Image post-processing, a necessity or cheating?

Heritage Boot, South Congress - Austin, Texas

Heritage Boot, South Congress – Austin, Texas

I just finished reading Kirk Tuck’s blog post Hard work is hard. Everything changes. in which he compares the traditional photojournalist’s, get everything in camera, no post-processing allowed philosophy verses the more recent modifications are good, the more post-processing the better movement. That got me thinking about my views on post-processing images. I don’t have the years of experience that Kirk has in photography. If anything, I’m a newcomer, just getting seriously into photography less than 6 years ago. While I’m certainly old enough to have shot film, I never did any serious photography back in the film days. Back then I shot my point and shoot film camera and mainly took snaps during vacations. It wasn’t until digital that I really got interested in photography.

I must admit, I have a split perspective on this debate over post-processing. While chronologically, I’m now considered in middle age, at least according to Wikipedia, photographically, I’m more like a teenager. I’m old enough to appreciate the old photographic masters and the beautiful black and whites that I remember from my youth, while never actively participating in its creation. I find it very amusing that people younger than me, that grew up with film, wax poetically about how wonderful the film day’s were. I am a digital photographer. I have no true historic context and have no desire to return to the days of film. I am puzzled when people still seem to be stuck in the notion that images should not be post-processed. I see people brag that there was no post-processing done on the image and I think “Why?” you have a wonderful image, it could be so much better with post-processing. Why this hangup with no modifications after the shutter is clicked?

Ok, I’m not completely ignorant. I know there are still valid reasons to do things in camera without any (or much) modification. Photojournalists have a set of ethics that allow only minimal changes, if any, to their images. Their world is tricky because allowing changes is a slippery slope. What can they ethically change that doesn’t compromise their sense of journalistic integrity. While adding additional missiles and smoke trails to war footage certainly crosses the line, isn’t there some post-processing that improves the image and does not distort their message? I understand that high volume commercial photographers and event photographers need to get it right in camera so that they can minimize post-processing time. They run a business and any time spent cleaning an photograph or fixing things in post, takes money away from the bottom line. But how about the others. Artistic photographers, hobbyists and amateurs that have the time to craft each image. Why do some of these people get stuck on the notion that post-processing is no good or somehow is cheating? To me, creating the image starts with the camera and is only finished in post-processing. I feel the image coming out of the camera is still half-baked. Its potential is there but not fully realized.

That said, I see some of my fellow contemporary photographers take post-processing to a whole different level, and not all of it is very good. I understand why Kirk thinks HDR photographs are “Technicolor Vomit”. Yes, there are some truly horrific HDR images out there. And if it isn’t gaudy HDRs, then it’s their close cousins, which feature heavy textures on images, adds grunge and relies on retro cross-processing effects. Adding all this post-processing to a bad image does not improve the image, of course. So why go to extremes. There is a certain level of post-processing that can dramatically improve a good image but one does not have to resort to extreme HDR or other post-processing shenanigans to make an interesting image.

I remember when I first got into digital photography and I saw some spectacular imagery with rich colors that were tastefully done. I was perplexed because none of my images came close to what I saw. My images seem dull and flat in comparison and it wasn’t the lighting. There was something tangibly different. What I discovered and what is usually not talked about as openly (at least back then) was the amount of post-processing that goes into the best images out there. I’m not talking about radical changes or body and face sculpting done in fashion magazines. I’m talking about tasteful but dynamic changes that greatly enhance an image. What some people out there may not realize is that a digital image, particularly when taken in RAW, is purposely dull. It is up to the photographer to alter or post-process the image to bring out its full glory. That would include some sharpening to counteract the built-in blurring filter (the anti-aliasing filter) that purposely designed to make a digital image less sharp. The saturation of the image needs to be increased to bring out the true colors that were locked in the digital negative. So, when people take pride in the fact that their image is SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) they are actually short-changing their selves and their image. Color from film is different from digital color, but have you ever seen how vivid an image shot in Fujifilm’s Velvia really is? I was really surprised how dull much of the digital images are in comparison to film. Much of this, I contend, is due to the lack of good post-processing. I not proposing that we need to emulate the exact look of film, but I am saying that we should unleash the potential of digital.

