Don’t process life out of your images

So here’s the thing: You’re taking a portrait shot of a friend or family member and, of course, you want the final image to be as realistic as you can possibly make it. You want skin tones to be life-like and hair to be the colour it is. You wouldn’t post-process the image beyond reality (unless that’s what you intend). So why would you process the heck out of a wildlife image?

The following scenario is more common that you think: You’ve been out for most of the day photographing the wildlife of your choosing and have had a great time getting lots of shots you hoped you would. You can’t wait to get home and download the images from your camera. You process them and feel well satisfied with the outcome and are self-congratulatory on a job well done. Next day you review your handiwork and are somewhat surprised (to say the least) when what you saw last night is not what you’re looking at today: colours and tonal values, sharpening and clarity are all so far removed from reality you just can’t believe it. What went wrong. Well, to be brutally honest, you did! You went wrong. So what happened?

After a long day out, constantly looking through the viewfinder, looking for ‘the moment’, concentrating your visual senses and observing the natural world, your eyes have taken a real battering… and they get tired. Couple this with a few hours sitting in front of a monitor while you process your images and you’ve created the perfect storm. You’ve almost lost the ability to ‘see’ reality. To paraphrase a well known TV commercial, you’ve become ‘nature blind’. You’ve temporarily lost the ability to see the natural world as it is. Or rather as it was when you first took your photos. How do you solve this problem?

You have to be honest with yourself and decide whether or not you suffer from this, albeit temporary, condition. If the answer is ‘yes’ then the cure is simple: Don’t process your images until the next day after your eyes have had a much needed rest.

If you’re under time-pressure to send photos to the client then that’s a different ball game. I know from experience most clients don’t understand the post production work needed before they get the images…why should they? In the past I’ve shot in Jpeg just to meet deadlines or I’ve done processing in-camera. But if my pics are for personal use only I try to avoid processing on the same day as a shoot. It all goes back to that ability to see your work as others do. To represent the real world as it is. This is not Fine Art Photography. What we’re trying to capture is the natural world. With the emphasis on the word ‘natural’

We should take great care of our expensive photographic equipment… including our eyes.

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