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Post processing schizophrenia
Post processing schizophrenia

Post-Processing Hell

Post processing, doing a curves adjustment with photoshop.
Post processing, doing a curves adjustment with photoshop.

Yep, we’ve all been there “Post Processing Hell”.  We get home from a great day of photography, never has trip into the field ever been so good. A banner day, a week, or fortnight, a shooting spree is good for the soul, the fresh air, the nature, the camaraderie of like minded souls traipsing across the landscape, and then it’s over. You have filled every card in your bag and the excess onto your laptop, and then you realize, it’s time to go into post processing hell”. Into the office, den, or basement we go to sort our trophies from our failures. Our workflow stage begins that compresses our butts, boodshoots our eyes, and convolutes our spines until we resemble the predessors our Pliocene epoch distant cousins homo erectus. Oh the joy of photography!

The more organized of us import everything into Lightroom by Adobe or Aperture by Apple to sort, color-correct, file, or delete then file into the database. How unlike me to find myself in the category! As a photo trip leader I am amazed how many of my clients spend thousands of dollars to travel, buy the best equipment, hire guides, then not be willing to invest in post processing beyond Photoshop elements? Those of us who haven’t learned the wonder of these two database/photo-processing programs dump them into their digital shoe-boxes (folders) on their hard drives to prolong the agony of post processing hell.

Adobe Bridge helps access files wherever they might live
Adobe Bridge helps access files wherever they might live

We first search for the handful of trophy photos for quick processing so we can do a social network ego post, then onto the tedium of separating the wheat from the chaff.  Next a quick trip though all to toss the obvious trash, then dozens to hundreds of similars to analyze.  Which bracketed photo is best? Which cloud formation has the best patterns and reflects the best light and color? What angulation best profiles this beaver, bear, or bird, is there a catch-light in the eye? Is this the bracketed series I shot for HDR processing?  Which one of these photo-stitch panoramas do I want to tackle first? Which ones are easy, which ones will take more work? Which way is up!

Then the color correcting begins, I rate the photos that show immediate promise, I should throw more away now but I don’t. I then revisit, compare and do another round circular filing as closer analysis reveals flaws not seen on the previous rounds of editing then we send the prospective gems to our portfolio website and hopefully to publishers

Some still us Aperture by Apple
Some still us Aperture by Apple, it was once my image processing and database program; it has since morphed into "Photos" app. I have no knowledge of its success or failure.

The next round is exponentially  more tedious than the previous, the photo-merges,  HDR’s and low light telephoto shots that I manually reduce noise. Tedious yes, but rewarding - absolutely. I will often take several vertical shots of a landscape to achieve panoramas that can be hundreds of megabytes in size for prints that can sometimes be printed to ten feet wide, but these take much time in post processing hell. I don’t do many High Dynamic Range (HDR) photos because they are hard to achieve without the viewer being able to spot them as HDR photos. It’s an agonizing process to get it right when you don’t do it much.  The conundrum being, sometimes wonderful landscapes are only achievable by shooting for HDR processing. Long telephoto lenses suck up light and critters are more often found in the low light of morning and evening requiring high ISOs which create noise. By judiciously applying noise reducing filters from choice programs onto selected Photoshop layers I retain sharpness were most needed while selective blurring noise to acceptable noise. Then if needed I will view the photo at maybe 400% and remove noise with the cloning tool and healing brush. Oh how I hate the tedium, but I must love the results.

In the direct aftermath of a trip I hate to part with many marginal photos so this demands revisiting of the files both weeks, months, and years after the shoot when I can be more objective and I am less emotionally attached from the trip and the process of capturing the images. The passage of time mitigates the agony of the hike, the ridiculous early and late hours, or even the joy of the moment of capture, as the shooting process becomes a distant memory. Oddly enough this is when I turn up some hidden gems, ones that might not have appealed to me but photos that appeal to those with different tastes or needs.

Mount Fuji Sunrise Panorama. A 200 megabyte panorama stitched together with eight vertical photos shot with my D5lll with my 24-105 lens @ 65mm
Mount Fuji Sunrise Panorama. A 200 megabyte panorama stitched together with eight vertical photos shot with my D5lll with my 24-105 lens @ 65mm.

It isn’t all hell, of course there are many moments of jubilation throughout the process; hopefully, a steady stream of image successes. The first to come are the easy ones, then later those requiring more post processing to reach fruition. Then after days or weeks we emerge pledging to shoot more scrupulously next time, what in the hell was I thinking when I let the motor drive rip?

Just when we think we are done someone releases a new post processing product or upgrade then we have to go reanalyze the shoot again.

Addendum 2019 ~
Adobe Lightroom has dominated post processing and has exercised their dominance by forcing users to migrate to their monthly cloud extortion program.  Many are rejecting this monopolistic move, and the free market of ideas is now providing very good choices.  “On One” software and “Capture One” both viable alternatives and an exponential number of former Lightroom/Photoshop users are turning on the extortive ways of Adobe and are happy with what they have found. Some are happy as clams with the processing software that comes with the camera, despite the lack of database management the manufactures provide. I though will have to remain with Adobe because the free market of ideas has been slow to respond to the other apps of adobe of which I am also a reluctant slave to the monthly payment.


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