Photo Post Processing In The Digital Age - Should I or Shouldn't I

November 03, 2019  •  Leave a Comment

Photo Post Processing In The Digital Age - Should I or Shouldn't I

What Is Post Processing?

In the olden days (for me, that would be in the 1960s), I would load my Kodak or Fuji film, take pictures with my Argus C3 camera, send it to a photo developer and then days or weeks later, receive 3” x 5” or 4” x 6” pictures in the mail. Basically, what I shot was what I got.

Then (in the 1970s) I started getting into photography and began to develop my own film and prints. Sometimes I experimented, learning to push film (ASA 400 to ASA 800) or by using different temperatures of chemicals or different photo papers to achieve different results but mostly I was happy to see the magic of a blank paper turning into an 8” x 10” or 11” x 14” photograph. I started to learn techniques for cropping, dodging and burning but still, for the most part, what I shot was what I got.

Nowadays we can still do this. We can go out shooting pictures with our highly advanced DSLRs, download our pictures and print them as is. Some will come out good (a few may even be great) but many will not. Why is this?

If we are shooting and capturing our images with JPG files, other than composition, the camera is deciding how to process the image. With lots of technology intelligence written into the JPG logic, the camera still does not really “know” what the scene is or why we captured it. The camera is only a data collection tool and can only make assumptions about your intent and then try to render what it thinks you want. It will process our images just like the hundreds, thousands and/or millions of other images taken with the same camera and settings. Finally, if we are using JPG files, our output is limited to the inherent benefits and weaknesses of this file format (See my Blog “Understanding & Managing Image Quality - Part I and Part II” at for more details).

If we are shooting and capturing our images with RAW files however, we have at our disposal all the colors (hues & tones) and luminosity values picked up by the camera’s sensor and recorded on the digital card. Nonetheless, if we printed these files, we would find them flat in color and somewhat dull in sharpness. This is because RAW files are designed to be processed after they have been captured (hence the name “Post Processing). In 1992, the verb “Photoshop” was added to the English dictionary as a result of how frequently it was used to represent “Photography Post Processing).

Post processing is not a byproduct of digital photography. From the earliest days of photography, a battle existed between painters and the art world and photographers who saw their work and vision as something more than just capturing the scene in front of them. 


When To Post Process?

Even if you get it “right” in camera (proper shutter speed and exposure, sharp focus, etc), all digital images captured in a RAW format, need to be “post processed”. This process enhances the final output so the image itself is visually clear, concise and sharp. Depending on the reason for the image and how it will be used, certain post processing is considered acceptable and necessary while other techniques may not.

Most acceptable post processing tasks are techniques that do not materially change the image. This may include cropping, minor white balance & exposure adjustments, minor image clean-up (ie; removing dust spots) and sharpening. Some photography genres that usually keep a tight reign on the amount and extent of acceptable post processing include photojournalism (news reporting), street photography, travel, and wildlife photography. Some photo contests and/or contest categories even limit the amount of post processing that can be done to an image as the judges may wish an accurate reflection of the natural scene taken by the photographer.

 Many other uses of an image, however, recognize the image as “digital art” where the process to achieve the final product is as much a part of the image as when the photographer took it. In these cases, the image presented to the viewer is the final determining factor with the process a product of the photographer’s knowledge, processing skills, and experimentation.  Thus, image capture is only the first step in photography and post processing techniques becomes the mechanism for the photographer to achieve their own unique vision.

Many photographers work extremely hard on composition, exposure, and focus to get it as perfect as possible when they capture the image. They know, post processing has its limitations and not all issues can be corrected “after the fact”. This being said, there is a lot post processing can do to enhance a good image maybe even making it a great one. Some of this may include adjusting colors and light while other techniques may involve removing distracting subjects or adding new ones that add drama and story. Some of these techniques go way beyond the four techniques mentioned above and become a function of what you know, what tools you have available, what you are able to do and where your process leads you.


>;- )






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