I have been a witness to many quarrels regarding the amount of photo manipulation from time to time. There are times that I agree with the opinion that too much post processing alters the meaning of the word "photograph" making it mostly a "creative result" and there are other times when I couldn't agree more with an agressive plan of post processing to convey the meaning of the subject.
I decided to write this post trying to find a personal resolution to all of this nonsense of "too much" or "none at all" post processing and I do a lot of post processing on my photos from time to time depending on my mood and available light in the room (yes that does play an important role!). I have noticed that even variations in quality and availability of room light, or even if I process photos during the day or night can result in variations on color and contrast processing I do.
|Photo from the first day before processing, as seen in IrfanView.|
|Photo from the last day before processing, as seen in IrfanView.|
For example, lets take the 3-day vacation I went on to Santorini. I had seen photos beyond my wildest dreams taken there before I went. The colors, the contrast and the whites were just perfect (or so I thought!) all day long. Well, things in my case did not go as I wished on-site and that was the reason I struggled on my post processing when I got back and saw only color disaster in my frames.
|Photo from day 1 before processing as seen inside Lightroom 5.7.|
|Photo from next day before processing as seen in Lightroom 5.7.|
When I set out that morning there was a cloudy, yellowish light in the air mostly because of the African Dust that came to Greece and took nearly 9 days to clear its skies. I was very angry in the ship while travelling to Santorini because of that reason. I knew that the white balance would be very wrong and that the atmosphere would cast the colors a different hue than they truly were. I expected that to change the next day, but the African Dust had not completely clear the atmosphere and the problem was less, but it existed!
|Photo from Day 1 after Exposure correction only in Lightroom 5.7|
|Photo from next day after Exposure correction only in Lightroom .|
Don't just take my word for it, just look at the histogram of this photo and you will soon notice that there's much lack of contrast. Only when you compensate for whites, blacks and exposure will you notice that the contrast is almost corrected. But check out the colors now and you will now see that white balance is way off the true setting (or what I think it is true, anyway). Spending some time to correct the white balance and make white buildings close to white you will notice that the color of the sea is also ruined and that the grass, plants and red gravel, well there's something terribly wrong with them, too.
|Photo from day 1 after Levels correction in Lightroom 5.7.|
|Photo from next day after Levels correction in Lightroom 5.7.|
You have already seen what was the RAW file like (unprocessed via Canon's Digital Photo Professional program) and what the final result is now after I used Adobe's Lightroom, but what about Phase One's Capture One Pro? Well, to my disappointment Capture One Pro was the worst of all! Color rendition was way off inaccurate and there was no quick way to fix that. I almost spent twice the time I did in Lightroom just to correct the colors (but levels adjustment was twice as fast as with Lightroom!).
|Photo from Day 1 after White Balance and Color Saturation in Lightroom 5.7.|
|Photo from next day after White Balance and Color Correction in Lightroom 5.7.|
Having said that, let's come to the original question: "Too much or no post processing" and let's enter some more variables into the equation:
This trip was made about one and a half years ago. How soon and how easily could I return there and shoot again? Well, not very soon, it's not that easy any more and it gets more and more difficult as time goes by.
|Photo from Day 1 before processing in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
|Photo from next day before processing in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
|Photo from Day 1 after Exposure and Levels correction in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
|Photo from next day after Exposure and Levels correction in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
The weather became windy in the evenings and blue hour causing me to take less photos than I would really want for HDR stacking. Will I have this chance to take some more bracketed photos the next time? Islands in the Aegean are mostly windy in the afternoon, so there's the same chance of failing to shoot some night photos.
|Photo from Day 1 after White Balance, Saturation and Color correction in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
|Photo from next day after White Balance, Saturation and Color correction in Capture One Pro 7.2.|
I have already seen the place and vagualy know where to concentrate my shots, where I have not gone to check the place at all and when it's best to shoot certain locations. So, next time I will take my chances with new framing opportunities and shooting locations.
In addition, there's new equipment for me to use now, since I have upgraded my lens and camera body. I can expect crispier photos and better dynamic range and color rendition from my Canon 6D against my previous Canon 60D. I have better filters (both polarizer and UV) and I plan to buy an Ultra Wide lens with better sharpness from edge to edge.
Last time, having only a couple of days at my disposal I rushed and shot almost everything I saw interesting multiple times to make sure my frame was lit correctly and shot crisply and without movement and in different lighting. That resulted in a large volume of data to be processed and sometimes getting collateral clutter in addition to my subject.
I found myself shooting too much of "commercial" shots and less "relaxed" moments and I trully lost all the meaning of my journey. But, wanting to shoot early in the morning when there was little people in the streets resulted in very nice, but noisy photos as I had not even tried to use my tripod.
All of these made me put a lot of work into correcting the light in post processing as better as I could and clonning out a lot of junk. I tried to eliminate noise whenever I could and made the colors better and worse by concentrating merely on color issues rather than cropping in a better way.
So in my opinion, post processing is essential to one's photo work, but the amount of need varies and depend on how well you can correct the mood conveyed, how much the photo will benefit from the operation and how much detail you will lose by doing this. On the other hand, if your subject is strong and you have framed it effectivelly, you can only make it worse by directing the viewer's attention to other things such as vivid colors and contrasted items.
In my opinion, the first thing you should do when photographing is take what you think as the proper framing into account. Then you can correct, or leave into lesser priority, color boosting and contrast enhancement. And if you like, you can (and should) also make "the extreme" and "out of the ordinary". The world needs it if you need to do it!