Let Your Photographs Show Your Photography Skills, Not Your Processing

My introduction to photography was somewhat later in life, and even then came in gradually.

Always interested in nature, I developed an interest in photographing the beauty around me on my walks in the countryside, just using the camera phone in my pocket.

This was around 2005, when I was 30.

At that point I was vaguely aware of other photography, but didn’t seek out exhibitions, books, or websites (and even Flickr was only about a year old at that point).

In 2009 I joined Flickr, but was still using Sony camera phones.

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One reason for joining Flickr was to find other people’s photographs I enjoyed, not so much to influence my own work, but purely as a viewer myself.

Even at this point though, I have two major recollections about the photographs I was seeing shared.

First, those with a shallow depth of field, blurred dreamy backgrounds and sometimes also scattered “bokeh bubbles”.

I was (and still am!) a sucker for these kind of pictures which present a whole other world where focus and depth of field are beyond what the naked eye is able to see.

This eventually led me on a long and still ongoing journey where I learned about the effect of aperture and focus distance on depth of field, and around 2011 – and especially after first using a 35mm SLR around 2012 – this accelerated.

Second, I found pretty early on with my Flickr browsing that I didn’t like most of the digital images I saw.

The colours were brash and garish, and so many had this artificial sheen to them, almost as if shrink wrapped in plastic.

I later learned (a little) about HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, and how most of the supposed examples of HDR I saw I found ghastly.

These were the early seeds that influenced how my own photography evolved.

First, I wanted to explore that up close and intimate world within our world, and share it with others.

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Second, I wanted to steer well clear of that kind of intensely digitally (over) processed look that seemed so popular.

And this is the crux of this post. For me, photography is not about how much you can alter an image with a computer.

Taken to the extreme, virtually any image can be made to look however you want it too, which can be a radical departure from the original the camera captured.

Any ugly lump of clay can be sculpted into a elegant, shapely vase, if you spend enough time and effort.

There’s no argument that this is a form of visual art, but it’s not one that interests me – as a practitioner, or as an audience.

Photography in my view is about how you can capture beautiful images with the camera you have in your hands.

It includes both what you seek and find, how you frame it in your viewfinder or screen, plus the settings you choose within your camera to give the image the look you want.

This includes the basics, like aperture, point of focus, shutter speed and ISO, plus the colour settings you choose with your camera.

All of these are choices you make before you release the shutter, and are irreversible.

When I look at pictures others have made, I’m interested not just in what the image looks like, but also what might have inspired them to capture it, and how they might have set their camera and lens up to capture it this way.

I don’t wish to see an exhibition of their software choice and ability to manipulate an image to their will, far beyond what it originally looked like.

Put another way, the kind of questions that come to mind when I view images are along the lines of “that must have been a slow shutter speed to create that effect on the water” and “that lens must have many aperture blades to create such rounded bokeh”.

Again these are aspects that are consciously chosen by the photographer, and are irreversible.

They’re not something that can be added with software afterwards.

How about you? How much of a final image do you feel should convey a photographer’s skills and choices in using their camera to make a photo, and not what they can do with processing software?

Thanks for looking.

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13 thoughts on “Let Your Photographs Show Your Photography Skills, Not Your Processing”

  1. Is it too easy if I say – it depends…haha. Well, in my opinion a photographer should know and understand their camera first to be able to make images that they want. So if for ex. I’m a sports photographer and I can’t get a sharp image, then I know I must change the shutter speed etc. In any cases, we know, you can’t “polish a turd” so if you don’t get your settings right, you’ll be having some issues.
    In selecting my images before saving them on my disc, I check basic stuff (like I mentioned before), like exposure and/or crop, that’s it. But if I see and realise that even with modifying these, the image is simply not interesting enough then I don’t bother.
    I think it depends what kind of photography you do too.

    1. Thanks Yuri. Yeh partly my point is you should be getting the basic, irreversible elements right in camera, because you can’t change them with some magic tool in LightRoom or Photoshop. But I agree there are of course a wide range of different styles and applications for photography. For my needs, post processing is virtually non-existent.

  2. First know your camera and composition. Then know how to take the image through the “darkroom” (such as Lightroom/Photoshop) to create your vision and artistic expression. Straight out of the camera does not work for me. The camera has a different vision than I do.

    1. Sherry, my first thought is if your vision and the cameras are so different, perhaps you haven’t yet found the right camera? Surely it shouldn’t take too much effort to align those two visions?

      I think I’m coming from the opposite end to you. I enjoy using different cameras and lenses to see their unique view on the world, then over the years have found my favourites, and got to know how to amplify their strengths (in my eyes), and their character.

      For example if I hadn’t used something like a Helios 44 with its ability to swirl backgrounds like no other lens I’ve used, I wouldn’t have known this was possible. I couldn’t have had that “vision” for my photography – it’s not something I can see with my naked eyes – if I hadn’t been shown what was possible, if that makes sense.

      1. I’ve heard lectures by serious photographers who think as I do, that the art is in the darkroom. What I capture maybe close to my vision, but there isn’t a sensor that can read my mind. I have never left a raw image as it is out of the camera. I use certain lenses and manual settings to start to create what I have in mind. Bird photography is less methodical and more accidental.

      2. Just very interesting to read about the very different directions different photographers are coming from, united by our love the art!

  3. I think it helps to be trained up on film photography, where there aren’t so many post-shoot options for processing (unless you scan the negatives). Mostly I try to avoid computer-enhancement except for cropping/sizing or a slight tweak of exposure – much like one would do in a darkroom. But occasionally I do something outlandish on purpose to achieve a particular artistic effect. And I came to photography quite early in life, for whatever that’s worth.

    1. Yes I appreciate there’s a generation who grew up with DSLRs, where post processing is the norm, it’s just what you do after taking a photo. Actually there’s now a generation beyond that who have only used a phone plus Hipstamatic or Snapseed or Instagram to make and process photos!

  4. Thank you Dan for amplifying this message! If you read some of the bigger blogs, it’s always about more megapixels, more processing, more software manipulation – never about fundamentals.

    My philosophy has always been to “shoot for the JPEG”. That and returning to film photography have forced me to learn those fundamentals and my pictures are all the better for it.

  5. I don’t think there’s much difference in getting the image in-camera or through careful RAW development other than the time you end up spending on it… my objective with JPEG settings in camera is basically to save post processing time. But there’s nothing wrong with post processing if you post-process to make it look like the actual scene you saw when you took the picture (and RAWs never start looking like reality).
    I admit to using some “reality enhancing” and making the scene look better than it did in nature (especially concerning the light which sometimes is too harsh when I take the picture) but still look like an actual, real scene.
    All in all, years later, I’m still experimenting and trying to find my way…

    1. Yes absolutely, me too. I just like my experimenting to be more with lenses, composition and so on, not software. I agree with you, one of my major motivations in not post processing is to save, and indeed eliminate, processing time.

  6. I agree Dan. My most satisfying images are the ones that are made in the camera. I do crop or trim where necessary, and occasionally make adjustments to exposure and contrast but that is about it! But, that is just me. We are all different.

    1. I don’t think it’s just you Steve, many of us prefer this simpler approach, plus it optimises the time with camera, which for me personally is 90% of what photography is about.

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