Mar 18, 2017Is the Art in the Photograph or the Processing?

Is the Art in the Photograph or the Processing?

You can’t control the weather but you can make it look better

TLDR: Both.

Often when I take a picture, what I see and what the camera ‘sees’ are two very different things. And then again, often because of time constraints, I have to take the picture then and there. There is no option to come back later at a different time of day, or when the weather suits my photographic vision. Also for some odd reason, even with a spirit level built into the camera viewfinder, I am congenitally unable to keep a level – I blame my Astigmatism. Any camera is limited in its recording of the scene in front of it. And you can add to that the human brain’s uncanny ability to correct what your eyes see for a huge range of color casts. Unless you are an artist you’ll very rarely notice the influence of the color of the light and the height and direction of the prevailing light source.

If you are using a point and shoot camera the camera is making all sorts of processing decisions on your behalf. For this reason, I shoot Raw (digital negatives). What I get is the plain unadorned, uncorrected image that the camera sensor recorded – with all the camera sensor’s inherent color and luminance interpretation – or more accurately lack thereof.

Turning a dull dark evening into something more interesting

So, taking the picture is just the start of the process. Depending on the purpose of a picture (and by purpose, we are being very subjective here, as none of my pictures have a real purpose), I may spend anywhere between a couple of minutes and five-to-ten minutes processing each image. Some can take a lot longer.

Over time tools change, tastes change, and my skills improve, so I go back and re-edit some pictures. Other times I get really brave and tackle the huge (1500+) picture processing backlog I have. Several of those pictures are ones that I had a specific idea of how I wanted them to turn out – but up to now I’ve not got it “just-so.” and they are sitting there waiting for inspiration to strike.

For me, the art is in both seeing the picture and then bringing out the best from it. When I say “seeing the picture” – that doesn’t mean the image in front of me, I mean the idea of the completed processed picture that forms in my mind.

It took many years for stitching and combining software to be able to put this image together the way I wanted it.
A panoramic view of a golden sunset showing a silhouette of South Parade Pier, the beach, sea and Isle of Wight. Southsea, UK
South Parade Pier, Southsea UK
I much prefer this take on my 2007 picture.
I really liked this edit when I first created in in 2007. Now it’s just meh.
Coping with the Nikon’s poor exposure metering

Three different versions of the same image.

And the original is very different. Among other things, I lightened the trail to reinforce the visual path between the trees and darkened the edges to draw the eye to the center and make it more sinister.

Two pictures, two treatments.

There are some purists who think you should be able to take an image and print it – the “Out of Camera” cognoscenti. When you do it and the picture meets your needs, it is great – but even then you have to decide which software is going to convert the Raw image in your camera. My current camera has around 20 (guess) different shooting and ‘Film render’ modes.

I have to admit I thought I was cheating by post-processing – until I learned that the original Alfred Edward Beken (Beken of Cowes) and Ansel Adams were both masters of post-production. And I was even happier to discover that Adams re-visited the processing of some of his pictures over time. Most famous of all is the picture of Che Guevara — Guerrillero Heroico by Alberto Korda, which started life as a very ‘Meh’ picture. Korda’s genius was in spotting the wonderful crop, and producing what is claimed to be the most reproduced photograph of all time.

Reprocessing not only allows me to breathe new life into a picture but also come up with very different images. It has also taught me skills that I use in one of my jobs – post-processing submitted images for inclusion in a magazine.

As to what I use to edit my pictures, currently, I’m using Adobe Lightroom for the majority of my editing. I use Iridient X-Transformer to convert some of my raw files, and I dip into Photoshop for sticky edits that Lightroom cannot manage. There are some post-processing techniques I just will not use (I guess I should never say never). The highly stylized and halo-ed HDR pictures for example. However, different tastes are what drives the diversity in the world. Each to their own.

Is post-processing art? I have no doubt. Absolutely it is an art-form. When I see some of the post-processing that other photographers are doing – manipulating and combining images to produce different and even surreal pictures, I know I am just scratching the surface.   

Copyright © 2017 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.


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