Post Processing Photos

April 12, 2011 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 29 Comments | |
Post Processing Photos Image

Main image: Kiwi Macro...Taken yesterday in my studio--a three image HDR composition.

I recently read a thread on one of my favorite photo forums:  "Does anyone else dislike Post Processing for photos?"  

Great topic and conversation starter, really...

I think a lot of people are confused by just what defines "Photoshopping" a photograph. 

Some landscapes that one comes across, my own included, often provoke such exclamations as, "That is so beautiful, it can't be real!" 

I think the goal I always have in mind when I take any photograph is to take the right photo the first time. 

I never set out to take a picture thinking, "Now what I really want to do is spend a few good hours at my computer with this one!"

But the reality is, the digital camera/photography process itself adds some noise or "grain", both color and luminance to most photos, especially the dark areas. It doesn't look naturally "pretty", as film "noise" or grain does... In fact, if the noise is pronounced enough, it can look like squiggly little worms when you zoom in on it.  

Just plain ugly...

Post Processing Photos

Old Orchard Beach at sunrise in November.  My husband was taking pictures that looked like this with his iPhone!  It truly WAS this beautiful...

Both film and the digital process also don't seem to allow (at least in RAW format) for taking the contrasty, colorful images my eyes see. 

I have read multiple sources which suggest that such film greats as Ansel Adams spent a great deal of time in his own "Photoshop" (read: the darkroom) dodging, burning and otherwise contrasting up and tweaking his lovely photographs that hang in museums and private collections all over the world to this day. So "Post Processing" or "Photoshopping" has been around for a loooong time now. Even the artsy pictorialists spent a lot of time getting their delicate, soft-focus compositions to look the way they did after the fact...

Post Processing PhotosThis photo, taken at Portland's Downtown Showdown, had a lot of noise.  If I hadn't de-noised it, it would have been unusable.  After the fact, it is one of my favorite shots of the night. 

So, while I strive to take the right image in camera, and often come extremely close to the mark I set, I also have to de-noise my pictures and add a bit more contrast, saturation, and even brighten things up before they can be shown to anyone. And if I am turning an image into a monochrome/black & white, I obviously have to spend some time doing that... 

Post Processing PhotosBirches in new snowfall. Taken in color and converted to monochrome in Photoshop.

Entry Tags

RAW, photo, photoshop, JPEG, processing, alter, post processing, post process, photos. photographs, manipulate, change

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#1 Eric Kellerman

This is an article? If so, it’s of little value.

The biography takes up about a third of it too!

9:56 am - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#2 Jim McDermott

A small point, but I doubt if she’s been an artist her entire life, unless what she did in her nappies counts as an installation.

10:59 am - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#3 Jon Stern

My post processing is primarily motivated by my desire to transform the image from what the camera SAW, to what I FELT.

At the simplest level, noise removal fulfills this intention as I am rarely aware of noise in my own vision and even if I am, my memory seems to filter it out.

At the next level, processing like HDR, local tone mapping and modifying saturation result in an image that is closer to the sensation I had when I was there.

At the third level, heavy post processing may substantially alter the photo in a way that uncovers the FEELING of being there. This I believe was the intention of impressionist and post-impressionist painters.

3:04 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#4 Chris H

I totally agree with Jon Stern. Most of my own work is developed in an attempt to reflect the first glimpse of inspiration before I actually started looking too hard.

The only exception I think must apply is in the field of press photography where an image is meant to present events as they happened. There have, of course, been many examples in the past where this rule has also been ignored! Think Soviet leaders vanishing from group pictures for instance.

4:16 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#5 Nikhil Ramkarran

A lot of people seem to think there is some magical distinction between what an engineer designs a camera to produce and what a photographer produces from a RAW file. Somehow, to them, an image is legitimate only if you display it as it came off the memory card (or film negative).

I tend to prefer having some amount of say in what I eventually display as a photo I took. Some are heavily processed, or some are lightly processed. But the bottom line for me is that I must have had something good to start with, if I want to end up with something good.

8:23 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#6 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@Nikhil Ramakarran:  I couldn’t agree with you more.

8:39 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#7 Brian Richman

Eric Kellerman: +1. This “article” seems to be about 20% of the length and meaning of it could have been, no discussion of intent, which is exactly what Jon Stern (who I think also deserves a “+1”) was saying.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the use of the term post-processing in the “article”... Ansel is on film/video as being excited about the (then) forthcoming digital age in photography. For you not to cite him in an analog context only, draws a fatal flaw in your position, and reveals you to be a novice.

