Post Processing? or Not?

A lot has been said about post processing.  In the old days of film, you took a roll of film to your local camera store or a WallyWorld to get it developed.  (Or if you had a darkroom, you could do it yourself.)   That in itself is a kind of post processing.  Depending on how good the individual was at his job, you got back a set of decent 3×5 prints.  Sometimes the color was off on one of them due to batch processing.  Then you could take that one negative back and have him or her custom print it.  In other words, adjust the color, or brightness, or whatever was needed to get the print right.  Post processing.

Now in the 21st century we are in the digital age.  We take photos with our digital camera.  Again we can take the memory card to your favorite “developer” and have them do the prints for you.  Or, again, you can do the processing yourself.  Regardless of how good the camera is, it can never get the absolute picture that you saw with your naked eye.  But most individuals are satisfied with what comes out of the camera.  They are good enough to show their friends and relatives, or post to a popular social media.  Or to sell.

Some people say, “get it right in the camera, and there is no need for post processing.”   An image from the camera does look ‘right’.  Or does it?  Look at the following photos of mine.  The images from the camera do look right.  I would probably would be able to sell them the way they are.  But, when I do my post processing, or digital darkroom work, as I like to call it, all of a sudden the photos look more like what I saw before I took the picture.

Click on the photos and examine each one and you will know what I am talking about.

Western Kingbird from the camera.

Cassin’s Kingbird from the camera.

Western Kingbird after post processing.

Cassin’s Kingbird after post processing.


White-breasted Nuthatch from camera

White-breasted Nuthatch from camera

White-breasted Nuthatch after post processing.

White-breasted Nuthatch after post processing.

In no way do either of these photo look “tricked up” or faked in anyway.  The changes are subtle, but noticeable enough to give more naturalism to the images.

It is very, very rare for me to NOT to post process, or at least check the images out to see if any edits need to be made.  Not that my photos don’t look good from the camera;  it is just that I know that the camera just can’t record all the minute details, or see as well into the shadows as well as my human eye.  So as you can see, it doesn’t hurt to do a bit of post processing, or editing, then you know for sure your result is closer to what you saw in the viewfinder before you clicked the shutter.

For the record, I use PhotoShop along with a couple of choice plug-in programs.  “An old family recipe ‘that was handed down………..”,  just kidding.. 🙂

Jerry, over at Quiet Solo Pursuits, talks more about this at the end of his current post.  Click on the link to see his take on it.


33 thoughts on “Post Processing? or Not?

  1. I vote for no processing, ’cause who’s got the time? It makes me work harder at getting the in-camera exposure just right. I think all four photos look equally good.

    • You are right, Shannon, if you can get ‘right’ in the camera, there really is no need. I do know, personally, that you are a very busy lady, so I really appreciate what you do. I have seen your photographs and they are excellent. I do agree with you, all four images are good, except I had the time to give them a little extra “pop”. Thanks so much for the comment.

  2. Bob – your approach to post processing is proper, acceptable, and very common. In the short time I’ve been terrorizing the world with my cameras, I have migrated to the same policy. Once in a while I have to do nothing to the image, but 95% of the time I give it one pass at sharpening, 10% less brightness, and 10% more contrast.

  3. Very enlightening. I am not a photographer, but do appreciate the time and the artistic ability displayed in your photos.. Really appreciate the comments from Rick Bailey as art work is very difficult to photograph for prints. Kudos to you..

  4. Great information and post. I am forever technically challenged, and rarely if ever leave anything exactly as the camera saw it, but I think that being able to bring out what you “see” with post processing is the best reason for shooting in RAW.

  5. Bob, your work is stunning. I’m a faithful reader/viewer, though I don’t comment often. I’m always so impressed with the sheer numbers of different bird species you photograph, and with the wonderful quality of the photos themselves.

    Post processing is essential if you are a professional – as you are. My own experience with it comes from reproducing my wife’s watercolor paintings for publication on the web, and printing reproductions for sale. I spent weeks reading and studying and experimenting how to do this. It’s difficult to get the colors just right. In fact, I would say it’s near impossible to stay absolutely true to the original painting. Processing through PS takes a lot of critical comparison and delicate adjustment. Photographing a painting and getting it right takes a lot of time. The camera does not do it right. It just can’t. There are too many variables – the quality of your light during photographing, the luminescence of your monitor (and it’s adjustability), the palate of the painting (blues, turquoise, and greens are the most difficult to reproduce truly, especially if the all occur in the same painting). The best I can hope for is to get a photo that captures most of the raw image data, then adjust it until it looks like the original. And it’s so easy to do too much.

