Ted recently talked about how he cleans up his photos in post-processing, such as removing shadows and bits of dirt. My friend Nathalie is so adept at image manipulation that she can remove whole people to leave behind the perfect child-on-horseback shot without revealing the adult who was keeping the horse in place. And my friend Warren, while referring to the background image on my Twitter profile, mentioned something about it being a nice pic considering I don’t do image manipulation.
These things got me thinking about post-processing photographs and what I do and don’t do. As I said in the comments on Ted’s post, most of my disdain for manipulating images after the fact stems from my concrete inability to do so. Sure, I can sharpen an image, remove noise, tinker with lightness and contrast, and various other primitives in the world of post-processing, but beyond the simple stuff I have to leave things alone. Why? Because I totally suck at it.
Add vignetting? Only if you want it to look like you’re in a train tunnel. Remove dust and debris from the image? Only if you want it to look like I removed dust and debris. Heck, I don’t even know how to create a mask or layer, steps necessary for more advanced manipulation techniques. And the truth is I have no interest in figuring those things out.
Why? The answer is twofold. First: There are many things I would rather be doing than learning how to “Photoshop” an image. If there are power lines in my landscape photo, then you’re going to see the power lines. Second: Ignoring that I can digitally create scenes from my photos that never existed in the real world means I have to focus more on the photography and less on creating something later. No, I’m not a professional photographer by any stretch of the imagination, yet I do think myself at least somewhat capable with a camera after spending years forcing myself to show what the lens caught just like it caught it rather than making the picture after the fact. To wit, I’d rather be outside taking pictures than sitting inside trying to fix them.
That means learning about filters, such as polarizing, neutral density, UV/haze, IR and intensifiers. It means learning about ISO and f-stops and exposure and hyperfocal distance. It means making certain that the camera does the work up front that I can’t and won’t do later. All that turns into more time doing what I love and less time sitting at a desk cleaning up messes. Because the more time I spend tinkering with an image, the more of a disaster it becomes. Heck, I can’t even make small changes to highlights, midtones & shadows or brightness & contrast without washing out the image, so trust me when I say you really don’t want to see me delving too far into post-processing.
There are religious purists who think any manipulation beyond the basics is akin to photographic heresy, an untruth perpetrated to further illicit goals of world domination through image manipulation. There are liars who create whole false scenes that never existed and present them as though they were real, showing dramatic pictures of rented animals while calling it wildlife photography. Then there are the masses who exist somewhere between those extremes. I’m counted amongst the masses with a focus on getting the picture with the camera rather than hoping I can somehow make it later.
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All photos of Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis). All post-processing consisted of cropping, noise removal, sharpening, and saturation increases. All photos taken with only a UV/haze filter.