This entire subject is moot: post processing of digital images is as essential as dodging, burning and toning is in the analog darkroom and to even think otherwise is bizarre indeed.

9:24 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#8 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@ Eric Kellerman: Did you happen to click to the second page of the article?  If this is all you’ve read (the first page) then you missed half of it.

9:27 pm - Tuesday, April 12, 2011

#9 Brian Richman

Cynthia (message #8), your bio makes up more than 30% of the second page, not that the overall word count is all that high, as it is… I am disappointed in the article.

12:24 am - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#10 Eric Kellerman

Yes, Cynthia, I did read page 2 - you will note I mentioned your biography.

8:32 am - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#11 Davidikus

My feelings after reading the article remains the same.

We all have to ‘digitally develop’ the pictures we took & print them (even if only for the screen). I do not think of adjusting light, saturation, colours as ‘Photoshopping’, but as the digital equivalent of development and printing. I am tempted to add cropping too.

Adding a different sky, removing parts of the pictures or, arguably, removing the grain, belongs to another type of work, which I consider to be retouching (this is what I think is akin to Photography).

In terms of style, I do not want my pictures to be perfect. Very few of the great masters of the past that I admire had perfect pictures (their perfection is about composition, framing, not that fake, technical perfection). I do not mind if there is some blur for example, I rather enjoy it, actually, and sometimes actively look for it. I like shadows too (nothing bores me more than the current - North-American - type of photography where the light has to be even all throughout the picture).

So yes, I have to post-process slightly but as little as possible. It is a bit boring (though infinitely less tedious than spending hours in the lab under a red light!) & over-processed pictures are boring to look at.

5:20 pm - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#12 Scott

It’s great that someone has taken the time to write this article. However there is very little substance in it - more an expression of opinion that isn’t in any way original combined with a biography (of, with the greatest respect and no offence intended, no-one of any more significance than anyone else). The inference is that the writer considers themselves important that their opinion alone is significant. Undoubtably not their intention but unfortunatly that’s how it comes across. Every photo forum is full of much better thought out and comprehensive posts on this subject.

9:32 pm - Wednesday, April 13, 2011

#13 Max

Does every article have to be substantive?  And how many of you armchair quarterbacks would have the guts or the clear talent (that she obviously possesses) to attempt to write something and get it published?  This woman has a great eye - just look at the images she posted.  Give her a break.

3:26 am - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#14 Eric Kellerman


I think it’s fair enough of you to come out on Cynthia’s behalf, and you have a point about substance. But by laying into imagined ‘armchair quarterbacks’, you leave yourself open to easy rebuttal. Let me start: As an academic, I have over 100 published (and that means printed) articles, not to mention on-line stuff, and I do write about photography as well. So there you go.

A photographer may deliver excellent work, but there’s no logical reason why he or she should have anything useful to tell us in print. I am NOT saying this is the case with Cynthia’s article. However, I stand by my point that this is not an article with much content.

2:17 pm - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#15 Max

Eric, fair enough. I agree that I left myself open to easy rebuttal (and to being another “armchair quarterback”).  However, I still stand by my assertion that Cynthia is a damn fine photographer - note the images in the article.

2:33 pm - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#16 Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld

@Max:  Thanks!

2:39 pm - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#17 Brian Richman

For what it’s worth, I am not criticizing anyone’s photographic skills, I *am* criticizing the article as it is moot. To be more exact, at 660 odd words and not saying anything much except that Cynthia does a little bit of post processing, it is pointless.

Post processing is essential in digital photography. Post processing if nothing else, is required to get the images out of a digital camera and via some computing equipment onto somewhere, anywhere else.

“I never do anything except print it with no effects or sharpening or noise removal” is total rubbish.


Even if you just shoot JPG and do nothing yourself, printers (computer attached that is) apply a digital profile to the image when they make that 10x8 for you that modifies the image as it appears on the paper - ergo the image is post processed, whatever else you do.

So… Post Processing is part of the digital process. GET USED TO IT. ADAPT TO IT. USE IT.