I have improved my post-processing over the years, at least I think so. I know there is a lot more to learn and I’m sure the look of my images will change and evolve over time. But I realize that there is a middle ground between the old-fashioned no post-processing stance and the throw every crazy effect in the book point of view. I enjoy vibrant color but I also don’t want some trendy over-processed, over-hyped image. I realize the line between tasteful and gaudy is not always clear and its interpretation varies with the individual. I know at times, my image may step over that fuzzy line, though sometimes it is on purpose. I am gratified that even Kirk acknowledged that my HDRs weren’t too crazy. The photograph at the top is something that I recently posted on mostlyfotos. It is an example of my most recent post-processing style. Colorful but not crazy. I took a single RAW photograph with my Olympus E-PL1 with no HDR processing. For comparison, the image below is what the untouched original looks like. Life is too short to have dull, unprocessed images.

Make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image. Hover over the photo to see the exposure details.

Here is a sample of my work. I’ve posted them on my one-photo-per-day photo blog, mostlyfotos. There are a lot of images so click the << Previous Photo link to see more. You can also hover over the photos to see the exposure information.

Heritage Boot, South Congress - Austin, Texas  (Unprocessed)

Heritage Boot, South Congress – Austin, Texas (Unprocessed)

63 thoughts on “Image post-processing, a necessity or cheating?

  1. Andy, You brought up a most relevant issue that spans two generations of photographers. In the days when film was used, the post-processing was limited to zone development and some simple printing techniques. Now that image is captured in RAW, it is implied that some post-processing would be done, unless it is left to the camera to do as jpeg.

    What is in the hand of the photographer is a judgment that could result in an aesthetically pleasant photograph. I wonder how your successful photo “Sold Out – Hey Cupcake Trailer” looked like as RAW, but the mood of the evening was definitely re-created by post-processing.

    1. Hanh, thanks for your visit and comment. I might have to do a post on the Hey Cupcake photo you mentioned. I did post-process that image, like I do all images, but I didn’t change it too much, if I remember correctly. Please stay tuned.

    1. Ah, what are the rules? That’s a question, isn’t it? Of course, sometimes it’s good to break some of the rules. It’s all part of the art and fun of photography.

  2. I think one thing people who didn’t do film don’t realize is that many, if not most, B&W art prints involved some sort of burning, dodging, tilting the paper holder to hide convergence, toning, and all sort of other tricks and techniques to adjust the final image. The same was true with color prints from negatives but to a lesser extent as it was more difficult. The SOOC folks were the slide shooters that had no choice. And slide film tended to be less forgiving as you had less range being off just a little on the exposure could be terrible.

    I view digital as the new PRINT film and expect that it will be adjusted after the fact because RAW is designed to adjusted. JPEGs are more like slides in that you have much less room to adjust before you might as well give up. The problem seems to be that many people feel that every image can be saved by applying some filter or effect when they should dump it, learn from the experience, and try again another day.

    Now that I’m off my soapbox, great article. BTW, I would love to see the Heritage Boot processed somewhere between the two samples. The magenta cast (at least on my monitor) in the top example bugs me. Everybody’s a critic, right?

    1. William, thanks for your visit. As I mentioned I’m not a film person but I have heard that Ansel Adams and Richard Avedon did extensive post-processing. So yes, even pre-digital and pre-Photoshop, there has been image manipulation in the past. My son actually took a B&W film based photography course and I was fascinated learning about the B&W printing process. The funny thing was I asked the teacher how one does burning in dodging during the original film based print development.

      Thank you for you feedback on the image. I have my monitor calibrated via some X-Rite hardware and software but I’m not truly sure if it is accurate. However, I also see some magenta on my monitor. I don’t mind it too much since the magenta nicely compliments that golden yellowish color in the image. But, yes, for real color accuracy I should probably remove the color cast or tone it down a bit. I might play some more with the image and see how I like it.

