Is Post-Processing A Chore?
3 years, 6 months ago 26
Posted in: HDR Tutorial

Is Post-Processing A Chore?

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I recently came across an article on the excellent photography site, Light Stalking. The article title is: How to Take the Stress Out of Image Editing When You’ve Got Tons of Photos to Edit.

Although there is some very good advice for cutting down your workload, I found one quote particularly surprising:

“For many a photographer, this unwelcome chore is post-processing. And you know that the more shots you’ve taken, the more work lies ahead of you — but you can’t let your disdain for image editing dictate how many shots you take”

The idea that post-processing is a chore for some, and that some even felt disdain towards it, genuinely surprised me. Even wedding photographers and event photographers, who often have mountains of images to sort, and deadlines to work to, can take great joy in post-processing.

Granted, every photographer would prefer to be out in the field shooting rather than sitting in front of a computer. Yet, there’s a beautifully creative element to post-processing that can excite our minds if we let it. Even tweaking a few sliders can bring our images to life, which, to me, is still an enjoyable process.

To add to this I also received a comment from a friendly photographer on one of my images in flickr. This particular shot had taken 45 minutes in post. His comment was ‘Nice one Jimmy, but 45 minutes?’

The interesting thing is, while I include the processing times for each of my images on my blog, I do not consider time in any way when working. I’m simply absorbed in the wonderful process and let things flow until their natural progression.

It’s not uncommon for me to go through an entire workflow, wait until the next day to view it with fresh eyes, and then start again from fresh. I don’t feel any negativity when this happens because I love tapping into my creative mind and seeing everything unfold in front of me.

I’d prefer to process an image for 3 hours straight than to sit in front of the TV for that length of time, as many people do. In fact, our TV hasn’t been switched on once in 6 months.

Our lives are full of activities, like watching TV, that cause what psychologists refer to as ‘psychic entropy’ – a state where our mind is unchallenged and we lose the incredible functioning of our brain as time passes. Research has shown this to be a major cause of Alzheimer’s.

Alternatively, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, psychologist and author of the book Flow, talks about enriching our lives by taking part in tasks that absorb us, that make us lose our sense of time and self, that challenge us, and that we truly enjoy. He calls this the ‘flow state’.

While I enjoy some tasks more than others, with every step of photography, I feel myself absorbed, and I’m sure you have felt that too. When you’re sitting waiting for the light to change, with stunning scenery around, imagining the possible compositions and mood, there’s nothing else in the world to think about, nothing else but you, the camera, and the scene in front of you.

When I upload my images to my computer, I retain that flow state almost as soon as I have my chosen exposures in front of me. I feel like everything else fades away and it’s just me, my vision for the image, and Photoshop. Post-processing is one of the few activities that makes me forget my appetite, which is no easy task.

While every one of us has different tastes and preferences, and some don’t do any post-processing at all (apart from the in-camera post), I can’t help but think that those who do partake in post-processing, but see it as chore, are missing out on an important experience.

Clearly this is a one-sided view from me, not able to see from another person’s perspective. When someone is trying to explain to me their love of train/plane spotting, I just don’t get it. But I would never partake in those activities so I don’t need to get it.

However, if I found any part of the photography process a chore, like washing the dishes or taking the bins out, I think my passion for photography would dwindle somewhat.

Through post-processing we bring a flat RAW file to life, and no matter how short or long that process takes, it will always be an exciting one for me.

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  • Bynx

    I certainly agree that post processing is no chore. Taking the photo is one part, and processing it is the second part. Both are equally challenging and creative.

  • Lois Bryan

    Oh Jimmy I so completely agree … I love taking photos … love it with all my heart .. the sense of freedom … the intensity … the discipline … the complete focus. But oh … the processing … that’s where magic happens!!! Maybe not to those who view my final efforts … maybe it’s all just me … but that’s okay. There’s that amazing woo-woo place … the indefinable “zone” … the description of which has eluded me ever since my first visit. Nothing compares. Time stops in my head but marches on for the rest of the poor slobs who don’t get to feel what I feel. And I get to go to the zone not just when I’m doing the fine art stuff for my own pleasure, I get there when I’m under deadline for a model-home / real estate client as well. SO glad you wrote this!!!! Aren’t we the lucky ones??

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Sounds like we share a very similar experience Lois :) We certainly are the lucky ones, it seems!

  • Dominique Dubied

    I fully agree with you Jimmy. I used to say that in my case 50% fun is to be out in the fields taking pictures and the other 50% is to do the processing and get then the final result of the initial viewing.
    I would even add another extra 50% to prepare the image for a a big print and not only on the monitor which for me is completely different! What a joy to touch, look at, feel the depth, the tones and the sharpness of a landscape print!

    Nice of you to point this out.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Very nicely said Dominique!

  • LanthusClark

    I agree with you wholeheartedly Jimmy, I see my photography as a process and whether it was taking, developing and printing, or as we do now, taking and post processing, photography is not a single event. I enjoy the entire process because each stage is equally important to me and lead to photographs that I am proud of and willing to display for family, friends and public.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      I feel exactly the same. It is a holistic process, seen first in the mind and realised in one form or another through a singular process, each step leading naturally to the next. If we can enjoy that process then even better.

