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Post-Processed Paris Pictures

October 19, 2012

This image of the base of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is one of my most publicized pieces as well as one of the more controversial ones. Within the circle of amateur and semipro photographers I share my work with, I have encountered a variety of opinions on the use of editing software. I know not all of our readers are serious enough about their picture taking to bother with post-processing most of the time, but I’d like to share my stance on the subject anyway. I also know a lot of aspiring photographers who emphasize what they call the “purity” of the image, who feel like edited photos lose their original impact and that they need to achieve a unique look with the picture alone.

Now, I like the purity of certain pictures as well, and certainly don’t use effects like the Paris shot above on all or even most of my work. But there are all sorts of other ways to create a surreal looking photograph – through extreme depth of field, intentionally overexposing or underexposing an image, fisheye lenses, long exposure, etc. (Links are to introductory articles for those unfamiliar with the terms, and examples of some creative uses.) Since there are so many ways to distort reality in-camera, I don’t see post-processing as being any different. Some of the worlds greatest photographers spent plenty of time dodging and burning film photographs in the darkroom. Take Ansel Adams, for example; one of the world’s most celebrated photographers, whose photographs of Yosemite in the 1930s were arguably one of the driving forces behind the expansion of the National Park Service as we know it today. Working with digital photographs simply means working with a digital darkroom. There is absolutely such a thing as a photo that is overdone or that rides on fancy effects rather than skill or good technique, but that doesn’t mean a photographer shouldn’t experiment with different ways to bring out their own take on reality.
In this case, our eyes are capable of capturing a wider range of light than a camera, so in reality a person could probably make out some of the details that your average snapshot could not. The camera’s visualization of the subject as a silhouette is already a step away from reality. On the one hand, you could use post-processing to remove some of the shadows and bring it more in line without own perceptions. Or you cold go the other way and pump up those shadows for a really dynamic effect. Both are just another way of looking at things. At the end of the day every artist is just trying to share how they see the world, and we all have different ways to do it.

My main problem is, like I stated before, that some people rely on effects to make up for what would otherwise be a lackluster photo. It’s like cheesy effects-driven films. Adding CGI explosions only does so much to hide the fact that there is no plot or character development.
Likewise, since it is so much easier some people just click a button and are done with it. Take Instagram, for example. I actually happen to believe that there is a lot of value in those vintage effects to create a particular atmosphere. But if you’re taking a picture of yourself in the mirror with your cell phone, there is no logical reason why that picture should look like a 60s Polaroid. Hammers are very useful tools, but not when it comes to screwing in a light socket. Use your best judgment to decide whether the tool you’re about to use is actually the best one for the job.
Each edit should have a purpose that adds to the picture. Choosing to go black and white brings out textures and can help eliminate background distractions, for example. But not every picture looks best in black and white. The fact that editing is easier now doesn’t make it any less valuable. It just means it’s a little more prone to being used inappropriately.

Example of the levels adjustment tool in Adobe Photoshop. It’s a very quick and simple tool once you get the hang of it.

In my opinion, there is no single policy on editing that leads to universally better photography. But if you do edit, ask yourself whether it’s really necessary.

And if you don’t, give it a shot and see if it creates a result you appreciate. If you’re looking for a happy middle ground, I recommend finding software that includes levels adjustment. It gives you more freedom than a normal contrast editor, and most of the time it’s the only tool I use after it goes on my computer. It came with the 2008 copy of iPhoto that came free with my computer, so you don’t need some advanced, professional program to be able to use it.

Sorry today’s post was a little more technically oriented, but I’ve had discussions about it with both beginners and photographers who are much more successful than I am, so hopefully you can find some value in this post no matter what your experience level is.

Good luck!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2012 10:58 pm

    i totally agree with your post, editing is essential as you can even make minor changes which doesn’t lead to overprocessed or unrealistic photography. i also like your take on instagram.

    • October 19, 2012 11:58 pm

      Often people feel like there is a right or wrong answer, but the minute you take your camera off the “auto” setting you’re making changes. From shutter speed to levels adjustment to instagram filters, it’s just a bunch of tools. No one of them is better or worse than any other, you just have to decide which is most appropriate for your vision for that particular photo. Thanks for your input, and I’m glad you liked it!
      I love your work, by the way! Do you have a space where you discuss your techniques or post-processing habits?

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