Zero Processing And Other Ways To Avoid Digital’s Hidden Hassles

Reading about a fellow photographer’s approach to digitising his music collection got me thinking again about how complicated digital can make our lives.

The majority of the time my friend spent it seems, was not on the uploading of the CDs, but then fiddling about afterwards with the quirks of particular software so it recognised and grouped his music in a logical order (in this case, iTunes, which in view about 12 years ago was fantastically simple, and has deteriorated in usability and elegance with each iteration since).

It reminded me why I ditched post processing almost entirely a couple of years back, and all the time and energy I was sinking into it with rarely a satisfying outcome, let alone any enjoyment of the process.

With music, I just want to be able to locate and play something I love with very little obstacle.

These days I favour Spotify, but 15 years ago my music existed entirely in a collection of around 500 CD albums, organised alphabetically in a couple of storage units.

Going from an initial thought in my mind of the album (or track) I wanted to play, to actually having it playing for my ears to enjoy was a matter of plucking the CD from the shelf, popping it in my hi-fi and pressing play.

This process probably took all of 30 seconds.

That stage of organising, finding and retrieving the music was very direct.

And with the functionality of Spotify – most importantly being able to search quickly – this is replicated in an equivalent timeframe, perhaps even quicker.

With digital photography (and within this I include film photography where there’s a digital aspect, eg scanning your photos and adjusting them digitally afterwards), there are infinite variations – and therefore infinite temptation to tweak.

A single photograph can, depending on your software choice, have anything from a handful to hundreds, even thousands of different elements that can be adjusted.

Multiply these together and it’s utterly mind blowing – especially as many can be slider type controls with tiny increments of adjustment.

To use a basic example, the contrast adjustment might go from -100 to +100, giving 201 possible settings. Then Saturation might have the same scale.

So multiplying these two variables alone there are 201 x 201 = 40401 different combinations.

With just one photo, and just two settings.

Magnify these possibilities by five or 10 or 50 settings, each with a sliding scale, and you’re hurtling rapidly to infinity and beyond.

Multiply this by the number of photographs you need to process (from a modest 24 exposure roll of film, to perhaps a digital dump of 1000s of photos) and the figures are incomprehensible.

And this is without mentioning the Pandora’s box of widely available presets in apps like Lightroom that expand your options even more.

So to sidestep all this hassle. I use cameras that, through research and experience, I know I can set up to give me photographs I love straight out of camera, with zero post processing.

And digital post processing is one of many ways digital – with all its sophistication and supposed freedom of chance – can actually debilitate us.

Or, put another way, digital, rather than deliver on its frequently touted promise of making our lives easier and more streamlined, actually leads us to wasting vast chunks of our lives we could be using for more important, enriching and interesting pursuits.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in a forest in a log cabin without electricity or running water, tempting though that sounds.

I have great swathes of digital elements in my life that I love and enable me to do things I couldn’t have done 20 years ago. Like talking with other photographers like you with similar interests across the globe on a regular basis.

But I try to keep at the forefront of my mind how digital can (and has for me, in the past) bring all kinds of hidden hassles and time wasting activities into our lives, if we’re not vigilant.

Digital should be a tool (or collection of tools) we can use to enhance and enable our lives.

We should never feel slaves to the tools or processes, in my opinion.

How about you? Are there ways in your photography (or music, or wider) life where the modern digital approach is consistently wasting your time and causing you frustrations? How could you change this?

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).

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24 thoughts on “Zero Processing And Other Ways To Avoid Digital’s Hidden Hassles”

  1. I use Raw Therapee for inverting negs I’ve digitized with a dslr,and for using the Image Overlay (double exposure) feature on my D3400,but that’s about it.The GR2 (with careful setup) can make better JPEGS than I can achieve by editing Raws. And you can swap between 3 different combinations of settings (My1 My2 etc.) on the top dial. (4 combinations if you set up Auto differently).Enough for anyone!

    The Nikon is not as versatile,but it does a very nice monochrome JPEG (after much fettling).Occasionally I might add a very light vignette,but that’s all. On both cameras 1/3 stop minus exposure compensation often improves the image.(As it did with transparency film).

    I sometimes make largish prints from JPEGS. Or at least have them done at a good printer’s.Nobody seems to have noticed!

    So for me at least it’s “Shoot JPEGS when you can,RAW when you must!”

