I’ve had some pretty interesting responses to  my blog post “Is post-processing cheating“, most of the response has been positive and supportive, with a few of the “purists” weighing in to have their say too. Here is a short version of my photography philosophy so to speak:

Getting it right in camera:

My goal is to get my photography as near as perfect as I can in the camera, this involves using external and artificial lighting, bounces, neutral density filters and graduated filters in order to balance the light. It also involves knowing my ISO and f-stops, knowing what shutter speed I need to use to get the effect I want, basically knowing the gear I have on hand inside out, in order to create the best possible image I can.

Cambodian Boys – Unprocessed – Screen Capture of RAW file

Once I have captured the image I want, I will process the image until it meets the vision I had when deciding to create the image originally. Most of the time this only involves contrast adjustments and maybe only in specific areas. It may, at times, involve hand blending more than one exposure together.. I rarely use automated tools.. because you get an automated result that the software decides, not me, the artist.  The final step for me is sharpening the image to prepare it for print.

The Mythical Purist:

I had a few comments about photography purists and from self-proclaimed photography purists, trying to say that their images don’t have any processing or post-processing.  To which I respond with a resounding rubbish! *ALL* images are processed, regardless of the medium they are captured in. The only images that have never been processed.. are still on the roll of film, waiting to be useful.

In the days of film (that aren’t even really over), many photographers would process their own film in a dark room of some description. In the dark room you would often find them dodging and burning their images, cross-processing (involves using chemicals in the “wrong” order), they’d create sepia version, they’d pull or push the exposure.. generally they could do just about anything we can do in photoshop these days! If they weren’t processing them in a dark room, they would send them off to someone else to process them in a lab, either by hand or machine.. either way the images were processed and the decisions were made by someone else.. or a machine!

Cambodia – Camera RAW conversion (no post-processing)

These days if you are shooting in any sort of automatic mode (aperture priority, shutter priority, auto white balance, auto ISO etc), then the camera is making decisions for you, removing some of the control out of your hands. Once the image is captured, the camera applies it’s own algorithms to it to produce either a RAW image.. or it is completely processing the image to produce a jpeg image. The jpg has now been processed. If you are shooting in RAW (which I *highly* recommend), then you will have a digital negative that is useless for anything until it’s been processed.

I call the purist a myth because at some point, somewhere your image that is ready for web or print.. has been processed, either by yourself or by the camera. Personally, as it’s my artwork, I would much prefer to have artistic control over the processing.

Post-Processing:

Post-processing is the adjustments made to an image after the RAW file has been converted to something usable.. this is the territory where the “purists” start turning their noses up (some of them, not all). Generally for me this is where I’ll sort out any dust issues (curse you digital sensor!), maybe apply some noise removal, make contrast and levels adjustments as I see fit.. and generally refine the rough image I have until it is a polished image ready to display. There is a lot of artistry involved in this section and it can be as complex or as simple as you see fit.

For some of my images, I’ve applied textures to them in order to complete the image, this is my own personal preference, most of my images aren’t processed this way.

This final image from Cambodia has a particular significance. While I was there I visited Tuol Sleng, the Cambodian Genocide Museum, the museum is actually where they did a lot of the torture and some of the killing before taking their prisoners out to the killing fields and killing them. On the floors and walls of the museum there are still blood stains and marks.. it’s quite a sobering place, you can’t help but be moved and emotional. As strange as it sounds, I took photos of the blood stained cement and I’ve used those images as textures for some of my Cambodia images.

Cambodian Boys – Final image – post-processed

I’ve done this for some of the images to illustrate the horrendous history that this struggling nation is working to overcome, the past doesn’t necessarily define them as a people, but it does present unique challenges.

When used appropriately, post-processing can be very significant, meaningful and can make the image. My thoughts on post-processing are, if the technique and post-processing become louder than the message and the overall vision.. then the image has failed.. this is my personal thoughts and not for everyone. This thought process is why I don’t particularly like most HDR images, especially those put through automatic processing software and come out with a psychedelic edge. That is my own personal taste and doesn’t mean they are right or wrong, as with all art, it is very subjective .

My personal pet-peeve is when someone says “oh you photoshopped it” and the implication is that there is some magical button in Photoshop that will turn a turd of a photo into a masterpiece.. there isn’t, photoshop and post-processing is a skill and an art, it needs to be learned and applied with care and intent!

I would love some feedback and thoughts on this, feel free to leave a comment, I’ll try my best to respond to them all. I’m considering adding some more posts with tutorials and tips for processing and post-processing your images, please let me know if you would be interested in that idea.

Don’t forget to subscribe via email on the right there too!

Regards

Paul Pichugin