  • Myer

    I agree part of the fun of photography is post-processing just like in the old days of darkroom work. On many groups etc I see just get it right in the camera then you will not have to do any PP For me shooting in RAW always requires some PP 30 sec and other photos hours

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Absolutely, RAW files are naturally flat, which gives us more flexibility when working with them, allows us to be as creative as necessary for as long as we need.

  • Gaz Prescott

    For me it isn’t even a separate activity… when I go out on a shoot or set up the lights for some studio work I don’t consider a two stage process with photographing and then PP. It is one creative process from inception to achieving the completed image or images.

    In some cases I look forward to the processing element even more so than the shoot. I recently went out to shoot the milky way in a heavily light polluted area and so the actual shoot element didn’t really give any instant reward because the images really needed bringing out in post so I rushed home and worked on several of the images for a couple of hours. When I looked again the following morning I found that my processing had gone off on a tangent to my original vision so I went back to the raw file and started from scratch… again, this was something I relished… it was not a chore.

    I completely agree… people who see PP as a chore are denying themselves a truly immersive creative experience.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Exactly, Gaz, when I shoot I also consider it a singular process. I often shoot with post-processing in mind, and often process with the original scene in mind. It’s a flow of experiences which, as also seems to be the case for you, enriches the entire photographic process.

  • Charles Dugand

    I could not agree more! I run a large local photo club, and created a Post Processing Special Interest group in the club. My primary message to the group is love the PP part! In my opinion its “almost” more fun than the taking pictures part. I went to a workshop (Nikonians) with Richard Hulbert earlier this year. He talks about envisioning the shot, then “re-envisioning” it in Post Process. I look forward to what I can create in post!

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      I know the feeling. It’s always exciting to get those images on the screen, to let your creativity free, and as Richard puts it ‘re-envision’ the image. Sometimes the image comes out exactly as we’d originally planned, and other times it is something very different, but no less enjoyable :)

  • Paul Mack

    For me Jimmy it is 10% enjoyment taking the shots and 90% the pp…I really enjoy the pp part of the photography process,especially when you have raw files to work with.It is a major mood lifter and it just takes me to another place :-)

  • Sue

    I love the Post Processing part of photography. I thought I was weird because all I ever read about is that it’s boring, it’s a waste of time. I love it. I agree with Gaz below – its all part of the flow, ie. start with a blank canvas, take the photographs and then using photo editing software to create the final product.

  • henry

    I see this a lot, although some places are worse than others. There’s a Canon group on LinkedIn that’s particularly scathing of post production. They see it as somehow cheating or fixing what you couldn’t get right in the camera. And they feel somehow that working on an image somehow takes from the reality the scene, that you you should be recording what the scene really is. This from professionals as well as amateurs.

    It stems from technical ignorance, I think. If you really do understand how sensors work, what dynamic range is and how an image is recorded by a sensor you understand the necessity of post-production work in the image making process.

    I think it also goes hand in hand with the idea that somehow film is better than digital, that there is somehow something about film that can’t be achieved in digital. Never say never but I have over 45 years of professional experience in both film and digital and I’ve yet to be stumped by something I want to achieve in a digital image but I’ve most definitely been unable to do many things when using film, even at the very subtle, tonal level. Film is no more better than digital than oil paint is better than watercolour.

    “I’m an artist, not a technician” is also something I hear a lot. Which is also utter tosh. Photoshop is a tool just like a brush is and you need to understand your tools if you’re going to achieve the best possible result in your chosen medium. Great painters understood this, so did great sculptors and today it’s even more the case. Grayson Perry understands this very well and has spoken about it at length. I also worked for many years in digital film and TV FX and the best artists in that discipline are the ones that have a deep technical understanding of the computers and software they use because when they understand them deeply they can work them without thinking about them, they can concentrate purely on the images they’re making.

    And yes, working on images is a skill, a craft. It’s the bit where the images come to life, where you make them work. It’s every bit as good as being in the studio or in the field because it is, ultimately, where you make pictures.

    • Bob

      Thanks Jimmy and Henry. Can you figure a great sculptor thinking, it is just a hunk of wood or marble and should be left in it natural form? Art in any discipline, for me, is creating from your mind using the tools and material that have been provided. Engineers can provide a functional bridge but it takes an artist to make it more than functional. It is the art that enrich our daily lives (crossing that artistic bridge on our commute).

      Thanks guys…

      • George

        Ansel Adams used to say : The negative is the partition, the print is the performance.” In my mind, same goes for digital, I’ve also been at photography for over 45 years and I relish doing post production, Totally agree with you guys and Jimmy.

  • Neil Paisnel

    Well it is a chore for me, probably one of the biggest reasons NOT to go out with the camera
    The thought of having to spend a day or so stuck indoors, it really puts me off, especially when living in the UK where every good day of sunshine is a bonus.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Hi Neil, No one wants to be indoors on a sunny day, especially when you live in the UK. Leave the pp for a rainy day!

