The Importance Of Developing A Philosophy Of Post Processing

After I reached a certain level of competence in post processing, I began to think more about the whys rather than the hows.

Post processing is as every bit important to me as any decision I make regarding what camera I'm using, what lens, what settings, what subject matter. For me, it's the Afterlife of the mortal image, the RAW image which was born of the natural world and that crosses over the barrier of Death, from the camera to the computer.

To carry the analogy further, the devoted photographer is also a religious fanatic, a devout practitioner of photonic transition. As a pilgrim of the Divine Light, the photographer must follow the light, from source to subject. The act of pressing the shutter button is a song from a hymnal. And the end of a photographic session marks the end of the line for a series of images before they journey to the Next Life, where they will be prepped in finery and presented to the Gods for Eternal Deletion or for Eternal Salvation - on hard drives and in the Cloud.

For me, the importance of post processing can't stressed enough.

And like the religious fanatic, a way of thinking about the entire journey of an image becomes paramount. A way of thinking, a philosophy, emerges over time to guide the photographer on the path of Lighteousness.

Punning and analogies aside, a philosophy of post processing developed, at least for me, in the early days of my photographic exploration, when I wasn't adept at post processing, didn't possess the skills nor the wisdom. To be fair, I also lacked the appropriate gear and working knowledge to make potentially great images worthy of keeping. Photoshop and all its magic was yet to be realized in my workflow.

During those early days, I struggled with control of the minutiae. This would be what photographers call "local adjustments." With the cheap point-and-shoot, jpeg-spewing cameras I used to use, alongside the freeware or the underwhelming boxed editions of editing software, I would force global edits to make a point in one section of the image while the rest would suffer. In hindsight, I realize that my use of global adjustments were corrective in use and counterproductive in outcomes.

That process of trial and error, of frustration and ultimately, a temporary loss of interest, lead me to become more of a control freak later on once I set my mind to taking up the reins of post processing.

Which leads me to where I stand on presets and other such predetermined "looks" that many photographers rely on to begin their editing sessions.

"Let there be light! And presets?"

I abhor the idea of beginning my editing sessions with presets. Some photographers rely on this to varying degrees. But as a largely self-taught photographer and now retoucher, there is nothing more blasphemous to me than leaving the initial editing decisions up to others simply because "a starting point" is required, out of laziness or a desire to begin with a certain look (usually determined at random after scrolling through options like a monkey perusing a bunch of bananas - no offense intended towards monkeys).

Another closely-related argument for using presets at the beginning of post processing is mainly to "save time." This in itself, is a philosophy - regardless of how terrible and anti-creative, anti-photographer I think it is - is beside the point.

As a philosophy then, we could say this for those who embrace these two tenants of post-processing: I use presets as a starting point and to save time.

My strong critique of this philosophy is thus:

Using a preset as a starting point demonstrates laziness and lack of vision on behalf of the photographer. And saving time is no excuse to forego learning proper editing skills. Why fucking bother at all with real photography? Sell off your camera gear, buy an iPhone, and use cheesy filters as a way of creatively expressing yourself - join the masses. 728 million iPhone users can't be wrong. They just can't be photographers who understand, appreciate, and utilize editing that transcends the fast food version of it. Go and be the best McPhotographer you can be!

I've said this elsewhere, but that's not to say there isn't a place for presets in photography in certain commercial work, especially for wedding photography. There are almost always exceptions to just about everything. Fortunately, my philosophy allows for them - even if I don't, personally. Why leave the door open? Because maybe someday I'll need to develop my own presets for my commercial work in order to deliver images in a timely manner. Key words are: Develop My Own Presets.

"Reality" or documentary vs. fine art approaches

There's an important question I believe needs to be answered in one's personal philosophy of post processing, and that's a question of how far to go with it. Are we trying to stay true to the scene as we photographed it, or are we going to shape the image into something else entirely. Then there's the highway road markers in between those two positions.

There's a lot to be said on either side. For me personally, I don't tend to be a fan of "reality" for various reasons. But I also reserve the right as a photographer to be as artistic or documentarian as the image requires.

Specifically, I'm not a slave to what I see or what my camera sees and ultimately captures. This is merely my canvas, my "starting point".

Devil is in the details

Ultimately, it's a waste of time to discuss further specifics. For me, there are two main stands to take in post processing philosophy, after which everything neatly lines up accordingly. Namely, how to begin and how far to go.

As important are the whys. Why do I think this way about presets? Why do I believe in allowing myself to alter the reality of what I see in my post processing after importing images into Photoshop?

The whys are quite different from the procedure of hows although the whys are sometimes the results of the post processing education curve. Without questioning why something is done in post, I believe the photographer makes it more difficult for himself to understand his own photography. And that kind of lack of self-actualization can be easily transferred to an audience and negatively impact their opinions of the photographer.

Whatever my personal views on specifics in post processing are meant to be irrelevant to anyone reading this. I realize there are no right or wrong ways. A presets user (damn them all to post processing hell!) isn't anymore or less correct than I am in how we both decide to do things.

But not realizing the whys in all decision-making is a photography crime, in my book. A philosophy is not a philosophy without the whys. And without the whys, post processing is rudderless.

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