalist in its regard, I now find myself doing quite a bit more. My workflow is typically to do some basic edits in the raw converter (adjusting things like white balance, whites, blacks, vibrancy, clarity, etc), then pulling the shot into Photoshop Elements, which is where the real fun begins. I'll start to play with layers for curves, equalizing, gradients, photo filters, etc, with no real direction but to simply see if I like the look they apply, and if I like it, I'll keep it. But while I find this great fun and have no intention of not doing it, I do wonder if it just makes me a no-talent hack who is a disgrace to the photography world, relying much more on the tools than ability. After all, I don't really have to know what I'm doing using this method, I just need to like it.
    So I'm wondering what other people do. Do you have a definitive idea of how you want a shot to look, and know just what adjustments to make, or do you play with the options and pick and choose based on how they impact the picture? And if you want to flame me, feel free - I can take it.
  2. "I do wonder if it just makes me a no-talent hack who is a disgrace to the photography world"
    You might be, but it's not my place to say. I am with you. I know generally what I'm after but sometimes/often my original path doesn't get me there and I try another.
    What counts is what's at the end not how you get there.
  3. What generally engages me about good post processing is when it seems committed to and when it seems to have a significant relationship of some kind to the subject matter and other aspects of the photo. Often, post processing can seem like an add-on and, unless that add-on quality is self-aware and seems part of the commitment and vision, it can risk not working or looking well. Much photography and art is some combination of considered direction and experimentation and accident. The precise percentages in that combination don't much matter except as they result in some sort of compelling image. Somewhat ironically, the more experienced I become, the less I hope I have to experiment so the more fluidly and confidently I'll be able to want to experiment.
  4. Familiarity with any approach or technique, such as that of post-processing, provides an artist (or photographer or artisan, if you wish) with tools that he can use to achieve a desired result. Once these tools are experimented and known for the effects they can produce they can be used more effectively in an exploratory or even very deterministic manner to provide a certain visual result. That is the outcome of an approach the artist wishes to follow to modify the latent image of his subject according to his intention or process. It can be perhaps thought of as "hacking" in some cases, but if it is looked upon and used as a tool of creation it can yield surprisingly good results. While my lightroom techniques to date are fairly minimalist (to use your examples), I have sometimes used odd techniques in modifying the darkroom projection of B&W negatives which might be thought of as "hacking", but which have been intended and do serve the purpose of creation. I don't assign anything particularly esoteric to the words exploration, artist or creation, as they are simply elements of good photography or any other media involving the activity of composition.
  5. Bill, there are many approaches to photography, and none of them is devoid of merit. Much of photography is serendipitous, whether through the luck of finding a particularly interesting subject, or remembering/finding a way to do the PP that suits your end objective. There's nothing wrong with that.
    Much of what I shoot is candids, and I personally feel a need to do this without directing the subject or arranging the scene. When I'm shooting candids, I try to choose camera angles and lighting that work for what I'm doing, with a general postprocessing approach in mind, but sometimes I have an interesting subject that I don't know how I'm going to handle in post. So I do a hail-Mary, shoot the subject, and find a way to deal with it later. And sometimes this fails. ;-)
    The only thing I'll say about the serendipitous PP approach of trying this tool or that, is that if you use the same slider on the same popular tool that everyone else is using, your photos are going to look like everyone else's. Moreover, your photos might look more like an exercise in the process than images that stand on their own merit. To the extent that you can develop your own, unique approach, your photos will stand apart from everyone else's. They might not be popular, but in time I think they will be appreciated more. They won't be described as, "one of those _____ photos from back in the 2010's."
  6. I like to think that the decisions which I make along the continuum from the point of deciding to take a photo to printing the final image, compliment one another and collectively drive the image forward. Sometimes the direction is fairly much pre-visualised and the steps are all about arriving at a specific destination. Other times the process builds organically with each decision nudging the image along without a specific goal in mind, each choice suggesting the next. Sometimes I will go back to the raw file several times and let the process unfold along multiple paths. There have been instances where I had a very clear idea from the outset of what I wanted the final image to look like but nevertheless the image seemed to take on a trajectory of its own and ended up far off the mark. What matters to me in the end is whether or not the photo works.
    Much photography and art is some combination of considered direction and experimentation and accident. The precise percentages in that combination don't much matter except as they result in some sort of compelling image​
    As is often the case Fred sums up my thoughts better than I could.
  7. I try to do relatively little in the way of post processing besides adjusting for more shadow detail in scans of Kodachrome slides.
    But when I do post, I have an unfortunate tendency to set to 11 on a scale of 1-10 (the Spinal Tap syndrome).
    My slogan in theory has always been if you can tell it's been done, it's been done too much; but sometimes you just can't help yourself, at least if you're me....