    1. Gaz, yes you are absolutely right. It’s my image so ultimately I get to decide what it looks like especially if it’s not for a commercial client. That said, I would accept any criticism and opinion as long as it is offered constructively and nicely. Thank you for your visit and comment.

  3. Same with William, on my un-calibrated netbook, the magenta cast is a bit too much. Maybe we should just switch to “pure” black and white. Oh wait, converting to BW — isn’t that called post-processing? (After all there is no such thing as BW reality — cheers.)

  4. Out of necessity, I used to minimize my post work until I got Lightroom and a machine fast enough for it. A benefit of that was that it made me very familiar with in camera settings. I just started shooting RAW this week with LR4 beta and amazed by the expanded range of interpretation available with processing a RAW image versus a JPEG. I may still use JPEG for parties or informal family photos but I will use RAW for photos I take time to frame and compose. It follows that if I take that time to get it right in camera, then I should take the time in post to craft it to my taste.
    I agree that there are a lot of ways to muck up an HDR, but your approach is a refined, tasteful one- they don’t “look like HDRs”, and your post is expressive without being gaudy. People should do what they want…sometimes I like making a photo look heavily processed. Life is too short for worrying about trying to please everyone.

  5. There some advantages to JPEG, size being on of them. Beyond that though, I used to shoot JPEG all the time and I found that I was more in tune with exposure since I knew I couldn’t tweak the JPEG as much. I admit that I’ve gotten a bit sloppier with exposure by shooting in RAW but I’m trying to change that again.

    So in once sense the limitations of JPEG made me be more careful about exposure and white balance.

  6. I agree with Frank; great post.

    And I don’t know how old or young you are, Andy – I also used to shoot and even process film, but like you, I was much younger, and it didn’t really have to do anything with “art”. I know however that even the choice of film, paper, and even chemicals made big differences, so wasn’t any out-of-camera, not even in the film days. Except of course if you shot Kodachrome (or Ektachrome; even there were still choices).

    Like you, I consider myself a digital photographer. I’m using Olympus cameras, which they say have great OOC colors – and I find that true; I rarely have to change too much. In artificial light, I use a gray card before taking any serious pictures, and set the white balance to that gray card in camera – so again I don’t have to change too much afterwards.

    I like the way you do HDR, it’s a bit more like the blending which most of the landscape photographers do. And it’s good to see what you make out of a photo, even if I would have done it differently maybe.

    Like I said, great post. Good to read, thanks.

    1. Hi Wolfgang, welcome back. thank you for you insights. Regarding your digital shooting on the Olympus, do you shoot in JPEG or RAW? I do agree that the Olympus colors are fantastic in JPEG and even in RAW, that is one of the reasons I like Olympus so much right now. For RAW though, I do like to do some level of additional post-processing. Sometimes it is very minor but that’s what works for me. Thanks for your visit.

      1. Hi Andy,

        I’m using both raw and jpg – and found that conversions done with the Olympus Viewer 2 software are almost 1:1 regarding colors. I just bought Corel AfterShot Pro (formerly known as Bibble Pro), which comes close. But if I really care for color rendition, near to perfect demosaicing, and for sharpness, RawTherapee is by far the best of any raw converters I know. I have a profile for my E-520 for it, so it also comes very close to the in-camera colors, and in some cases it’s much better.

      2. Ah, that makes sense. I understand the software from the camera manufactures tend to be similar to the in camera JPEG processing. Thanks for the info.

  7. Okay, here goes. You can beat me up when I’m done, okay?

    I AM old enough to have spent many years in film in both large and 35mm formats. I remember when everyone said that 35mm would never “take” because the negative was so small, how could you get real “quality” from it? If people are being honest, they will admit that post processing, in a lab or digitally, has always been part of photography. I dodged and burned and used special papers and retouched just like everyone else from Ansel Adams to anyone who had access to a lab. I think my objection isn’t to post processing per se, My objections are to the excesses that have become routine so that I wonder if young photographers even worry about the quality of their original images, but instead rely on “fixing” it later on the computer? If your original image stinks, no amount of diddling in Photoshop is going to make it a good photograph. You need an image that’s worth some effort, that has good composition at the very least. That is really in focus as intended and the photographer really ought to have intentions, not to just snap and snap and snap on the theory that sooner or later, amidst the crap, a couple of good’uns will come out.