  • Artem Sapegin

    I really hate to process my photos. But it’s very essential part of photography and I can’t skip it. And I also don’t believe in photography without post processing.

  • Jimi Jones

    Interesting… for me the image in incomplete until I get to post-process it, which I enjoy as much as capturing the raw image to begin with. :-)

    For those who find PP a chore, perhaps a better understanding of various techniques would introduce a newfound love and more enjoyment in that aspect of photography. Watching the transformation of the image “as shot” to it’s final state can be very rewarding.

  • David Petley

    I totally agree with your view on post work Jimmy. I enjoyed it when it was analogue in the darkroom, and I enjoy it even more now that it is digital and I know, and am comfortable with, the tools in Photoshop. It starts for me in Camera Raw, but continues in Photoshop until I realise what my mind saw when I pointed my camera.

  • Kees van Surksum

    Hi Jimmy,

    in general I would definitely copy your opinion on this matter. I would even add that post-processing is nothing more than the old-fashioned thing we did with our films in the darkroom in order to get a decent print. Only now with a lot more feautures and tools. And that’s a lot of fun …
    Nevertheless I have some remarks. First of all: even in the old days there were photographers that hated the darkroom. The great Henri Cartier-Bresson has never ever processed a photo … (did you know that?)
    A little less great I am, but I was also stuck between curiousity for the process itself and ‘disdain’ for the work, the enclosed darkness and the brutal smell of chemicals, sticking in my nose for at least 24 hours after. It was not a very healthy environment in there….
    On entry of digital post-processing things got far better for me. Still curious and enthousiastic about the post-processing as a tool, I was no longer terrorised by the horrible darkroom circumstances (among them waiting patiently to see any result).
    As a pro photographer ! meanwhile feel terrorised though by this post-processing thing. I am still enthousiastic about the tool(s), like to experiment, love to do professional post-production and composing. But it’s in most cases far beyond commercial reason. The average customer wants gorgeous, outrageous image results, is on the other hand not prepared to pay for the time it takes to get there. When you are doing that for hobby reasons or as “free work”, it might be okay.
    Thus: expactations have grown enormously (due to the many amateurs that are capable and willing) but prices have fallen at the same time. So in my opinion post-processing is a lot of fun on well payed commissions, but a pain in the ass on smaller jobs. You are expected to be an outstanding pro on them as well, you know.
    That’s what I read in the quoted lines. Pro photographers feel often ensklaved by post-pro. If you do a shooting for an ad campaign, you have your idea, take 30 shots, have a contact sheet for the agency and they pick out one or two images for post-production. At a wedding you have to offer the couple 600 images … all properly post-processed …. Nevertheless they pay half the price or find a cousin who loves to experience has “Flow” over a couple of weeks, just for fun and free … No need to tell you, you can’t offer that as a professional service on a reasonable commercial basis.

  • Gareth David O’Neill

    I completely agree, I like many others have said take my images with how I am going to process them in mind, selecting exposures to capture the scene at its best, e.g. accepting an image to be a little bit dark in poor lighting conditions in order to make sure I captured the action without motion blur, knowing I can save a stop or so in Photoshop allows me clear images otherwise not possible.

    I too have been on the unfortunate end of “photoshop is cheating” as I publicly via facebook etc shared all of my works in progress as I was learning, and I will be the first to admit my earlier efforts are god awful and over processed, but because everyone now knows that I edit my images, I have ran experiments and posted up images with absolutely nothing done to them and people start asking what did I do to the image?

    They assume everything is photo shopped these days, and because “photo shopped” is such a broad term there are times I truthfully answer “yes this is photoshopped but”…….(then they stop listening) then I explain what I did e.g. raised the light by half a stop, something that doesn’t change reality or warp it in to a cartoon, but is indeed photo shopped, but that’s the only bit of the sentence they hear…. Photo shopped.

    I have since changed my account names and now only post my final images and only reveal what I have done to the image by request in private, and the respect for my work has increased (as has my knowledge so it could be a bit of both) but I think it’s mainly to do with people are impressed with what they do not know, a final image, which is a shame as I enjoy the creative post process so much I wanted to share it with everyone which is why I started out that way.

    The problem is the majority of people have a negative connotation towards “Photo shopping” and a technical ignorance of how we produce great photographs and assume that the famous photographers get their images directly out of camera in RAW as awesome as the final image, or that they have equipment so immensely amazing and expensive.

    Ok i’ve rambled enough thank you for the article Jimmy :)

  • Toni Laird

    Excellent post and I couldn’t agree more. I enjoy being in front of my Mac post processing as much as taking the shots. The whole process is fun and creative. You may not remember me Jimmy as I tried to download your pro panel a few weeks back without luck and you re-funded me! I’m hoping to have better luck with Raya pro when released as your video tutorials are fantastic and will take my photography to the next step.