  8. My slogan in theory has always been if you can tell it's been done, it's been done too much​
    I understand this and agree in a lot of cases, JDM, but for me there are some important exceptions.
    Here are two examples where the "if I can tell" theory might break down:
    Man Ray's photomontages, which one can often tell are photomantages and so the post processing is obvious and often intentionally so. What may bother me, depending on the situation, is a photomontage that's made to deceive the viewer into thinking it was the original photo. But a photomontage that shows itself proudly to be so, as so many of Man Ray's do, makes the post processing and construction of it part of the content and message and experience of it. THE COAT STAND.
    Then there's work that is obviously post-processed, often for color shifts or other expressive reasons and those evident shifts away from naturalness or reality are an important part of the experience. For instance, this week's PHOTO OF THE WEEK, by Wolfgang Arnold. I can tell the color is "not natural," as one of the commentators under the photo puts it, but that seems a given and part of the intent of the photographer and an integral part of the final photo. It's not meant to be a "natural" photo, and doesn't need to be, but the post processing makes sense given the tone of the photo and the, as I would put it, surreal tendency of the content. Much surrealism has an obvious kind of tell and often needs that in order to work.
    You may disagree, JDM, but how does it strike you if I say it's not so much whether I can tell it's been done, but whether it coheres with the message and/or view of the photo?
  9. Just to play devil’s advocate here, why do we have to refer to it as “post processing?” We make a photograph with an entire series of processes: choosing the subject, deciding on lighting, time of day, selecting cameras, lenses, aperture, iso, framing, timing, shutter speed, choosing the moment of exposure, cropping, adjusting dynamic range, color correction, cloning out things, etc. To me it can be seen as simply a series of processes until the desired end result is achieved. Why put any more emphasis on what happens after the shutter is pressed than before the shutter is pressed, as if some monumental watershed has occurred after the shutter has been pressed. Its all “processing,” from beginning to end.
  10. But while I find this great fun and have no intention of not doing it, .(.....). After all, I don't really have to know what I'm doing using this method, I just need to like it.​
    Well, that. And that again.
    Assuming these aren't shots you make for paying customers, knock yourself out. Enjoy. Do what you feel like doing, explore the borders, cross them at will; look at the edge of the cliff, and dive in. None of us here can and should tell you (or anyone else) what to do, and what not.
    If you want the rest of us to also enjoy the result, then what others already replied came into play. Steve makes an incredibly good point. In many cases, it isn't post-processing: it's not some afterthought that is disconnected from the process. Whatever I shoot digital, anything black and white isn't post-processing, but realising/generating the image I want. That "post-processing" usually starts while shooting. Is scanning film post-processing? Lately the work of Davide Bramante inspired me to give a serious try at multiple exposures. How different is doing this in-camera on film to post-processing, if the idea was all along to do it this way?
    At the same time, I admit I try to do a minimal amount of work on the PC on my photos. Not because I think using Photoshop is being inferior in any way. But I use a PC all week for work, and the spare time... well... I prefer to be out and about doing something else. Plus, by banishing the idea that I can fix it afterwards, I force myself to try a bit more while shooting. This should be discipline anyway, but the extra push doesn't hurt me much.
    In the end, what counts are coherent images, photos that show a result that looks to be in line with its intent. If that takes heavy-handed photoshop, so be it.
  11. Whether I do or do not do much post processing on a given photo, I generally want it to look as if I did nothing at all but snap the picture. If the post processing is obvious, then I generally feel that I have failed. (There are exceptions, of course.)
    How much of it is experimental? A lot of it is. I have been advised by at least one person to use the same formula repeatedly rather than starting from scratch with each shot, but that would kill it for me.
  12. Fred,
    If I didn't see the need for wretched excess on occasion, I wouldn't be doing it myself. ;)
  13. My approach to post-processing is fundamental and straightforward. My objective is to optimize what I have captured rather than modifying it radically. I'll make the following changes as needed.
    1. Correct lens distortion (unless doing so does not add to the effect) and make certain that the image is level.
    2. Set the general exposure level and the white balance if they are not already optimized.
    3. Adjust the contrast until it meets my expectations. Note: I don't use curves. I use the simple contrast slider (on every image), and occasionally the Blacks, Shadows, Whites, Highlights, or Clarity controls.
    4. Set the saturation so that the colors look vibrant but not overdone. Sometimes this requires readjusting the white balance.
    5. Ensure that the image looks sharp, and suppress noise in cases where it's obvious.
    6. Crop if a different aspect ratio yields a stronger final image. I try to stick with standard aspect ratios if I can: 2x3 (the original aspect ratio in most cases), 4x5, 3x4, 1x1, 16x9.
