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6 Great Reasons to Get over Post-Processing Anxiety

I’m baffled when my workshop students tell me that they find image post-processing to be a chore, a dreaded task that prevents them from even looking at their beautiful photographs more than once. If you’re one of those types, I’m here to tell you that you’re missing out on a delicious second hit of creative joy.

1 – Don’t Miss Out – Post-Processing is Half the Fun

Night Photography with high ISO - Gavin Hardcastle

Unprocessed version below. Total processing time = five minutes. Steps taken:

  1. Boosted blacks and shadows
  2. Reduced whites
  3. Increased exposure by +1
  4. Increased clarity
  5. Increase contrast
  6. Subtle noise reduction
  7. Subtle sharpening

Victoria Night Photography - Gavin Hardcastle

I think one of the reasons that I love photography so much is that I get that double whammy of artistic creativity. The first is when I’m out taking the shot, often standing in awe at the scenery unfolding before me. The second hit is when I get back home and start processing my images.

When I’ve shot an image that I know is really strong, I can’t wait to get that RAW file opened up so that I can relive the moment and get creative with my processing to realize the visual feast that I witnessed when I was on location.

2 – RAW Files are Your Best Teacher

landslide-lake-gavin-hardcastle-1

Unprocessed version below. Total processing time = three minutes. Steps taken:

  1. Boosted blacks and shadows
  2. Reduced whites
  3. Added high contrast grad filter just above water level to emphasize mountain structure
  4. Increased clarity
  5. Increased contrast
  6. Subtle sharpening added
  7. Increased vibrance
  8. Increased red highlights in the foreground

Unprocessed RAW image of Landslide Lake - Gavin Hardcastle

The first thing that you’ll learn when processing your images is what you did wrong. Maybe you selected the wrong aperture, perhaps your ISO was too high and your image is full of noise, or maybe you just focused in the wrong spot.

By processing and essentially studying your own photographs, you’ll quickly learn which techniques you need to improve and what you could have done to make your images better. If you got everything right when taking the shot, you’ll have loads of fun tweaking the most quality out of your RAW file, and producing an image that you’re proud to share with the world.

If you simply don’t care about sharing your images that’s fine, but if you’ve captured a beautiful moment in time, chances are that most people will gain pleasure from seeing your work. Don’t be so shy, process that image and show the world what you made.

3 – Didn’t Get it Right in Camera? No Problem

It’s totally possible to capture a truly beautiful image in camera, that requires minimal or zero processing, and that’s something you should strive for. However, most of the time there are technical challenges that our cameras simply can’t handle. That’s where image processing comes to the rescue. This could be as simple as red-eye reduction, right through to noise reduction and fixing blown out highlights.

When you’ve become adept at image processing, you’ll be far more daring in your photography by taking photos that you otherwise thought might have been too noisy, too blown out, or unusable for whatever reason. Having even a basic understanding of image processing will open your creative horizons and give you more confidence.

4 – The Camera Sees What You Did Not

aroura-borealis-photography-gavin-hardcastle

Unprocessed version below. Total processing time = five minutes. Steps taken:

  1. Changed the white balance
  2. Reduced whites
  3. Reduced red highlights in the foreground
  4. Increased clarity
  5. Increased contrast
  6. Applied heavy noise reduction
  7. Added subtle sharpening
  8. Increased vibrance

aroura-borealis-unprocessed-photography-gavin-hardcastle

There are times when your camera can see things that you might have missed or were not capable of seeing. When shooting aurora like the image above, most cameras are able to record colours that are barely visible to the naked eye. Some of this processing happens in the camera, but until you look at the RAW file and see what can be done to clean up your image, you won’t realize the full potential of the moment that you captured.

In the image above, I chose the wrong white balance while shooting, and wasn’t really happy with the colours until I switched the white balance to Tungsten in Adobe Camera Raw. I could have done this in camera, while shooting, but everything looks awesome on the little LCD screen on the back of the camera so I thought it was fine until I got back home.

High ISO images of the Milky Way or an aurora might be totally unusable until we’ve cleaned up the noise, fixed any white balance issues and corrected the contrast – among other things.

5 – It’s Easier Than You Think

Sve Your Adobe Camera RAW Defaults

This is how I do it in Adobe Camera RAW. Once you’ve tweaked your most commonly used settings such as lens profiles, chromatic aberration, shadows, highlights, etc., click on the top right tab and then choose ‘Save New Camera RAW defaults’. This well be called up automatically when you next open a RAW file.

A lot of the grunt work can be taken out of editing your images by the simple act of saving your default processing settings to match your camera and lens. Whether you process your images in Adobe Camera RAW or in Lightroom’s Develop Module (which is almost the same thing), you can save your most commonly used processing settings as a default file that will automatically be applied to any RAW file that you open.

This is a real time saver and can be used as a great starting point. There’s no one setting to suite all images, but if you often shoot the same types of images, it’s good to have a default setting that is already pre-configured for your equipment and processing style.

You can even save multiple presets so that if you change your shooting style for different projects, you’ve already got your previous go-to processing settings to get you off to a quick start. From that point, simply tweak your settings until you’re happy.

6 – Black and White Saves the Day

buttle-lake-the-hand-monochrome-conversion

Unprocessed version below. Total processing time = five minutes. Steps taken:

  1. Boosted blacks and shadows
  2. Reduced whites
  3. Converted to black and white
  4. Increased clarity
  5. Increased contrast
  6. Added a vignette
  7. Used the dodge brush to accentuate tree root highlights

buttle-lake-the-hand-unprocessed

I often shoot images that I know will work in black and white much more effectively.

Let’s say I really like the composition that I’ve got and the weather conditions are just perfect, except for the fact that there isn’t much colour in my scene. In those situations I’m already looking forward to converting my image to black and white which can sometimes result in a much more punchy, and dramatic image than the original colour version.

You can easily do the conversion in either Photoshop or Lightroom. Then have fun playing with contrast, shadows and highlights and maybe even a little dodge and burn to accentuate key areas.

Start Processing Your Images Right Now

I hope these six reasons have convinced you that it’s worth setting aside just a little bit of time to process your images. You might discover that you’re a much better photographer than you realized. At the very least, you’ll be able to figure out where you went wrong, and what you need to do to improve your photography.

Maybe you’ll even learn to love image processing as much as you loved taking the shot.

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Gavin Hardcastle

Gavin Hardcastle is a fine art photographer, writer and instructor from BC, Canada. Become a better photographer today with his free photography guides and photography tutorials. You can learn from Gavin directly at his global photography workshops in some of the worlds most spectacular locations. Upgrade your post processing skills with his online video tutorials for Photoshop and Lightroom.