    I hate most HDR. I don’t hate it because it’s fake: I hate it because it’s ugly. It’s overly intense, distorted and gives me an instant migraine. Rarely is the image worth the bother, either. As to your example, this is not a photo I would have even bothered to play with. I like the original better, but I don’t think either is anything special. It’s okay, but it’s nothing to write home about. It doesn’t mean that you can’t and don’t produce far better work, but post processing makes a lot of young photographers think that every image is potentially magic and it’s not true.

    That we can shoot unlimited numbers of pictures without worrying about the cost of developing and printing is both a marvelous convenience and a real quality killer. We lose our ability to discriminate or just stop using it. We become increasingly uncritical of our work and that’s bad news for any artist of any age. I’m just as guilty in that regard as anyone else and I have to constantly whack myself upside my head to remind myself that “pretty colors” do not equate to “good photography.”

    I have seen a few HDR processed pictures that are terrific, using the process to bring out detail that otherwise would be lost, making a good photo better. But mostly, that’s not what I see. I see mediocre work processed to death so that it’s glitzy and “eye popping” … but it’s still mediocre. Or worse.

    Processing shouldn’t be a substitute for composition, but these days, it is. And for many photographers, the accompanying failure of their critical facilities turns their artistic potential to zip before they have a chance to let it mature.

    There is a reason that post processing is the FINAL step. Using simple tools, like prime lenses instead of zoom, black and white instead of color, force you to rely on your eye and good composition rather than color and special effects. It’s like learning to drive on a manual transmission: even when you later decide you want an automatic, you are going to be a better driver because you actually know what you’re doing. Think about it.

    Processing is a tool. A valuable tool. Photography is an art. If all or most of the art takes place on the computer, is it still photography? I thought that the photographer’s ability to see something in a special way and make it come to life was what it was about. Maybe Photoshop and other such tools are another art form in their own right, but is it photography? Sorry if I offend anyone, but I’m getting too old to tiptoe through the mine fields of everyone’s ego. Even my own!

    1. Marilyn, thanks for the long and detailed post. I agree with you. And as I mentioned in the post that all the extreme effects and processing is not going to improve a “bad” photo. Now given that we agree in general, what you like and what I like may be very different. But this is fine, that is what gives life and this world variety.

      As for this particular image I used in this post. It is partially illustrative but I also like it. Now is it the most amazing photograph or my best work, not at all. But I’m exploring the glow and color around town particularly in the evening. My idea behind the image is to bring out the warmth and color of these man-made lights in the evening. My post-processing was done to emphasize my concept of the photo.

      1. There are MANY photos that I think are great and no one seems to agree with me. I apparently see something that is there for me alone. Oh well. I ALSO have a bunch of photos that I think are utterly mediocre that others think are GREAT. I totally don’t understand what they are seeing. It is nice when what I like and what other people like happens to be the same. And that’s the way it goes, I guess. I tend to do my own thing too, whether or not anyone agrees with me because I’m no longer a professional shooting to please clients. I can finally just please myself and if i happen to create images that appeal to other people, so much the better. You do some really great work … this one doesn’t do it for me, but so what? It doesn’t have to. And I very much enjoy your blog … one of a very few I follow regularly.

      2. Marilyn Armstrong, it makes me very happy to have you come and visit. The internet is such a crowded and noisy place. I feel honored if someone is willing to spend their precious time to read my blog and look at my photos.

        I know what you mean about people’s tastes in what they like. Again, I’m not photography expert but I do have my opinion. There are times I’m left scratching my head because many people in the know says as particular photograph is great and I just don’t get it.

  8. Just an additional note: In concept, HDR should be a powerful tool for doing that one thing photographers have always wanted: bring out the detail from hiding in the shadows without burning out the highlights so that finally, what you see in the photo is what you saw in your eyes and mind. And I think it CAN do that. Mostly, it isn’t used that way and that’s too bad because having had to make the lousy choice between highlights and shadows because of the limits of processing has always been painful. Now, there’s a way to fix that and this is a miracle. I’m not anti-processing: I’m anti bad photographs and over-processing, however subjective these terms may be.