Now *THAT* is a good theme for a 660 word article…

To re-visit use of Ansel Adams in the article, in the 21st century, he would be spending as much time in front of a computer screen as he did dodging and burning in the 20th. He was excited about digital and was aware that students in the future would be using it.

He also re-visited old prints and changed them, adjusting contrast, emphasizing one area over another that was ignored the first time round. The tools he had available to him (all analog) were nowhere near as flexible as those we have available to us now and we can do much more, should we choose.

Now *THAT* is another good theme for a 660 word article, much more significant, relevant and appropriate for photographers to prattle on about, but then that would need a blog author brave enough to ask the harder questions about such a controversial issue, wouldn’t it?

7:13 pm - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#18 Brian Richman

Oh and before anyone says: Cynthia never said:

“I never do anything except print it with no effects or sharpening or noise removal”

I am NOT saying she said it, I am saying that as a generality ... that sentiment is total rubbish.

Ok? :)

7:30 pm - Thursday, April 14, 2011

#19 mitrovi

1. Jim McDermott comment:“A small point, but I doubt if she’s been an artist her entire life, unless what she did in her nappies counts as an installation.”
I think this is one of the GREATEST comment I’ve red in my life and perfectly fits this useless article.
2. Cynthia, If your husband takes the same photo with his phone he his probably more skilled than what you are, so what the hell are you doing in this article???
3. the articles in this website are getting poorer and poorer every day, I’ll soon get rid of from my favorites list.

1:54 am - Saturday, April 16, 2011

#20 Craig Sillitoe

“I am steadily surprised that there are so many photographers that reject manipulating reality, as if that was wrong. Change reality! If you don’t find it, invent it!” – Pete Turner

6:23 am - Sunday, April 24, 2011

#21 Rox

I am just an amateur in photography and I am just using a digital camera.  I never post process my photos yet but if it is highly needed, then I will post process the photos for some reasons.

2:51 pm - Sunday, May 29, 2011

#22 Danuta Antas

I can’t see anything wrong in postproduction and Can’t really understand those who think different. I wonder wheather those in opposition also don’t accept make-up on a woman’s face. Why, woman competing in beauty contests are all made up to look the best possible for them and the photo can’t be made look better? Do another rules of beauty apply to photography? Those who are against postprocessing tend to deny that photography may be an art. As for a piece of art, it is always an artist’s interpretation of reality and it should be such. Why digital photography, which by nature is edited by means of computer, should deny all digital inventions designed for its purpose?
I think that people who are against manipulating don’t understand the truth nature of creativity and the true nature of digital art.
Yet, these are just my personal thoughts. Maybe I think this way, as I first has become an artist. Photography came later. Using all available tools or even inventing our own ones is so natural in case of painting, printing, drawing, etc. Why photography should be different?

10:40 pm - Tuesday, July 26, 2011

#23 Raymond

Since I have been shooting RAW (almost exclusively) I nearly always do at least some ‘manipulation’ in Photoshop. Every shot I take is with the intention of getting it right first time in the frame. However, I follow Scott Kelby’s advice and make changes, however subtle, to just about every shot - and mostly find I prefer the post edited version. Most changes don’t take long (a few seconds sometimes) unless I want to make specific sweeping changes to the original

5:50 pm - Tuesday, October 4, 2011

#24 Sourav Chakraborty

I expected some good post processing techniques/tips but got this. Disappointing to say the least.

8:13 am - Wednesday, November 16, 2011

#25 Andrew Knowles

Shooting in raw is all about expecting to post process. I tend to shoot slightly on the dark end, making sure to save all of my highlights. This allows for a little faster shutter speed in dark situations, letting me keep the images crisp and clear. I think this is strategy, not cheating.

5:21 pm - Tuesday, December 6, 2011

#26 rajib saha

all of your shots are nicely sweet and looks brilliant friend. :-> .......... have agreat day to you :-> thank you friend.

2:28 pm - Friday, February 10, 2012

#27 Joseph

Gosh, the comments are more interesting than the article.  The title is sooooooooooooooooooo miss-leading.  Bogus site

11:25 am - Wednesday, February 22, 2012

#28 daniel

I concur. And I love kiwi. Peace!

10:00 pm - Tuesday, March 6, 2012

#29 Clipping Path

All photoshots are stunning buddy,specially the sunrise picture.Thanks a lot for post it.

6:07 pm - Thursday, November 5, 2015