6 Great Reasons to Get over Post-Processing Anxiety

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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.

Read more from our Post Production category

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.

  • Jim Coffee

    An image that is not post processed is an image that is defined by a committee of software and hardware engineers (and of course the person who pushed the button).

    Post processing gives the photographer the opportunity to convert the image to what was seen with h/her eye and heart.

  • Great post! I usually dread post processing because I’m worried about how much work will have to be done as I’m still in the early stages of learning but I did my first paid shoot last weekend and could not be happier with the results! The images were great already and just needed to be enhanced a little. I think this though is just proof that my photography skills are improving which was a major confidence boost. I love how you’ve included the before/after to demonstrate your points and talked about how you did it, not many do.

  • LoisDTewksbury

    My Uncle Micah just got a nice year old Volvo XC60 SUV just by some part time working online with a cheap laptop… use this link googlesproject.com

  • Gavin Hardcastle

    So True Jim. Why trust the final look of your image to the boffins who designed the camera.

  • Orton

    A valid point, but you’re still dumb

  • Mathew M George

    amazing
    just took away the some guilty feeling i had in regards to post processing 🙂

  • Amaryllis

    I actually love post processing! I can’t understand people who say they want to get it ‘perfect on camera’ all the time without doing anything in post-prod (like, at all). A RAW file is flat and rarely represents the scene properly, after all…

  • Monsoonking

    The problem isn’t post-processing. The problem is that most people have very little aesthetic taste, and they can’t help themselves from turning their photos into tacky monstrosities.

    .Take the post-processed mountain lake shot above as an example (if not a super egregious one). It instantly screams fake. It’s obviously to anyone with a pair of eyes that it’s been put through the digital wringer. It looks like a land inhabited by Oompa Loompas, not people. Sure, the image could have used a little bit of extra exposure, perhaps an improvement in dynamic range with the shadows/highlights sliders, and maybe even a touch more saturation in the water. But really, it’s a fairly boring photo of a spectacular place, and post-processing is just slapping lipstick on a pig (rather gaudy lipstick in this case).

    I don’t mean to dump on the author. I think his points are correct. However, a lot of people are turned off by post-processing precisely because so many people do it poorly. They don’t realize that so many of the great images they see published are actually post-processed, but in a thoughtful and refined way.

  • Marcos

    Sorry, not convinced!

  • Mukund Umra

    I’m new comer.I follow rules. But feel to improve and there by learn by such methods, but had no confidence.Now, reading this article and how it’s done, I feel like doing it myself.
    THANKS Gavin.

  • Mukund Umra

    Can anyone guide me for book/person who can
    teach me Lightroom and photoshop in Mumbai?

  • sadatoni

    PP is fun. It reminds me of dodging and burning in the darkroom, with the chemical smell of hypo fixing the prints.

  • We have lots of great articles here on dPS dig around in the processing section for tips on Lightroom here:

    https://digital-photography-school.com/?s=lightroom

    PS here
    https://digital-photography-school.com/?s=photoshop

  • Thanks for your comment, the author has actually updated the photo. Try refreshing the page and have another look. Sometimes processing for print comes across different on the web.

  • Post-processing is, in my opinion, another layer in the creation of a photograph, as it is metering, framing, or developing, another step necessary to achieve your vision. This might very well what separates photography from a snapshot: do you create the image you envision in your head, or you hunt for available images already present around you?

  • I don’t think with me it’s that it’s not fun. It’s that I spend so much time doing it. Even with shortcusts to duplicate edits on similar shots I sink a massive amount of my time on PP. I end up treating every pic like it’s going to be in a gallery; I think I need to just start thinking in terms of a quick process for web use and if it goes up for sale or a gallery then revisit and see if it can be cleaned up more.

  • Spoonie

    I think the issue is that there is a feeling you need to keep tweaking your photos, more clarity, more sharpness, now black and white, maybe pull it back, under expose, highlights.

    To be fair, and trying not to be negative, most of the photos in this post look over processed. to me it these sort of photos that make me feel like I have to spend ages pushing images in post as far as they can go.

    When you’re starting out its hard to know when to stop, when you “have it right”, I tweaked this, but should I tweak that.

  • Lambert Schlumpf

    I dread post processing because… RAW files are huge and takes time to save them, and there is no way to select RAW just for a shot unless one fiddles in the camera menu. Also, they don’t work for sport events. I then seriously dread PP and although I understand all the reasons above they aren’t convincing enough for me, as PP can become a slavery and a huge amount of time spent. Add that I switched to Linux last year, (simply because my computer is now a rocket, and has never been as fast on Windows) and I dread when I have to switch OS to do something that is Windows only. I am aware that there are equivalent programs in Linux, but they come with the Linux fanboys, and not with gazillions of helpful tutorials online.

  • Anto

    For those who use Photoshop for the post-processing, specially black & white conversion, I highly recommend these actions: http://www.film-effect-photoshop.com/

  • aof

    Thank you, this has helped me a lot but what I notice is, that if I increase clarity in camera raw the picture gets really noisy. I really like the look of my pictures with clarity boosted up a little but is there any way to do so without putting too much noise into my shot?

  • Chris Pointon

    Excellent advice.

  • richie_pour

    This is a great post. Thanks, Mr. Hardcastle.

    To Digital Photography School, I would welcome hearing more from your bloggers about when post processing becomes “too much” in a photo. Just hearing different approaches would be good. I like my images, but I don’t know if I’m out of step with “normal” processing (if normal even exists).

    Thanks for this fantastic site!

  • Angela Modrell

    Personally I enjoy the images and I don’t find them over processed. I see post processing as fixing things so that it looks like how I saw the scene since much of the time a machine can’t quite get all the colors, contrast, and vibrance of a scene. I can see how some may find pp tedious but I enjoy it a lot! It gives me time to sit and relax and review my work, seeing what I did well and what I can improve next time in camera.

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