  9. Marilyn, Wolfgang, Andy at al.

    Great discussion and valuable points for us to think about.

    Marilyn is quite correct in pointing out that it all depends on what the photographer has in her/his pre-visualization, and digital post-processing, just like the film era’s equivalent maneuvers, could only support and assist in the creation of that image. Not to change or distort what the photographer had intended at the time when the shutter was pressed.

    If we take the basic steps that photographers in the last century have established (I thought of Weston and Adams), digital techniques will continue to help us to create images that many would enjoy viewing.

    1. Hanh, Marilyn, Wolfgang and others. I love this discussion and I thank you for sharing your thoughts on my blog. I think it’s great that while we might have different opinions, we have all expressed them in a respectful way.

      1. I agree to what you all said so far, and I find myself also ‘guilty’ to sometimes look at these nice colors, and less to the overall quality of the photograph (not even to speak about intention and meaning and such). I even sometimes have to force myself to think about Andreas Feininger’s sentence that “if something is worth being photographed, then it is also worth being photographed well”.

        Judging one’s own work is the most difficult part of all IMHO. Andy, consider yourself glad to being and spending time with people like Kirk. Oh, and I also liked the portrait you took of him in his studio… totally different from what he would have done of course, but nevertheless interesting.

      2. Wolfgang, I am absolutely guilty of being seduced by color. Though I also appreciate a good black and white image. The level of color I want seems to vary by my mood, the subject being photographed and maybe the phases of the moon. I know that I have a lot to learn and I’m sure my style will change and evolve over time.

  10. I’m pretty sure this is the first CIVIL discussion on this subject I’ve ever been a part of. Great stuff!

    1. I also enjoyed this tremendously – and if, like you said Marilyn, you and others like different photos, well first I think that is pretty normal, and second, it makes curious to see some of those. Would be nice if you could provide a link.


    2. Marilyn Armstrong, I really happy that we can all have a civil discourse. We all don’t have to agree and we all have unique perspectives to contribute.

  11. Fair is fair. Mind you these aren’t necessarily my best stuff but they are the most recent. I do not think I am a great photographer. I take pretty pictures and sometimes, I take VERY pretty pictures. I also can, when inspired, do some nice portrait work. But not great. I’m a much better writer than photographer.

    So here’s the Flickr address:


    Haven’t posted anything in a while, but I did some shooting yesterday. I’ll take a look at them today and see if anything seems worth bothering with.

    Like most people, I use basic Photoshop techniques more or less globally: I adjust brightness and sharpness, mess with curves, contrast and recently, when shooting in a TV studio under their lights and unable to find the right light setting on my new Oly Pen E-P3, had to remove a greenish tint from everything. I could have done it with the correct setting if I could have found it, but the menus are different than on PL-1. I know it’s in there but I can’t find it. Tried some HDR but I am no Photoshop wiz and the results were uninspired.

    Keep your expectations modest please.

    1. Thanks for the link Marilyn. Since I saw your comment on “The Woods”, I think I get an idea of what you like. I also liked “Garry As He Looks To Me”, and the more recent “Bright Trees” – you’ve got quite an amount of dynamic range in that one; very nice.

      In case anyone should be interested in mine: you get it over my blog (click on my name) – most pictures are on Flickr as well, most even in full resolution. I also don’t consider myself a great photographer, and have lots of pictures there just to use them on my blog. But I like some portraits, especially those of our small one (now 7).

      1. Wolfgang, thank you to you too for sharing. I’ve got side tracked because my blog got featured in Freshly Pressed and a ton of people came visiting.

        It strikes me that post-processing, at least for me, will vary based on the subject matter. People and the delicate apple still life you have on your site look great. I also would not add as much saturation to those images, for example, compared to my urban, neon light, image.

    2. Marilyn Armstrong, thank you for sharing. I especially like your delicate images from the forest. I don’t get out much to the “country” as you can tell from my photos. We don’t get very nice autumn color around here in Texas.