    You can see some of Ruth’s work, and my efforts to reproduce them photographically at this link:

    • Thank you, Rick. I definitely appreciate your great comment. I have look at Ruth’s great work. I can see, with the textures in her paintings, they would be very difficult to photograph. Thanks for the link.

  6. As a photographer, years ago I used to process all my pictures in my own darkroom and that’s where process started, first chemically, then processing for printing. Involved lots of “tricks” in order to get the prints right, it wasn’t easy and took a lot of time. Digital photography has the advantage of saving you all that wasted time and have the finish product looking flawless and in no time at all. I’m in favor of post processing! Nice post Bob! 🙂

  7. Thanks for the shout out, Bob! There has been one advantage to being one of the last hold outs that doesn’t do any post-processing, it has forced me to learn my equipment inside and out. Not just all of the adjustments available to me, but how each lens and even supposedly identical Canon 60 D bodies react to different lighting conditions. But, your great images, along with those of a few other bloggers, have convinced me that there are limits to digital cameras that can only be overcome with software fixes.

  8. Bob,
    I certainly agree with you that some editing of the “raw” pictures taken with the digital camera is good and usually necessary. I quite frequently do that. One should not forget, too, that unless you save the pictures in the “RAW” format, they’re already processed by the camera software.
    Have a good one,

    • Pit, your comment has merit. However, I know of no other pro that does not do some post processing of some extent. As I said, the camera software doesn’t always get it right.

  9. Very well-written post, Bob, and very informative! Since I am new to photography, and don’t have a natural aptitude for the finer technical details, I have to do a bit of tweaking to most of my photos. I’ve read interesting opinions on this in the Digital Photography School newsletter I receive and I think most people’s beef with post processing is those who use it to create really fake looking effects that they then try to pass off as a true representation photo.

    • Thanks, Amy, for your thoughtful comment. I agree with you and understand those peoples beefs. But, on the other hand, check out Ansel Adams’ photos. They are far and away from a true representation of what the scenes really looked like. But, he was a master in the darkroom, dodging and burning the negatives and ended with fantastic works of art.

      • I had no idea about Ansel Adams and this discussion has really piqued my curiosity! I can’t wait to check out what you are referencing!

        Oh, and after I read this post this morning, I decided to try out one of my photo software programs called Digital Photo Professional (I think it came with my camera) and play around with it a bit. Normally I just do a bit of tweaking of exposure in my Windows live photo gallery. Anyway, this software has an HDR tool so I was playing around with it just a little and now I’m excited to go back and goof around with it some more and see what kind of wild things I can do with it!

        So, my point is that your discussion (and Jerry’s thoughts on the subject previously) have really sparked me to be a bit more adventurous with the software I currently have!

        • Welcome the the land of adventure, Amy. 🙂
          The HDR can be a lot of fun. It works best if you take at least three exposures, one with the proper reading, one with one stop over-exposed, another with one stop under-exposed. Best to use a tripod for this. The HDR program asked for you to load all three images, then it will go to work and give you some amazing results. Much fun.
          Personally, I have been using a new program by Topaz, called Topaz Adjust. You can use several presets, including some HDR presets, and you need only one image to work with unstead of the three (or more) that I mentioned. It cost about 50.00, and has a free trial period. It is fun to check the presets, then play with sliders to make different adjustments of your own. Just Google Topaz Adjust and it should take you to the download section.
          But my main editing program is PhotoShop. I just use the Topaz thing when I might want to tweak things a bit – or I want to be adventurous. 🙂

  10. Excellent article, Bob. I agree with you 100%. And your excellent “before and after” images drive the point home. In my case, post processing makes up for my shortcomings as a photographer. Often, in the heat of the moment, I forget to tweak one or another camera setting before taking a shot. Thus, I always shoot in RAW so that a pass through Lightroom can make up for my sins of omission.

    • Dwynn, you caught me. I have the same ‘shortcomings’ as you do. I always shoot RAW also, but I still want to do my own editing, to correct those little oversights you mentioned.

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