How To Post Process Your Photographs Before You Even Release The Shutter

In recent years I’ve simplified my photography, not least of all in how I process photographs I make. 

In the past I shot RAW with a DSLR and processed using custom presets in LightRoom.

This became too time consuming and complex, and I evolved to using Hipstamatic, with an iPhone and iPad.

The Hipstamatic approach was far simpler and quicker, but I wasn’t so keen on how the app was set up with its film, lens and flash parameters.

Whilst I could get end results I really liked, and there was some scope to tweak further, it was more random luck than I’d stumble across a particular combination of film, lens and flash that gave me a look I enjoyed.

I wanted to better understand how to get close to the overall look in the first place, rather than it being a random happening that couldn’t be consistently reproduced.

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So my next phase was trying Snapseed.

This gave a similar output to Hipstamatic, and whilst it does have features with names such as Retrolux, Vintage and Grunge, it also allows very simple and direct adjustment of more logical parameters, like Brightness, Contrast, Saturation and Warmth.

I could use these in a far more informed way, knowing which slider to adjust if I wanted more brightness, contrast, saturation or warmth, in a way I couldn’t with Hipstamatic.

I set up three main b/w presets in Snapseed, with different degrees of contrast and drama, and have used these for pretty much all photographs made with my Xperia phone and a dozen or more digital cameras that don’t have enough adjustment in camera to achieve such a final result.

Which is all great.

But even with the ease and control of Snapseed, I still knew that when I made the picture in camera, I would have this post processing stage later on. 

Plus I also knew I would have a set of original images saved, then a set of processed images, and the decision to either save both, or just the processed ones.

Now none of this is especially time consuming or difficult. But it’s just not a part of photography I’m that interested in.

If I can avoid it altogether – both the post processing and the reorganising and additional backing up of the resultant images – then I will.

This means more of my limited photography time can be spent actually out using cameras, rather than allocating some of it to post processing and file organising. 

So I have a few cameras now that I’ve chosen partly for their in camera processing abilities, to enable me to avoid the post processing hoopla.

Whilst each of the cameras’ specific settings are slightly different, the principle of setting them up is much the same. 

My Ricoh GRD III, Panasonic Lumix LX3, Panasonic Lumix GF1, Pentax Q and Nikon Coolpix P300 all have some kind of dynamic, high contrast b/w mode, which then has further fine adjustment.

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I apply a few other subtle adjustments to help avoid any post processing, depending on the camera.

For example saving a default exposure compensation (usually -0.3 or -0.7) to reduce the likelihood of blown highlights.

Taking the time to experiment with a camera initially for a few hundred photographs (or more), to find the set up that gives me the best results straight out of camera, is fun in itself, and saves me hours in the long run in post processing.

Which gives that time back to the core elements of photography I love – exploring out in nature with a camera I greatly enjoy using.

One final part to mention.

Not all cameras of course will have the ability to create the photos you want purely with in camera settings.

So part of this experimentation is finding the cameras that do have enough depth of adjustment for your needs – and crucially the ability to save them in some kind of custom memory, so you’re not back the factory defaults every time.

Then the second level of experimenting is within a particular camera, setting it up just how you like it.

I have a few cameras that don’t have enough adjustment in camera, like the Lumix FX10 I used last month, so I defaulted to using Snapseed to process these images.

But this isn’t something I plan to do often going forward, and haven’t needed to with the Ricoh GRD III I’m using this month.

So this is how I do all of my post processing before I even release the shutter.

How about you? Do you enjoy post processing or try to avoid it? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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21 thoughts on “How To Post Process Your Photographs Before You Even Release The Shutter”

  1. Hi Dan, interesting post. I used to work with RAW images like you before. Transferring, converting, editing in Lightroom and like you said, it takes way too much time. I went back to JPG. Right now I shoot with the fuji X70 and i love this camera because (like you mentioned) you can process before you shoot, and the dials on the fuji cameras allow you to choose the settings that you want for any situation.
    I still use Lightroom to process and tweak some photos but also, very often i find myself just transferring directly from cam to iphone and sharing on IG. I think it also depends what you want to do with your photos after. If you plan blowing them up and framing then more care is needed, and if they go into neverending IG stream then maybe PP is not so vital…? food for thought 🙂

    1. Yuri, many thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re asking yourself some of the questions many photographers don’t stop to ask, like what is the final destination and purpose of these images, and what kind of quality and size of image do I need to meet those needs.

      As you allude to, you don’t need to be shooting with a 42MP full frame camera for example, to then just post tiny pics on Instagram that are perhaps 5% the size of the full image. But if you’re making billboard sized posters, you probably want all the resolution you can get.

