A model once said she liked my pictures because I don’t process them. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or insulted by that. I spend a lot of time thinking about my post-processing and applying them. It could mean she couldn’t tell if I processed my photos. Or it could mean I’m awesome because my photos look natural.
I’ve pondered at my post processing. I noticed it goes through cycles from doing too little to too much to doing too little again. It depends on what new techniques I learn and what other photographers do with their photos.
When I first started getting into photography, I was an in-camera only guy. I thought using photoshop or lightroom was cheating. I had to get it perfect in camera. And I still believe that.
The photo below is one of my earlier shots. I just crushed the shadows and applied some split toning (and boy can you tell). That’s all. I didn’t even retouch her face nor touch any other sliders. Luckily she has good skin. People wondered how I posted my pics so fast. It’s because I just did split toning, synced all photos, and posted it it.
Then I got into post processing heavily. I learned some retouching techniques (both good and bad techniques, but that’s a future post). I loved using Lightroom and Photoshop. I believed post-processing was an essential part of the finished photo. And I still believe that.
I did a lot of stuff to my photos during this phase. Luckily, I never got into the horrible HDR phase.
Here is one of my more processed photos. Man, did it look overprocessed. It did give a distinct flavor to my photo. You know, the flavor of sunburnt skin.
Later on, I hated my post-processing on that photo. So I redid it. It looks smoother and more elegant. I made things subtler. The skin tone looks more natural. I even retouched her skin. Is this one better? To me it is.
Then I went to this. I used the radial filter heavily to get rid of the distracting elements in the background. Heck, I probably even used the brush tool to darken big areas as well. I was going to town on my Lightroom, using everything it has.
It almost looked like I used a softbox on camera left and hair light on a boom on top of her. In fact, this was all ambient light. She was sitting on a pool table with the lamp above her. That’s it. I also cleaned up her face using frequency separation.
I also went through a phase of trying to save bad photos using post. I won’t be trying that again. The image below is heavily cropped and processed. It’s an okay photo. Nothing can save a bad photo.
Here is where I am now. I dodged and burned her skin to lighten up the bags under her eyes and to eliminate a few imperfections. I also messed with the curves, saturation, and contrast a bit. That’s about it.
My Opinions On What Post Processing Should Be
So now I’m back at trying to get everything in camera again. But when I look back at my photos, they haven’t changed much, no matter how much post-processing I used.
One reason is my philosophy of keeping things as subtle as possible. I try not to max out, or even go past 25, on my sliders.
Also, I believe the first thing you notice in photos CANNOT be the post processing. The processing should fit and become seamless with the photo. It has to match the mood, story, and feeling of the photo.
Later on, I’ll go over many different ways to retouch skin.