      1. Thank you for liking MY favorite images. I know they aren’t striking, but I like the subtlety too. Each thing has its own requirements. I love Wolfgang’s apples too … and I know how hard it is to do still life.

      2. If you get a wet year, and can go during the week, try Lost Maples State Park and some of the surrounding area. I’ll bet the color was bad this year due to the dry weather.

      3. I’ve heard and seen some images from Lost Maples. Someday I will need to make the trek out there. It’s not quite New England level of colors (it seems) but it is a whole heck of a lot closer

  12. As noted in the comments above, in the end, it’s all about what you want to achieve as the end result. Funny I have this quote from Kirk front and center on my blog:

    “If you have to explain, fix in Photoshop, render in layers, etc. you’ve captured something much different and while I might like the taste of that dish I don’t need to hear the exacting particulars of the recipe recited.” – Kirk Tuck

    I’ve done some photo rescues with post processing. But I usually don’t call them that. The reality is though that post processing offers us so much leeway as opposed to traditional silver, so why not try and exploit that? The thing is, I don’t need or want to see every image sitting on your hard drive taken to the max with Photomatix.

    There has been such a drive towards producing volume to get noticed that photos posted as art or as a subject to invoke conversation get lost in the mix. For some it’s become “How much crap can I post?” And they forget the most important thing about HDR – Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    Nice image above by he way. If I had snapped that shot, that is pretty much the way I would want to see it.

    And I also got the Oly E-PL1 in part due to your recommendation. I’m having some fun with it.

    1. Libby, I’m glad that the Olympus is working for you. It is really a killer deal. Probably the best image quality you can get for the price.

      In some sense, I’m into volume production since I post an image a day on my mostlyfotos site. It takes a decent amount of work and I know some images are not as good as others. But, I try not to put stuff that I think does not have merit in some way. The daily posting regimen keeps me shooting and hopefully improving.

      I agree with you. I don’t characterize my post processing as rescues. It is an extension of what I want to portray visually. A continuation of the image creation process. That said, there are a few times when I have blown it in camera and have to use post-processing to fix it. Not too many times but it does happen from time to time.

      1. I just saw your Target carts image taken with the E-PL1. Awesome! Now I just need some some to come out here in the Northeast I live.

        About volume – well there’s volume, then there’s rolling out tons of crap just to post an image. I can pretty much tell who the craprollers are and I just move on 😉 I see enough of it in my day job as an editor. You wouldn’t believe some of the garbage I get from people.

        To further comment in my own experience with image rescues.,, About 10 years ago I took a month long vacation and bought an Oly C-700UZ. At that time it was pretty much in the higher tier of consumer cams. I was shooting Nikon film for other work but wanted a digi for the trip. Well I took the 400 hundred or so vacation snaps. By today’s standards, the images are of course a huge Fail. But there are about 25 favorites, and I was able to massage them enough in post to make them respectable. They’ll go into a little snapshot book on the coffee table, a reminder of great times. With the software tools available 10 years ago, there was no way that was going to happen, So for that I’m grateful. I’ll probably never get back to some of these places again.

        Now onto HDR – WTF is going on with that Glowing Edge business?? Are these people blind?? Around the trees, around the mountains, What the heck is with that? A few years ago a real estate company called me and asked me to stop by their office for some “photoography advice”. They had hired one of these Craigs List guys to shoot interiors, and he HDR’d the whole job. Good golly what a mess. These people get hold of a filter pack and just don’t know when to stop.

        Every image needs post processing of some sort. If you can get “great” jpegs SOOC then god bless ya. But Ive rarely had a straight out of camera jpeg satisfy commercial requirements I’ve been given. A camera will almost never satisfy the needs of discerning clients, but I can, And usually when I get done with the image, no one is the wiser.

        And regarding the people who have those filter packs – can someone please take away their Clone Stamps Too?

        Have a great Sunday – I’m going to go out and try to find myself some sunshine today 😉

      2. You hit that nail firmly upon its head and I thank you. You are right that images straight from the camera pretty much always need at least minimal tweaking: sharpening, cropping, whatever. It may be a very little, but especially an image that’s going to print has really tight parameters and needs to be very high quality …. much more so than images that will only display electronically.

