The Importance of Post Processing

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As a full time, professional landscape photographer, I am often required through workshops and 1-2-1 private tuition days, to assist people in helping them develop their photography skills. I must hear the following sentence at least once a week if not more. “I hate post processing, I hate spending time in front of a computer editing images. I just want to get it right in camera in the first place.” Now I believe that you should want to strive to capture the very best quality images that you can in camera by using all of the knowledge that you have built up, the experience that you have gained and the equipment that you have so heavily invested in but and for me it’s a big BUT, post processing using an image editing program is a major part of creating beautiful images. For me it is an essential part of my process and yet so many people both undervalue and under develop their skills in front of a computer.

I understand also that your tastes change over time and that as you develop more as a photographer, so do your expectations in what you consider a quality image to be. I’ll give you an example.

Below is a photograph that I took way back in October 2011 while visiting Grizedale Forest near Coniston in the beautiful Lake District. I owned a Canon 5D MK2 DSLR and a Tamron 28-75mm f2.8 lens. It was 9.30am and the sun had risen two hours earlier. It was an atmospheric morning with heavy mist present pre-dawn which started to burn off as the sun rose higher in the sky. I was wandering around through the overgrowth, hiking boots wet through from the heavy dew that had formed overnight. I saw over the road this wonderful shaft of light streaming through the trees, illuminating the grasses as it went. I rushed over, positioned the tripod and got what I now consider to be a terrible image. It was in the days before I was using LEE filters and it was a single exposure image but the element of the image that disappoints me more is the composition or rather the lack of it. I photographed far more of the scene than I needed to in order to be sure that I at least had what it was that interested me in the first place rather than concentrating solely on the element I was most attracted to (which was the ray of light and the surrounding trees).

So I edited the image in October 2011 and forgot all about it until today when I was going back through some old folders wondering what I could reprocess now that my techniques have improved immeasurably.

The following three images show you the journey.

  • The first image is the original raw file simply opened in Photoshop CC and converted to JPEG. Nothing else has been done. Notice the inclusion of a lot of the sky and dead space on the right?
  • The second image is my original edit from October 2011. Terrible crop on the composition and the quality of the editing was shockingly bad. Of course at the time I thought it was fantastic and that I was far better than I clearly was.
  • The third image is a fresh edit from today (5th August 2016). What a difference a bit of knowledge in Photoshop can give you and of course the ability to see what it is you want when creating a high quality photograph.
    Grizedale Forest - Original RAW file
    First Image: Grizedale Forest – Original RAW file
    Image Two: Grizedale Forest - Original edit from October 2011
    Second Image: Grizedale Forest – Original edit from October 2011
    Third Image: Newly edited today (5th August 2016)
    Third Image: Newly edited today (5th August 2016)

I find the difference startling and I am still constantly amazed at how far people can develop over a period of time. It is one of the reasons why I love teaching so much, I get to be involved in helping people improve their photography and gain so much motivation and enjoyment in doing so.

So the purpose of this blog really is to have people understand that the art of post-processing requires almost as much time, energy and dedication as learning the art of using a camera.

I do teach Photoshop and also Nik Software on a 1-2-1 basis only. If interested, please contact me for details. Also do feel free to sign up for my free regular newsletters by clicking here. It only take twenty seconds.

Many thanks for reading.


15 thoughts on “The Importance of Post Processing”

  1. Melvin – couldn’t agree more….have been ‘image mining’ my old archives and revisiting images with my new found skills thanks to you , Tony, and your other colleagues , on post-processing workshops…..suspect it’s now around 50/50 on time for making images, and post-processing them . All I need now is cheaper paper, ink, and framing ! Regards, Ian

    • Thanks for leaving a comment Ian, I hope you’re well.

      ‘Mining’ is a great term to use because in essence what you are doing, is trying to find those golden nuggets that lay undiscovered in old folders or albums. Images that once passed you by the first time round due to your restricted knowledge and ability to see beyond what is staring you in the face. That’s the joy in not deleting old images because one day you may return and find exactly what you’re looking for.

      On the subject of printing, I have recently invested heavily in Epson’s latest SC-P800 A2 professional printer so I am in the process of adding prints for sale on the website. Exciting times ahead Ian. Keep shooting and smiling and maybe see you soon.

      Best wishes Melvin

  2. Yes – found some brilliant but obscure images (‘nuggets’ is a good description) from my trips to the US and NZ…I have the older Epson 4900 and 7900 and have to resist trying everything at 36″ x 24″ or A2….which would get expensive, assuming image quality is up to it!….however at least 36MP/50MP gives you a chance at that size.(b.t.w. Colourbyte papers are very good, high def/gamut papers and reasonable pricing). Saw the SC-P800 at the Photography Show in Birmingham , and may be my next investment when the 4900 finally gives up the ghost. Happy Shooting, Ian

    • I would love to venture over to the States Ian but I have to confess that I have a hankering to return to Australia and New Zealand again. I can dream for now, lol. Regarding printing, you’ll not be disappointed with the Epson SC-P800. Get it bought.

  3. I could not agree more. For a long time I shot HDR, albeit a moderate versipn of that. Now I have been mining my old archives and made new versions of one exposures. I often find I can achieve what I want and make it look more natural now from one exposure than I was able to do from 3 before.
    And post processing is at least as time consuming as shooting 🙂

    • Glad to hear that I’m not alone in ‘mining’ for golden nuggets Niels. When I edit my images and save them as a TIFF and I flatten them down instead of doing what most people do (I suspect anyway) in saving them as a PSD and keeping all of the layers open so that you can return to the image and change just one element of it instead of having to start again if you flatten it. My thinking is that my skills develop and my tastes change and I would rather re-edit an image from a year ago complete with my new found set of skills than simply amending a past edit. Images will invariably look a lot different if you edit the same one year after year after year.

