How I Post-Process My Images.

Inspiration, Q&A, Teaching point

One of the more frequent questions I receive is:

How do you post-process your images?

My short answer is:

I don’t follow a recipe.

What follows is a more detailed response.  I’ve previously presented some of this information on this site, but this post will serve to amalgamate and edit the content.

—Peter.

The Software I Use

I use the latest version of Adobe Lightroom (LR).  Within LR, I often use Nik plug-ins (Silver Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Viveza).

The Concept of Pre-Processing

Almost all photographers post-process (i.e., make image-enhancing adjustments, after a photograph is taken).  What many novice photographers fail to recognize is the importance of pre-processing (my term).  Pre-processing involves identifying and harnessing — before an image is taken — naturally-occurring enhancing elements in a scene, such as good light, perspective, etc., that cannot be altered after the fact:

Boy

In the case of this image, Boy, the soft light that was present after the sun set was harnessed to achieve a rich palette of colours and tones.  This cannot be achieved in post-processing.  The perspective I’ve chosen to photograph this image from is from down low; this too cannot be achieved in post-processing.

My Cameras and My Camera Settings

I tend to favour cameras with limited menu options, or no menu options (film cameras).  I prefer to adjust camera settings using external dials/controls.  I limit the variables with which I concern myself to only three: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.  Hence, I always shoot in Manual mode.  Modern camera “features” such as scene recognition, smile detection, etc., and even not-so-old features such as exposure compensation serve only to clutter my mind and sabotage my shots.

I don’t even use auto-focus (eliminating another variable), choosing instead to manually focus.

Generally speaking, I believe that camera features — even sophisticated ones — can never substitute for photographic vision.

Post-Process, not Over-Process

Many images on the web today appear “over-cooked” to my eye.  Therefore, I always try to exercise restraint when post-processing.  In fact, as time has gone by, I’ve toned down my manipulation of images.

My goal is to make my post-processing invisible.

On a related note, shooting film helps keep me grounded with respect to what I am trying to achieve with my digital images.

Finally, My Post-Processing “Process”

I photograph in RAW mode.

Each image is post-processed by eye.  Occasionally I spend many hours honing a single image.  Each photo is processed individually, depending on the subject matter, lighting, and mood.

The adjustments are small, and incrementally applied. My method now differs from what I was doing last year… this will also be true next year — in other words, my approach is constantly evolving.

It is a very personal process, dictated in good measure by artistic license; it is not open to “cookbook” interpretation.

—Peter.

Further Reading:

My Photography Workflow – 5 Items I Consider When Creating Images.

My Photography Workflow – Inspiration.

My Photography Workflow – Infusion of Self.

14 thoughts on “How I Post-Process My Images.

  1. Peter, I think you really sum it up nicely “I don’t follow a recipe” In other words, you do what you feel right at that moment. I think we call that art.

  2. Superb response, Peter. Succinct and informative — just what will be of real value to people. Great emphasis on not over processing and on making adjustments in small increments. And — would you believe it — the value of recognizing and using beautiful light! “Preprocessing” — excellent term and distinction for all of us who’ve been brainwashed by Adobe, Apple, etc to feel that the latest and greatest software tools will make us good photographers. But your gift of seeing good light and showing sensitivity re your subjects would only be undermined without your approach to post work, one guided by RESTRAINT. Thanks once again for sharing.

  3. Thanks Peter. We share equipment types, software preferences and philosophy, but you have a skill. I’ll keep practising if you keep posting examples. I’m glad you’ve returned with your posts which I look forward to receiving .

  4. Philosophies I also subscribe to. Save for using AF more than not, I believe every image is it’s own entity and really should be respectfully treated as such. Presets in any form, shooting or processing, don’t interest me in the slightest. Lovely explanation, Peter. R.

  5. Wise words Peter. When I returned to photography as a hobby at the beginning of 2013 I did so with film. I took an introductory course in processing film and wet printing from negatives with a local master. “Post-processing” involved working on negative density, and getting timings right for exposing to silver halide prints. While it was introductory, we did cut out pieces of cardboard and learn a little about dodging and burning. It was all very instructive. I’m glad I went through this – and also using a Leica M6 and various types of film – before returning to digital later last year. I continue to shoot film alongside.

    Ultimately, like many, I think of photography as a means to capture our vision of something, rather than chasing the ultimate realism of something (unless that is our vision to begin with). The limitations of film, as well as its great possibilities offered in the unique way in which it renders, coupled with the simplicity of selecting aperture, shutter speed, within a fixed focal length, I have found to be very helpful. They are enough to enable that vision to be captured – with some luck – without extraneous clutter.

    I like what you say about ‘preprocessing’. Using, say, Portra for a period of time lends the photographic eye to think “hmmm – that sky and that skin tone will really shine with this emulsion”, and then shooting for another period of time with Acros lends the photographic eye to think “hmm… that light and that shade, and these contrasting textures will really make the subject pop out of the image”. Similarly, only using, say, 28mm for a period of time. If we are lazy (I am), DSLR + PP gives us way too much latitude. When I used my D800 I became too lazy to ‘see’.

  6. Peter, I have been a long time follower of your blog and occassionally commented as well. I love you photographic style and vision. Very personal and full of emotion. If you could pick only one focal length, which would it be? And do you believe in one focal length only as a style or is it too limiting? I’m starting to be more and more fascinated about stripping my photography down to the bare minimum. Thinking about buying the Nikon Df and maybe shooting 50mm only. Alternatively, a 28mm/85mm or 35mm/85mm combo.

    1. Hello Mads, nice to have you commenting here again.

      My answer to your question: if I could pick only one focal length, it would be 50mm.

      (Edit: although I suspect I’m wrong about that… 40mm is probably better suited to my style)

      —Peter.

  7. Thank you, Peter. Good info as always. Lately I’ve been shooting only Nikon 35mm 1.8G on DX (ie. 52.5mm equivalent) as one lens only. However I miss more shallow DOF and therefore want to go full frame at a point. I use to shoot Nikon FE2’s, hence fascinated by the Nikon Df – although reviews are mixed.
    Another question, do you think the Df with 50mm 1.8G is all a photographer would ever need? Or should I aim for 28/85 or 35/85 combo – both would be 1.8G lenses as well?
    I have also been thinking of the new Nikon 58mm 1.4 – as a one lens kit – but maybe this lens is too much of a specialty lens as an one lens kit? What do you think? The 58mm 1.4 is quite expensive, which would perhaps force me to the Nikon D610 over the Df. And the 58mm 1.4 as got mixed reviews as well.
    Any advice/suggestions? I’m a meticulous shooter, so I don’t need machine gun fast camera. 😉
    Sorry for all the questions, and I know it all comes down to personal preference (and wallet 😉 ), but I would appreciate you input very much.
    Thanks once again, Mads

    1. I honestly think the Df and 50/1.8G would serve you well (provided you “bond” with the Df) for general photography. However, as you write, it does indeed all come down to personal preference.

      —Peter.

  8. There are some recipes , it would be great to know how you do skin tones because i find the Ccd M9 to be hard on faces and always have to turn down everything but i don’t really know how to correct that excess of contrast,color, sharpness on the raw files

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s