        I reduce electronic images to 75 dpi to speed uploads and keep from filling up web space too fast. On the whole, it doesn’t matter when viewed on a computer.

        But for print it’s a different world. There are labs that think I’m psycho bitch incarnate because I won’t settle for their version of “good enough” on a print. I don’t understand what makes them think I should.

        I overcame the problem by making sure that images to be printed are exactly what I want. I deliver images with instructions to change nothing … not size, not intensity, not sharpness. Fiddle not lest ye see my evil twin in action! It is surprisingly difficult to get “do not meddle” conveyed to printers who assume that EVERYONE wants them to crop, boost color intensity and sharpness. Do most people really want that done to their pictures? You think?

      3. Target is a neat store particularly for a discount big box retailer.

        Neat to hear about the rescues from old digital technology. My first digital camera was the Canon S300. The funny thing back then was I didn’t post process at all – however it was a JPEG only camera. I really need to find the time to potentially tweak some of these older images.

        Ahh, the dreaded HDR Halos as my friends and I call them. As you may or may not know, I do a bunch of HDRs. Some are subtle enough that, people won’t recognize it. Others I purposely processing more dramatically. In every case, I try my best not to have visible halos around tree, buildings etc. Sometimes, it is very hard to completely get rid of them and in a few (very rare) cases an image could look better with some. Two examples for you to consider. The first is an example of an interior hdr, the second is a subtle hdr that I like.

  13. Hey Andy, I like your blog discussion here.

    I would point out that the “get everything in camera, no post-processing allowed philosophy” is overlooking the fact that the camera firmware post processes the raw image data to produce the JPEG image. The resulting JPEG file from the camera is a post processed image based on the camera settings and camera software engineer’s skill. Your raw image processing is based on your skill and does not rely on the camera firmware to produce the JPEG. All digital images are post processed, it just depends on when (in/out of camera ) and by whom (camera software engineer or the photographer with alternative edit software).

    What software did you use to process your raw images?

    1. Absolutely. Its getting the camera to post-process or do it yourself. The joke among my photographer friends is that I used to shoot JPEG forever and took me a while to go to RAW.

      I use Apple’s Aperture 3 program for 95% of my post-processing. I also use it for my photo library management.

  14. We all agree that there is no such thing as “no post-processing.” The issue is how much is enough and when (and what) is too much. I personally, subjectively do not like photographs that are more process than picture. It may be art, but to me, it’s not photography.

    Processing shouldn’t be a substitute for vision. If the majority of your images need massive post processing, you are probably doing something wrong. Just my opinion, but I believe a good photo has legs to stand on.

    Rescue is a different issue. I remember trying to do it in the lab with film. I can’t be the only one who ever shot an event only to discover that the lens was out of alignment. NOT a happy moment. With film, you had no way to know there was a problem until you developed the film. Losing your friend’s wedding is ugly, lemme tellya.

    Nowadays you can usually see something is wrong pretty quickly … one of the huge advantages to digital. Even so, sometimes an otherwise great image is out of focus or somehow seriously flawed. Trying to save a damaged image is a whole different matter …a situation where you are going to try every weapon in your arsenal and hope that it’s enough.

  15. Somehow I’m beginning to think that we are all not that far apart in the concept of post-processing and when to use it. Where we differ is the extent of the processing we do. I don’t want to speak for anyone, that is the sense I’m getting from the discussion.

    We haven’t had any adamant SOOC person show up to the discussion, yet.

    Marilyn Armstrong, I agree with you that at some point, the image ceases to be a photograph and becomes another kind of art. It maybe well done or not but it becomes unrecognizable as a pure photograph. That point, were it crosses over from a photograph to something else probably varies by the individual.

    I think for my processing, at times, I hover near the vague line between a photo and something else. Again this line is defined by me. To some, they certainly must think that I have clearly stepped over that line.