      Even with my now ageing and rather modest 12MP Nikon Coolpix P300, the images are 4000×3000 which at full size on my 15” MacBook screen still takes up multiple screens, so it’s way more than I need.

      The biggest I’ve ever printed is 8×6 inches so a 6MP camera or even less is perfectly adequate. Plus you get all the benefits of smaller files, being quicker to transfer, taking less space to store and so on.

      I think also the longevity is a factor, as you mentioned too. If you post an image once to something like Instagram or Facebook which are very much stream-orientated, ie only what’s here are now has any value, and it will be gone within a day and possibly never looked at again. Again it seems a huge overkill to use expensive high resolution gear for these images. But if you’re compiling an online portfolio of images to attract customers, then it makes sense to have higher resolution, for larger images, which are going to be around far longer.

      The only time I can understand when people use much higher resolution than they need is if they know they are going to crop heavily afterwards. But this isn’t my approach at all, I like to frame the final composition in camera there and then, not crop afterwards, so again for me there’s no need for high res cameras, and extensive (or any!) post processing.

      1. Actually they say 6MP is more than enough for billboards because of the viewing distance!
        So the question really is, what is the size AND what is the viewing distance. I saw a study once that said tou never really need more than 8MP because the larger the print, the further back you have to be from the picture in order to see it all at once. It also said that the human eye is incapable of discerning more than 240dpi – and that’s for those of us who have perfect vision! And that most people can’t really tell the difference between 200dpi and 240dpi, much less 300dpi. So the obsession with printing at 300dpi seems to be created by the camera and/or sensor manufacturers…
        I have an Epson printer that can print up to 8.5×11 inches and I can say that the K10D’s 10MP files are good enough for great prints even if you crop a little bit…

      2. Great point about viewing distance, of course. This reminds me of the first time I saw a Mark Rothko painting in the flesh after seeing dozens in books and posters. The textures and layers of paint were incredible, you get no sense of this in a 2D picture.

        I read quite a few older reviews of cameras (from “The Golden Age of Digital Cameras” I wrote about recently) and once the sensors started getting beyond 10MP, many reviewers comment that 8-10MP is the optimum, especially for smaller sensors, and beyond that it’s unnecessary and can actual make the images worse, and more noisy. It was mostly a marketing mantra to sell more cameras, ie high MP= better camera. Even if it wasn’t true!

  2. I use simple things like exposure and depth of field. Most important to me is composition and where I wa t to take the image in post. I use Lightroom, on One, Photoshop, and Corel Painter. Not necessarily all of them on one image. Definitely all go through Lightroom.

    1. Sherry, this is quite a surprise, given the cameras you said you used. Why do you use such sophisticated cameras, but then have a simple set up? Why not use simpler cameras in the first place? Just curious!

      1. I like the resolution of the images. Less expensive cameras and lenses don’t produce high quality images. I don’t see the need to do more in camera. I shoot in manual mode. I shot RAW only.

      2. I crop many so I like to have some pixels left after I crop. I usually print up to about 11″ x 17″ or up to ~36 inches wide. No billboards :-). My cameras do 24 mega pixels. the newer 48 mpx cameras would be overkill.

      3. This reminds me of an article I read years ago about bird photography. The photographer said take a photo from where you are, then move a bit closer and take another, then a bit closer for another and so on, as far as you can before the bird is disturbed. Rather than just keep creeping closer and closer, camera poised, until you’re at the ideal distance to get a single photograph, then risk the bird being disturbed before you get there and make the image.

        He argued that it’s better to have some image of the bird you can then crop, even if it’s not the highest quality, than none at all. If you do get close enough to make a shot that doesn’t need any cropping, then great, just discard all the lead up shots.

        Sounds like this is something you do in a similar way.

        It never really occurs to me, as my subjects are more static and I just like to get into the position required to frame the photograph first time, with no need to crop after.

  3. I tried RAW with the Lumix. No thanks! Way too much work. I want the out-of-the-camera shot to be as close to the end image as possible. Usually this can be done. With some cameras it’s ‘go’ as-is, others need a bit of adjusting. The ZS60 was a nightmare for that. What it really needs is some sort of ‘compensation’ on the auto white balance, along the lines of EV compensation. Like telling the camera to add 200K to whatever number it thinks is right.
    On the whole my post processing consists of cropping to get the composition right and some contrast tweaking when needed. Or else I go totally artist and really do strange things. If I have to ‘work’ at a normal picture, it’s shot wrong; it’s a failure.
    Funny how the simple cameras do fine under normal conditions, but the complex ones that try to handle difficult conditions often end up not being able to make a simple shot right out of the box.

    1. Yes Marc you read about many cameras in reviews “to get the best from its sensor, shoot RAW and process…” but like you it’s just not worth the effort for me, and it just seems against the spirit of most of the cameras I use, which aren’t high end models, because I have no need for that level of resolution, detail etc.