  4. Totally with you on this Melvin. I first “discovered” RAW images when I bought my first DSLR a year ago. First impression was that the images looked terrible compared to the jpg version. I expected otherwise. I have therefore always processed my images, more often generating several versions of the same one. I quite enjoy post processing – there is a massive creative element to it and I’m happiest when I process an image to give a completely different mood and feel to it. This is a very long learning curve though!

    • I first picked up my first DSLR back in February 2007 David, a used Konica 5D (which the following year Sony bought out) and I was told very early on to shoot in raw even if I did not know what I was doing. So I started shooting raw within four outings and even though most of my images from that era are poor quality (due to my limitations and that of the camera), I am so glad that I did for going back and trying to create something from them now and then is very satisfying. I also think that it is very important to occasionally look back to see where you have come from instead of constantly looking towards the next goal. We can always be better than we are today but knowing just how far you have come over the years I think is equally important and motivating.

  5. Couldn’t agree more! I think post processing done correctly is just a natural extension from taking the image and just brings out the colours and detail that was already there to start with. I still consider myself a beginner but still cringe at images I took even a year ago, the best thing about photography is that you are always learning!

    • It’s great that you cringe at images you edited a year ago Jay as to me, that merely confirms that you’re developing (no pun intended, ha, ha) as a photographer. You should worry the day you don’t cringe at some of your old images. Mind you, my all time favourite image was taken back in November 2008, lamost two years after picking a DSLR for the first time. It was captured on a Canon 40D (cracking camera at the time) and it was of the setting sun streaming through the trees in Grizedale Forest, Coniston, Lake District. Funny how you can become attached to your work isn’t it?

  6. great little blog post Mel and it just goes to show, you should always save your images and a good reason. Today your skills might be okay in editing the images and you might edit that image and it appears okay to you and you may then possibly not save the original raw file. Then one day, as happened to me this last week when I finally joined the ranks of instagram and trawled though my images, I found loads that I had edited in the past, and not saved the NEFs ( I shoot Nikon- don’t all boo at once) and I suddenly looked and said… “why the hell did I ever edit that image like that? I’d do this and that to it now with my skill set which has grown over the years( at least I hope it has) and then you find.. you saved the bloody thing as a jpeg and you did not save the nefs. I have to say that only in the last 12 months did I start to save my nefs in any meaningful way. before I would pick the best images, edit them and bin the rest. a most stupid thing to do. ALWAYS keep your digital negatives because the skills you feel you have now might not be up to the job, but one day……. one day your skills could be really good and that image you dismissed or edited badly in the past can have a new life.

    • Well Kenny, I have to confess that I have always saved my raw files and merely created TIFF, full size JPEGS and small JPEGS for internet use so I have almost 3TB of images sat on my hard drives and what with this 50mp Canon 5Ds I’m now using, the hard drives are filling faster than ever before. I have seen the standard of your work and you’re bloody excellent, one of the best in your field from those I know.

  7. Interesting blog post Melvin. As a relatively recent convert to shooting exclusively in Raw I’m struggling to imagine how you could create good quality images (jpegs) without at least a degree of post-processing. While i’m still very much a learner both in terms of photography and post-processing I enjoy the creative challenge of producing ‘acceptable’ images (I’m still learning how to fully utilise the capabilities of Phase One’s Capture OnePro software).
    I’m using a good quality bridge camera (Panasonic DMC-FZ1000), which is inevitably a compromise in terms of basic image quality. This makes post-processing even more important than it would be with a top-of-the-range DSLR. My reasoning has been that until my basic skills improve there is little point investing in top quality equipment. So, right now effective post-processing s a vital component of photography for me.

    • Thanks for writing Alan. I am currently considering purchasing Phase One’s Capture OnePro software as I have read that your raw files look far more natural than in camera raw/Lightroom. I shoot with Canon latest 50pm monster 5Ds and the raw file when opened in camera raw is terrible. The shadow areas are far too dark and editing the images require a different approach from me after having used the Canon 5D MK3 for a couple of years or so. It’s also a learning curve in photography Alan but that’s why I love it. It keeps you on your toes for sure but there is a great reliance on technology to bring out the best in what you capture.

      With regards to developing your skill set and matching it with the camera at the time is a real valid point. I use to work for a chain of camera shops three years ago and I regularly had people coming in with £4,000-£5,000 burning a hole in their pocket and wanting the latest Canon 5D MK3 / Nikon D800. It would transpire that they had been shooting for around a year or so and had decided that they wanted a top of the range full frame camera in an effort to ‘take better quality photos’. Once I explained that unless they had the technical knowledge their images would probably look a little worse due to the high resolution of the larger sensors and pin sharp glass exposing their flaws and lack of knowledge in a variety of areas. I still get a lot of people attending my workshops who own such top quality equipment with very little knowledge and experience. Mind you, I am happy to see them and assist where I can.

  8. Shooting Raw is the only way to go. It’s give you so much more options and flexibility in the post processing stage. Once you have your workflow routine, images are easy to process.

    And as you point out in your article as your skill at post processing & photoshop increases so does the quality of your images.


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