    1. Thanks Craig. I have a GRD III (the old version not the GR) which is probably the most sophisticated compact I’ve used, but it’s so customisable I can have it set up just like I want then it’s essentially a point and shoot. Fantastic combination. And yeh I just use the JPEGs.

  2. Quieres ir un poco más lejos? Es la sociedad de consumo mi amigo, es la idea de más y más y más de todo para nada, necesidades creadas por la publicidad para volvernos objetos consumistas…un abrazo

    1. Thanks Pablo. Yes this is something I actively try to escape, the modern consumerist way, being overloaded with advertising and getting sucked into cycles and traps of planned obsolescence.

  3. Well I do live in a forest in a log cabin (sometimes) but I have got electricity and running water because as an engineer I know what technology is helpful and what just clogs up our lives.
    I’m not big on post-processing either, and when I do it it’s never in single-digit steps. You can go mad that way. It helps to have a good understanding of what the functions do and how they will affect the end result in regards to your goal. Otherwise you could be mindlessly tweaking settings forever, never finalizing the process. I don’t have any set time limit for when I make adjustments, but I know enough to give up on an image if I’m not getting the look I’m after.
    In another coincidence, I have a post coming up about processed images too. But yes, the camera should be able to give you a good picture (under good shooting conditions) right off without any adjustments afterwards.
    I’d say the analog equivalent of this problem was the “burn film” process where you shoot dozens of the same image with various changes in hopes that one of them turned out good. At least digital isn’t expensive in that way.

    1. This is what I don’t really understand, why so many seem to be happy to do so much work in post processing. Why not get a camera, and learn its settings, to get the results you want without having to change them so much afterwards? To me it’s like wanting a blue house with three bedrooms but buying a yellow shed, then adding all kinds of extensions and additions, then repainting the whole construction blue so it fits your original aim of a blue three bedroom house. I mean, why not just work at getting something that’s close to what you want in the first place?

      1. I don’t know. I can usually get what I want with the camera set on some automatic function. Unless I’m doing something weirdly artistic or trying to save the odd ‘failure’ my post adjustments are usually just fixing contrast for old sensors or desaturating because I want B&W. Spending hours twiddling settings by tiny amounts is just a way to drive yourself mad!

  4. It’s a blessing and a curse. Extra work for sure, even with photos that don’t need additional processing, but it also brings the possibility of saving images that would otherwise go to the bin. And the ability to enhance an image can take a hazy landscape from junk to jewel, or recover the perspective and proportions of a too-quickly shot street scene. I was a film junkie for years and one of the last in my peer group to make the switch. But my output has improved for the effort, and I’ll never go back.

    1. Thanks Jack. I can see how maybe a shot of something unusual or particularly special (like a family event) where the composition isn’t great, but you can, for example, crop heavily to salvage something good from it, can be desirable. But most of the time, I feel most of the work is in the preparation – the camera you choose that fits your style and needs, how you set it up for your type of photography, when and where you go to get the kind of photographs you want, patience in waiting for the right moment, and so on. Rather than just the spray and pray technique of taking tons of shots without much care and hoping at least one might have something salvageable within it. (Not saying you do this!)

  5. I’d love to be wrong on this,but I’ve yet to see a convincing photoshop simulation of the Holga 120 look,with the sharp(ish) centre and massive Chromatic Aberration toward the edges. And the transition from one to the other.

    All of the Lomo filters I’ve seen have been quite lame compared to the genuine article.

    It’s so quick and easy to pop a roll of colour film in the post,along with a memory stick and have it come back with the negs a few days later. Black and white is almost as easy to do at home.

    I see the battle of ideas between SOOC devotees and Pixel Pushers as Hunters vs Butchers.

  6. Ah yes, the great digital promise! The digital world has allowed me for many years now to earn a living working from home in a way that was simply not possible when I was a young man. I have been an early adopter of cell phones, the internet, digital music and photography. As a professional pilot GPS was a game changer. My iTunes library is more than 60,000 tunes. But, curiously, I now derive much satisfaction from listening to vinyl from time to time, and in the same way most of my intentional photography is once again done with film. I like the way that every image counts – even though not every image is good. And I suspect the lack of sheer volume may mean my body of work will be approachable, that is in the event that someone should be interested in it 😉 Either way it gives ME more satisfaction. And my need to edit is minimal – usually a trim or crop, or small adjustments to exposure and contrast, which I do in the quite capable, easy to use and free Photoscape.