      I don’t think most people by a digital compact to then spend hours post processing RAW files.

      I like what you said about having to work at a picture, I agree, if you’re having to do too much then you didn’t capture the right composition etc in the first place. You’re polishing a piece of coal, hoping for a diamond.

      For me, nearly all of the effort is in how you set up the camera and how you frame the shot, then pressing the shutter button is the full stop at the end of the sentence.

      One thing that amuses me about cameras after a certain era is that abundance of scene modes, especially where the camera tries to choose the best one.

      I can’t recall which camera it was, but I used one briefly on this mode in error, and remember trying to frame and shot and different icons kept popping up as I was composing – “food”, “macro”, “flower”, “sports”, “backlit portrait” etc… All it did was highlight how wrong the camera was getting it!

      Even the ones where you choose the scene yourself seem a bit silly to me. I mean do most photographers find a potential composition they want to capture then head to the scene menu and say “hmm, now what is this in front of me? Food, macro, fireworks, night time portrait…”

      I doubt it, all you need is a basic understanding of ISO, aperture and shutter speed, and to either set (or let the camera set) these within parameters that will give you the sort of shot you’re looking for. Or just use the green auto everything option, point and shoot and focus on your composition.

      Perhaps someone else can enlighten me and show why these scene modes aren’t just a silly marketing gimmick!

      1. Dan, that person won’t be me; I think they are a gimmick too. As for the other I have an attitude of “I paid for automatic, it should work”. When you dip in to Aperture, Shutter, or Manual mode it’s because you want to take control of some or every aspect of the exposure. Beyond that Program should work for any general, snap shot use. The gimmicky automatic modes are contrary to the purpose of buying a more advanced camera; the user doesn’t learn anything from them.
        Or maybe we’re just old film fogies.

      2. Yes that’s the irony, the more automated, the less the photographer learns. I guess I forget sometimes how much I have learned, and a great deal of it from shooting film.

  4. I have a few thoughts on the subject…
    There are things that you really need RAW for – like shooting in harsh sun, for example. Shadows just don’t look right unless you lift them up a little bit. And suunsets or sunrises and any other situation where the dynamic range is just too big. CMOS sensors in particular don’t handle these very well, CCD sensors seem to “compress” the dynamic range more and you just naturally get more details out of the shadows with them, for example.
    I also tweak the white balance when I find a shot I really like, to make sure it looks exactly like I want it to look.
    So I like the results I get from RAW, but I don’t usually like RAW editors.
    I used to like the original Corel Aftershot Pro when I used it with my K20D, K-r and K10D. With the K-S1 it crashed, it couldn’t handle the size files… and then I upgraded to Corel Aftershot Pro 3 and saw they completely butchered the software. Now it was slower, the end results were horrible (terrible color shifts and the default RAW conversion settings basically killed the microcontrast). I’ve also used RawTherapee and DarkTable which are capable of much nicer results than Aftershot Pro, but it just takes me a while to work with them. I don’t like DarkTable’s film strip, and it’s a bit slow to process. With RawTherapee, it just takes me longer to get the results I want and some controls like fill light just don’t work quite as well.
    So right now I’m experimenting with straight out of camera only… let’s see how it goes.

    1. Thanks Chris. Your descriptions remind me once again why I can’t be doing with all that faffing about and I’ll be sticking to straight out of camera JPEGs whenever possible, and Snapseed processing when pushed!

  5. Hi Dan,

    i am a stomach shooter. I am not very much thinking in advance how to “arrange” a photo. And i follow this motto:
    A not taken photo is often the better photo 🙂

    Regards Bernhard

    1. Yes I don’t plan out photos either, I just try to look for something that might make an interesting photo, then move the camera around until I like what I see within the four edges of the rectangle, then press the button.

      That is a good motto! I wrote about a similar approach previously, essentially asking yourself before you press the shutter button, even if you made the best possible photograph you could of the scene in front of you, would it still be worth making? If not, then move on.

  6. I shoot digitally in my Fujifilm X100s, I shot in raw but after the first shots I edited in camera till get by approximation an ideal rendering, then applied it as my default and then shoot raw to fine tune (a bit of less intensity in the shadow, or a bit more colorful), and I try to do it the same day. But visiting the raw in the computer… I do not feel attracted to that chore anymore.

    1. I completely relate about processing RAW files on a computer. Even though I did very little processing, just the whole routine is a chore, plus you end up with the original RAW files, plus the saved processed files (which isn’t necessarily just one per RAW file if you do different variations of the same photo). Just gets too messy, time consuming and laborious.

      It’s straight out of camera JPEGs for me!

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