Post Processing. Good or Bad
Continuing in the theme of digital workflow which I did a blog post, few weeks ago (check it out at http://goo.gl/GixidI ), I would like to state what my thoughts on post processing are. Is post processing good? For all these years I have been involved in photography, the one thing that I have enjoyed as much as I have enjoyed taking photographs is post processing. I know this is going into hallowed territory as even today most purists think that post processing is a way of manipulating or cheating. But it is different for me. When I started in photography, I was also of the notion that post processing is something which should be avoided and it is somewhat not right. It was later on when I started to realize how wrong I was slowly getting to know that post processing is good. It was precisely at this time when I realized that post processing and photo-art are two completely different things and should not be confused. Both are two completely different genres and should be mixed. Both have their own unique places in this digital age.
Where post processing is a way to enhance the look and feel of the photographs, photo-art is creating visual art with the help of photographs. Photo-art like compositing is a different genre altogether and should not be mixed with post processing. Though I would say, I sincerely have problems with people who have done photo manipulations, but claim that the photo is not retouched at all. It is straight out of camera. Truth be told no photo that you get out of the camera is not post processed (until you are shooting RAW). The jpeg files that we get straight out of the camera has some amount of contrast adjustment and sharpening done to them. This post processing is done in camera by the processor of the camera itself. So even if one does not post process their jpeg pictures at all, they have already been processed by the camera itself. Whereas if we are taking the photographs in RAW, no amount of post processing is performed by the processor of the camera. It is up to the user to take the photographs out of the camera and in the image editing software he/she post processes them.
The Art of Processing
If you know me I am a fan of post processing. I started my photography in the digital age, so more often than not I find myself using digital filters more than actual(physical) filters. For example, I use the graduated neutral density filter quite a lot of time to bring down the exposure of the sky and match it with the foreground or middle ground. The GND that I use is not the physical GND filter we find in camera stores, but the digital one we find in Lightroom or Camera Raw. I find that it is too much of a hassle carrying a separate filter with all my camera equipment, so prefer the digital one. Let me show the use of the GND through some of my images.
This image above had quite an interesting foreground and middle ground with the kid playing, but if I tried to expose for the foreground or middle ground, my sky was getting completely blown out. Whereas if I tried exposing for the sky, my foreground became completely black. I really did not want a silhouette. So I exposed for the foreground knowing fully well that shooting in RAW, I would have all the information in the sky but that needs to be brought out through post processing. So now if somebody tells me that I am manipulating my photograph, is that right? If I would have used a GND filter in front of my lens and got to balance out the exposure then it would be fine, but me using a digital GND to get details back in the sky is photo manipulating is not something which I would accept. I was bound to use this technique because of the limitations of the digital SLR’s. The cameras we use are not able capture the full dynamic range and we have to turn to processing to get back the details from the sky. Even in the days of shooting in film, it was known how to dodge and burn selective areas so that the most important portions of the image are highlighted. Did the labs processing the film do photo manipulation? No, not at all. They just enhanced the picture with the help of some chemicals and techniques which were known to them. The normal person did not come to know about this and thus thought that the photos were not subjected through any processing whatsoever.
I remember an argument which I had with a good friend of mine. He was advocating the fact that post processing is even when you increase the brightness/contrast or you use a Graduated Neutral Density filter. It was quite some time ago and even though I tried and explain it to him that some amount of processing is always done, it went in vain.
Taking inspiration from the Masters
I would like to mention a few names of my mentors who have always used post processing as a tool to polish the photograph and get the final output image. Trey Ratcliffe is such a wonderful person and the way he uses the post processing tools is second to none. In fact he mastered HDR (High Dynamic Range) imaging like no other. Here is the link to his website do check out his work which is amazing to say the least.
In black and white photographs, I adore someone who produces images which are art to say the least. His work had me staring at his images for minutes on end and even then I could not forget the impact that the photographs created in my mind. By the looks of his photographs it looks like he uses some good amount of dodging and burning, but how well he uses his digital tools. His name is Jayanta Ghosh. Do check out his work if you have got a second, you will love it.
Now if somebody comes up and says that these masters are doing things wrongly because they are using post processing tools then the only thing I would say is as long as the photograph is grabbing your attention why bother about the post processing. Also to perform good post processing one has to know how his final image would look like and how not to overdo the processing. We have all seen images which were overdone to death, halo’s coming out of every age possible and dark sky’s which look unnatural to say the least.
My mantra for post processing is simple. Do the processing as long as it looks natural. Also if you are doing any photo manipulation i.e. removing people or removing telephones wires just accept that yes you have removed them using some tools. It’s not that your worth as a photographer would become any less if you accept removing lines or wires. Just tell the truth instead of hiding it. So to conclude the question is post processing good? Yes it is J at least for me it is.
This battle of opinion between the cult which thinks that is post processing good and processing not good is an age old battle and I think this will continue for as long as we can imagine. It is up to us which side to choose and be happy producing images which are visually pleasing. Happy taking photographs and processing them.
What’s your take on post processing? Would you like to see a before and after of any image that I have post processed? Do leave your suggestions and opinions in the comments section below. Like my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/woveninlight to stay updated with all the news related to my blog. Till next time happy processing 😉