    7. Darken or lighten portions of the image (mostly using Lightroom's gradient tool).
    8. Remove unflattering blemishes or marks from the skin of subjects.
    9. Add a dash of post-crop vignetting if it makes the image look stronger.
    I can do all of the above in Lightroom. I appreciate the simplicity of the interface and the fact that it doesn't modify the original file. I like to create and compare alternative versions in some cases and then choose the one that I like best. I don't use layers, plug-ins, or actions, and I don't use any other software except in cases where I need to combine images for a stitched panorama or an HDR rendering.
    Many people are creative in post, and I admire their skills. But for me, a streamlined, straightforward approach yields the results that I want.
  14. My approach to finishing a photo is continually evolving. The effects are generally intended to make specific projects or themes more visually cohesive. But I don't do much 'shopping, reserving my pixel level editing to those few occasions when I need better clone and brush tools than Lightroom 4.4 offers, or when I need to work in layers. Probably less than 10% of my photos.
    Fortunately I was disabused of my mistaken notions of "straight photography" several years ago, after discovering that many of the photos I most admired were the product of masterful darkroom manipulations. It was a liberating experience.
  15. Steve, let's just call it post-shutter-press-processing then. The computer simply allows you to do much more to an image than the camera does, so sometimes there is a 'monumental watershed' that occurs once you get to fooling around with filters, layers, and such.
    My own approach was similar to Dan's, to a lesser degree, until I got a monitor big enough to actually see what I was doing, then it just became fun to experiment with some of the other tools the software provides, even though I'm barely touching the surface there as well.
  16. Just to play devil’s advocate here, why do we have to refer to it as “post processing?”​
  17. I also do pretty much what Dan describes. My "devils advocate" post above was just to emphasize the idea that what happens after the shutter is pressed is just a continuation of a series of creative decisions that started with what to photograph in the first place. As Walter pointed out: "it's not some afterthought that is disconnected from the process." I've worked with digital long enough to have a pretty good idea before I take the picture what I will need to do in ps, which sort of implies its not post processing as much as a fulfillment of what I intended to do in the first place.
  18. I kind of like tradition in art, even though part of that tradition is breaking tradition (ironically). Calling it post processing is what's long been done and I see it as the modern-day darkroom, where people spent hours developing their craft and supplementing or even creating the expressiveness of their initial shot. Happy not to have the chemical smell and toxins, though.
    I do wonder if it just makes me a no-talent hack who is a disgrace to the photography world, relying much more on the tools than ability. After all, I don't really have to know what I'm doing using this method, I just need to like it.​
    The tools and the ability, for me, aren't two different things. Ability doesn't only apply to the taking of pictures. I've spent a lot of time developing my ability to post process. Yes, I do think one can be a no-talent hack. That's one reason I've chosen to know what I'm doing when post processing, which of course doesn't exclude also experimenting. By experimenting and doing other things, I can get to know what I'm doing and once I know what I'm doing I can continue to experiment, sometimes in a more expressive or photogenic way.
  19. Just a footnote: if you look for references to “post processing” pertaining to photography, you will not find any until people started using digital methods. Before that, with film you had a negative, which was not a usable image and needed further processing into a print. The darkroom work was not called “post processing,” it was simply making a print, no matter how much dodging and burning you did, which could be termed “manipulation.” After the print was made, further alterations in the form of actual painting on the photographic print was termed: “re-touching.” Re-touching could be as simple as removing the dust spots with a small brush and some Spotone retouching dye,
    In the case of portrait studios, actual painting out of facial blemishes and so forth were accomplished by painting by brush or air brushing.
    I apologizing for straying a bit from the intention of this thread. I come from years of darkroom work and for me working in ps with a raw file is very similar to creating a print from a negative. I just have a hard time calling it "post" processing. Otherwise, I do pretty much what the rest of you guys do.
  20. The term post processing is used often in conjunction with computer processing. Something gets processed by some routine "main" process. Then, if follow up processes are required, that's called post processing.
    For instance, if you upload a file to a website and then the site automatically resizes it for you, the upload is the main process, and the resizing could be considered "post" (after) that main process.
    Music and video (film) producers use the term in the same way. "We can overdub better car chase sounds in post," or "we'll overdub the string section in post."
  21. It's rare that a thread stays completely on point, and you at least stayed with the original topic Steven. I get what you're saying, and know that you understand what 'post-processing' refers to even if you don't particularly like the term/concept. I could have taken the 'post' from the original question, and it would have had the same meaning - 'how much of your processing is experimental.' Most of us have pet-peeve words or phrases we don't particularly like. I've never been a fan of the word 'proactive,' for example.
  22. For me it all depends on the image and what I want to achieve. Some with very little, some with a lot of processing. I usually know what I am trying to achieve, and know the tools I use enough to know what direction I am taking. I have no problem with some processing being obvious as long as the visual impact it add is in harmony with the intended result and meaningful. On images where I do a lot, I usually think beyond photography and more like a painter with a sketch on a canvas....

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