Friday, April 21, 2017

The Time Spent Post-Processing Photographs

My photograph "Red Chairs" in the editing process.
Almost every photographer spends time editing their pictures, some more than others. A couple years ago I read an article about a photographer who spent two weeks post-processing one image. Not just an hour here and an hour there, but two solid weeks of sitting in front of a computer editing one single image. Crazy, huh?

Some people really love Photoshop and computer manipulation. Personally, the less time I can sit looking at a computer screen the better. I view post-processing as a necessary evil, and I limit it as much as I can. I find shortcuts. I might even delete an image altogether if I feel it might take too long to edit.

But I still find myself spending lots and lots of time in post-production. In fact, I find that every hour of capturing means two hours of editing. Sometimes it's less and sometimes it's more, but on average it is a two-to-one ratio. The hours spent digitally manipulating pictures can add up quickly!
The Morning Window - San Simeon, California
This is a photograph that I spent a significant time post-processing, starting from a RAW file. 
This isn't a new phenomenon to the digital age. Back when I shot film I would spend hours and hours in the darkroom. I can recall days (in the winter months) starting in the lab before sunrise and not finishing until after sunset, working straight through with no breaks. Post-production has always been a part of the photographic process.

What I like about photography is the capturing and the finished product. It's the in-between stuff that I could do without, if only I could actually do without it. I have to post-process in order to get the polished images that I want.

Actually, the pendulum swings. There have been times where I spent significant amounts of time editing RAW files. There have been times where I used straight-out-of-camera JPEGs. And everything in-between. It's all about what you want to compromise.
Blue Umbrella At The Lake - Antelope Island State Park, Utah
This is a camera-made JPEG that I should have probably given a light edit to.
And no matter what there are compromises. Don't want to compromise any on the image quality and final look? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be your time. Don't want to compromise your time? Well, something's got to give, and it's going to be the photograph.

I try to find a good balance where I'm compromising the least amount possible of both quality and time. My time is valuable and there are so many things that I'd rather be doing than editing, including capturing more pictures and spending time with my family. I want to use my time wisely because it is a limited resource.

To speed up my workflow so that I'm not in front of a computer too long I use presets (pre-programmed settings within my software that give a certain look when applied). I don't mess with curves or anything like that (well, sometimes I do, but I try not to) and I try to keep the customization of each image to the absolute minimum required to achieve the desired look. I also shoot JPEGs instead of RAW (thanks to Fujifilm's excellent in-camera JPEG processing), and try to get as much as possible correct in the field.
Birds On A Vase - South Weber, Utah
This is an example of doing just enough post-processing to achieve the desired look without using up too much of my valuable time. 
Something else that I try to do is delete every exposure that doesn't immediate strike me as being good. It's easy to think that an image is good because of an emotional attachment to it, when it is in fact not all that great. It's easy to think that a little editing can make a mediocre image shine, but that's an illusion.

I've spent a lot of time over the years post-processing exposures that should have been deleted. Looking back at these images I wonder why I thought of them as worthy of my attention. They were a waste of time! I don't want to repeat that mistake, so I aim to be especially critical when reviewing my exposures. Keep the good ones. Delete the mediocre ones. Time saved.

The time spent post-processing photographs adds up to a ridiculous number of hours. It's an investment that needs to be made in order to make your photographs look the best that they can, but it's easy to spend too much time at it. You have to make some compromises. You have to find shortcuts. You have to know when good enough is good enough. Avoid being unwise with your time. Know when there are better things that you could be doing, and find a way to do those better things instead, because you only have so many hours in your day.

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