To Postprocess or Not to Postprocess? That is the Question!

Sometimes, knowing Photoshop can be a curse.

On one hand, I love the ability to turn any photograph into something new. Yes, yes, “do it right in-camera,” I know. But sometimes I can’t, so why not use Photoshop to recreate my memory of the scene.

These are the masks and layers I used to post processes this photo
These are the masks and layers I used to post processes this photo

On the other hand, in the three years since I started learning how to paint with pixels, I rarely upload a photo to this Web site without some form of digital editing. In my opinion, postprocessing makes the image “better,” but does it need to be better?

. . .

To Dark? Time to Post Process!

Recently, I was editing the below photograph of a pair of Indian men having a 7:30am picnic under a dirty bridge and next to busy train tracks.

Shot from the window of my passing train, my manual settings were perfect for the sunny morning I was shooting moments before: not for the dark underpass.

So, into Photoshop it went… Brighten that wall. Draw the eye to the men eating.

A little vignette here, some dodging and burning there, and voila! Darkness became light and I had recreated the scene the way my mind remembered it..

My bright and finished piece of Digital Photographic Art - a picnic under a bridge and next to the train tracks in Amritsar
My bright and finished piece of Digital Photographic Art – a picnic under a bridge and next to the train tracks in Amritsar

. . . . . . .

Postprocessing for the Sake of Postprocessing?

Proud of my work, I showed the image to my wife Carrie, who also liked what she saw. However, when I showed her the original underexposed version, she surprised me by saying that she liked that better.

Mine was too cheery, whereas the original was dark, dirty, and grimy. By brightening the scene, even though my postprocessed version was closer to how it really appeared, I completely changed the mood.

The original image, as captured from the side of a moving train approaching the Amritsar train station
The original image, as captured from the side of a moving train approaching the Amritsar train station

. . . . . . .

I’m not a photojournalist. I’m a digital photographic artist

My goal with any photograph is to reimagine my memory of the scene. Travel photography usually affords me one brief chance to capture a moment: regardless of camera settings or outside conditions. That’s why I love having the ability to take the image into my digital darkroom later.

But I was curious, so I went ahead and created this third version of the image, which is somewhere in the middle of the original and my “bright cheery” one.

My in-the-middle edit of the photograph
My in-the-middle edit of the photograph

. . . . . . .

What do you think? Should I have left the image alone?

Which one do YOU like better?

Share the Journey

  • http://8milesfromhome.com jmayel & sacha

    I’m a photoshop wizard as well and have faced this dilemma before. But after working through hundreds of thousands of images i can safely say that every image needs some kind of edit to make it its best. Especially if you shoot RAW because the camera removes all kinds of contrast and colour and leaves the power to you in the digital darkroom. I don’t see it being any different to dodging and burning a negative during the old chemical processing days. Personally i like the first edit you did, much more striking. J

    • http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com Greg Goodman

      I agree with you 100%. And, I actually often use your analogy about a RAW file being no different than a traditional negative in the darkroom. Now, the darkroom is just digital. In fact, it’s often said that Ansel Adams was the first photoshopper and that his extensive dodging and burning was no different than what we do today.

      And thanks, the first one is my favorite too :) Though, I actually like the mixup of the three that I created for the post image…