  16. Since others have done it and I mentioned what I didn’t like about the Heritage Boot image, here is a like to some of my stuff:

    Some are fairly recent, some are 10 year old scans of 30 year old negatives, and the digital images are from about 6 different cameras. All have been post-processed in some way if nothing more than minor cropping and at little sharpening.

    1. William Wiseman, thank you for sharing. I’m especially drawn to your architecture photos. I really like your angles and in your Assorted B&W gallery. Your St. Frances images are my favorite.

      1. Thanks for the comments. They were also the last 35mm B&W I took (2001). I was taking an advanced B&W printing class (not really that advanced IMHO) and we had to shoot a roll of C-41 process B&W. I later scanned these as I hated every print I ever made from the negatives. 🙂

        I did get lucky the day I took these. One of the monks that help care for the church happened to be cleaning and graciously allowed me access to the loft. The last St. Francis photo shows him doing some cleaning near the side window. The color photo of the window was done on a later date specifically for him as repayment. He mentioned he loved to sit in the church during the day with the lights off and look at the window.

  17. What you don’t get is that Photography itself ends once you hit the shutter button. You can post process, but you are no longer doing Photography, you are doing art, or “photo art”. With allot of new digital cameras you can add filters before you take a shot, or even further, in some you can choose a “film”, “lens” and “flash” (such as the “Hipstamatic” app for iPhone) which is a simulation of Instamatic camera film Photography. Then you take your shot.
    I am into strictly Pure Photography, no post processing. But not just because I am fond of the film days (I started Photography in 1983), I actually like digital Photography more… I like that I don’t have to buy film and pay for processing of it into prints, or go into the dark room. I feel the same way with digital Photography. Anything you do BEFORE you hit the shutter is fine; filters, double exposure, whatever. But once you hit it, that image is the reality of what you did in Photography at that moment.
    It also makes you a better Photographer. You don’t think “Ah whatever, I’ll fix it in post”. You get it right IN CAMERA. It’s also freeing to not have to sit down and tinker with an image, to make it look as though you are a good photographer.
    Just my opinion.

    1. “What you don’t get is that Photography itself ends once you hit the shutter button.” Really? Iron, what you don’t get is that when you’ve hit the shutter button all you have done is captured photons reflecting off of something onto a light sensitive medium. A photographic image does not exist until you…wait for it…process it! In the case of film, choice of chemistry, time, and temperature all effect the outcome. A lot of photographers, especially those old guys from the “film days” would argue that a photograph doesn’t exist until a print is made – the final product of photography. More post processing! Chemistry choices, time, temperature, filters, dodge, burn, tone, scratch and dust removal…the list goes on. Every photo, whether film or digital, is processed in some manner after that shutter is clicked. The question is whether you affect the transformation personally or entrust a lab technician with your film or go with whatever a camera firmware engineer has instructed the computer in your camera to do with all that light information recorded by the sensor. Personally, I don’t like post processing. I’d rather be out shooting. That said, I believe – no, I know – that I can almost always do better creatively than whoever engineered the responses of my camera to light. Sometimes I do go with an image straight out of camera. That is the exception not the rule. To shun post processing for the sake of “pure photography” sounds rather limiting for no good reason other than some sort of self imposed moral high ground. On the other hand, creativity thrives in the midst of limitation. If sticking to the processing done by your camera is what drives your personal creativity, more power to you. What makes you a better photographer is practicing your craft and using whatever means that allows you to fulfill your personal vision for an image.

  18. It’s really sad that we buy cameras that cost fortunes and then take photos and then laboriously spend hours and hours post-processing the photos, so of what use is the latest technology which can’t even get right a simple photo without user intervention?

    1. What is “right” and who decides what “right” is? Our cameras are perfectly capable of taking a “simple photo.” If you like the look of the JPEG produced by your camera you can stop the process there. However, a lot of us feel compelled to move beyond what the camera and its designers have in mind and we do some post processing to make an image truly our own. Neither method is right or wrong. The fact that I choose to post process images from my cameras does not imply there is anything wrong with them. Taste is an individual thing and most of the time I’m going to want to tweak things a bit more in line with my tastes.

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