Photography 101: Post-Processing Is 75% of the Work

Stephen F. Dennstedt

Digital photography is not your father’s photography. I switched from film to digital when I was 62 years old—that was in 2009. Before retiring my film cameras I bought a Canon Rebel XSi (450D) with two kit lenses to mess around with first.

Although I had snapped shutters for 55 years by 2009 digital technology hooked me immediately. Its been nine years since I made that decision and I continue to learn new things everyday. The learning curve for this old dinosaur was steep.

Within months of buying my Rebel XSi I sold it and upgraded to the relatively new Canon EOS 5D Mark II (released in 2008). At the time it was the penultimate full-frame sensor digital camera and it was a real game changer for photographers. I shot with the Mark II for eight years while trekking the world and really put it through its paces. I was out of the country for six years and didn’t upgrade to the Mark III (released in 2012) instead I waited until I returned for a short visit to the USA in 2017 and upgraded to the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. It’s a great camera and my primary shooter.

Kirkyard of Saint Nicholas – Aberdeen, Scotland

Canon typically refreshes its pro-line cameras every four years so I wouldn’t expect to see a Canon EOS 5D Mark V until sometime in 2020. By that time I will be 73 years old and will have snapped shutters for over 66 years. My best guess is that my Mark IV will be my last new camera purchase—unless of course Canon does something really radical with its Mark V and I find I just can’t resist. Stranger things have happened. I basically refreshed my entire photography kit (cameras + lenses) during my 2017 visit and I will be good to continue until I croak God will’n and the creeks don’t rise.

But this article is about post-processing and not the latest and greatest camera gear. I mentioned earlier that switching from film to digital involved a HUGE learning curve for me. Digital photography involves two steps: capturing the image and processing the image. You will spend about 25% of your effort capturing the image and 75% of your effort processing the image. I’m talking about capturing and processing RAW files and not JPEG files—if you’re a serious amateur or working professional photographer you’re shooting in RAW almost 100% of the time.

Clifden Castle Ruins – Clifden (County Galway) Ireland

Mastering gear and technique is not all that difficult—it’s a learned skill (put in the time & effort and you can learn it). Post-processing isn’t quite so easy. In addition to the technical ability you need (which can be learned) it also requires some innate artistic (creative) talent that not everyone is fortunate enough to be born with. You can learn some skill-sets while others are natural. The advantage of shooting JPEG files, for the non-artistic photographer, is that images are automatically processed in-camera using factory predetermined algorithms—and they do a pretty good job of it.

The River Tay with Saint Mathew’s Church of Scotland – Perth, Scotland

Hope is not entirely lost for the non-artistic RAW shooter however—both Lightroom and Photoshop offer many automatic shortcuts in their programs to help with decent processing. As the photographer’s post-processing skill-set matures they can take more creative control over their images. What differentiates a bad photo from a good photo to an excellent photo often comes down to the photographer’s ability to properly process their image. Just capturing an image with a camera & lens is not the end it’s only the beginning—75% of your work is still ahead of you (sorry).

The Tolbooth (Former Prison) – Aberdeen, Scotland

Unless the photographer is into graphic arts I think the end goal of post-processing needs to be a natural looking photo with an artistic flair. This approach requires subtlety. Many of the images I see are WAY overdone—to the point of appearing over-baked and crunchy (unnatural). I think good photography requires a certain level of technical skill and aesthetic (artistic) skill—lacking in one only impedes the other. It’s important to know your camera inside & out but it’s equally important to know your editing software inside & out and that takes time—a lot of time (and effort).

Field Notes: I process my RAW files with Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and Photoshop Elements 15 (PSE15). I strive for natural looking images with an artistic flair—I’ve included some examples of what I mean. Many photographers (especially beginners) in my opinion use a heavy hand—too much of everything. Click on the before & after images of the Kirkyard Cemetery and compare the RAW file to the finished photo—the differences are subtle but definitely there. Patience is important, learning to post-process effectively takes both time and effort. SFD

One response to “Photography 101: Post-Processing Is 75% of the Work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.