    1. I think for so many of us, however sophisticated and accessible digital tools are, there’s always great appeal in return to something simpler, more organic, more manual, more analogue. A simple example – a few years back I would have my laptop or phone or iPod in bed, reading until I was ready to sleep. The last year or so I’ve read a book for 15-60 mins, and it’s so much more relaxing and enjoyable than a screen, and I’m sure I sleep better for it.

  7. The key is, as you said, “We should never feel slaves to the tools or processes”. This is sometimes a matter of where you put the cursor. I use to be very parsimonious when I take photographs. I often come back with 4-5 images, seldom more than 10 (at least usable ones). It can even be only one. Then I appreciate the work of processing the image, so that it comes closer to what I saw for ex. Sometimes an image reveals more interesting than I thought. But if I come back with a lot of images, which sometimes happens during holidays when you are in beautiful places, It begins to feel like a constraint. I tried to go back to jpeg files (even taken with my phone) and a more straigthforward quick processing with snapseed. It helped. That was not that bad, but I lost the pleasure of taking time to play with images. At the moment, I am back to raw files and a bit more time consuming process, but I just store the photographs I want to keep, and then when I have time and will I pick a few (old or new) and play with them, without pressure to process all the images I took. This is a good compromise to me, also nice because I can fit the choice of images to my mindset of the moment.

    1. Great to hear you’re experimenting and finding what works for you Joel, that’s what it’s all about.

      Aside from my very early days with computers (early to mid 80s in school) where I was in awe at being able to draw basic shapes even, I’ve never really taken much pleasure in playing with digital images. It’s just all soulless pixels to me, I’d so much rather throw some paint around. Hence with photography I try to avoid this as much as possible. Though I do use Snapseed now and again to lift a family photo or add a bit more of a vintage warmth.

  8. Ah yes, the always on-going RAW and post-processing discussion…
    I’m always divided by what I want, and by what I can get.
    I want the best quality pictures right from my camera.
    But it seems like I can only get them from a RAW developer, especially when dealing with older CCD cameras.
    I have tried a few different things and right now the best workflow seems to be in RawTherapee. It’s quick enough and I usually spend less than a minute on an image. I might spend more but only if an image is really worth it.
    After I got my Pentax K-3 it’s the same, I can’t really use the original JPEGs. I don’t know if it’s the demosaicing engine they used, but they don’t compare well at all with even just loading the RAW in RawTherapee with the basic Pentax curve.
    I guess I just have to get used to the idea that I’ll always have to shoot RAW.

    1. I think I have lower standards in this than many! I just want “good enough,” I don’t care about super high quality images. My favourite cameras from 15 years ago give me all the “quality” I need and more character than more modern sterile sensors.

  9. I’ve always seen the potential to process your own pictures to be an area of photography that was out of my reach in the early days. Especially still living at home with folks, or then in the first poxy little starter home with no spare room. Processing and store smelly chemicals at home? No. Afford a good quality enlarger with a good lens on it? No.
    Digital was and continues to be a revelation for total creative control, from cameras and their capabilities to putting your pictures up for display or even sale on a worldwide marketplace.
    ‘Infinite control’ over the results is no comparison to what you used to have to do, to have that sort of control if you wanted anything like it, instead of putting up with what you ended up with via a developing and printing lab and, if you could afford it, choosing a frame or two for an occasional enlargement. You could ignore it and keep things simple then as well if you liked, but it was a damn sight harder to do it any better than that compared to now.

    1. Absolutely agree that the control and possibilities in processing our own photos these days is incredible. Similar with other art forms like music, where people can record, produce and distribute an album in their bedroom with very affordable technology. I’m just not that keen on the processing side myself, which arguably is a whole other art form to making the photos with the camera in the first place. Plus as you know, a huge appeal of photography is walking in nature – the fresh air, the freedom, the exercise. Processing means more time hunched over a computer, which I have more than enough in the rest of my life.

  10. When I pull an image into Adobe Lightroom and start my post-processing l I imagine that I like an artist chiseling a block of granite tap by tap or a artist creating a painting stroke by stoke. The effort is never rushed and never wasted.

    1. I’ve come across this before, fascinating how some people start with the block of granite subtractive approach, and others from a blank canvas, adding a little at time until it’s done. With photograph I’m more like the latter, and wherever possible I want the act of releasing the shutter to be the final act of making the photograph. But with other things (like report writing or something at work) I tend to dump everything down first, the edit until I have just what I need, the block of granite approach.

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