The importance of post processing your landscapes

If you’re a purist and want to argue the merits of “in camera” being real vs. photo manipulation, go away. That’s a dead horse that’s been beat a million times before. It’s not my job to convince you what is “right” or for you to convince me what is “wrong”.

I would no more tell you how you should treat an image than I would presume to tell you how you should drink your morning coffee. That’s the beauty of the arts. If we can all agree to disagree and go on our merry ways, so much the better.

It’s my opinion that all that really matters is the final image unless of course you happen to be a photo journalist where the object is to be truthful to the subject. In my world that allows lightening and darkening areas of the photo but not adding or taking away anything.

If you take your photography seriously you shoot everything as RAW. Not sure what that means? Some cameras, almost all cameras will if allowed do some post processing of their own in the camera before you even see the image. If you have a lower end camera the chances are that your camera is doing a conversion from it’s proprietary format to JPEG. When it does that, it is already clipping highlights and shadows and altering tones. You might not be manipulating the image but the camera surely is.

By having your camera set to shoot RAW, you are getting what the camera sensor sees. White balance isn’t adjusted. Highlights and shadows aren’t clipped out and tones aren’t compressed. It’s similar to shooting a film negative. You are getting ALL the information the sensor recorded.

When I upload the RAWs to my computer, I want as much information as I possibly can get so that I can continue the creative process. The creative process for me doesn’t stop the moment I press the shutter. That is just the beginning. Purists can argue all they want that you should crop in camera and NOT change a thing. That is part of their rule set not mine. Why follow a set of arbitrary rules that someone has decided are correct? After all, you do know how you like your coffee don’t you? You didn’t need someone to tell you that you had to drink it black or that it could not have lightener. The same applies to my version of photography.

I don’t like some filters. I don’t like what they do to MOST images. I don’t like it when they darken skies unnaturally. I don’t like how skies darkened by filters have banding and noise in them.

I do like what polarizing filters can do to reflections and skies. I do like what solid neutral density filters can do to skies and moving water. Those are the only two filters that I would ever have in my camera bag. I think that equipment gets in the way of what I am doing. Having less in the field for me means having more images to bring home to create with.

This is my idea of the typical camera enthusiast. I found this on Flickr while I was browsing images. I came upon one that was interesting and clicked on the photographers profile. He had proudly itemized everything that he owned/used. Maybe he/she has OCD? I dunno but I think that this demonstrates where equipment gets in the way of actually being creative.

Really? That kind of reminded me when I was a small child and I had all my toy soldiers lined up and organized ready for my next big battle in the back yard with my¬† brother. Why the photographer never mentioned the brand of deodorant or shoes he/she wears while shooting, I don’t know because that’s how relevant all of that information is.

The old saying, those that can do, do and those that can’t teach for as unfair as it is to teachers I think kind of applies here. Those that can do, take photos and those that can’t collect equipment. The worst offenders of this are the “professional” photographers that write magazine articles about the latest and greatest piece of camera equipment. Truthfully, you don’t need much at all, if and it’s a big if, if you learn how better to post process your RAW images.

A RAW image for me is like kid with the 128 pack of Crayola crayons. Shooting in JPEG and with all the horrible color intensifiers and graduated ND filters is the same kid but with the 12 pack of Crayola crayons. When you use your graduated whatever or intensifier, you have almost always irreversibly changed that image and I think most of the time it is for the worse.

Go to Singh-Ray’s blog. They are a camera filter company that has a blog of “endorsements” of amateur and professional photographers singing the praises of how without those filters they couldn’t get the same great pics. Truthfully, most of the pics are horrible, even the ones by the writer/photographers.

As an example of how RAWs and what you can do with them in a matter of minutes with either GIMP or Photoshop, I posted the RAW from Sunday morning straight out of my camera at the top of this post. It came out of DXO without any adjustments. Below is what five minutes, maybe less in Photoshop can be accomplished. The end result is without color intensifiers and without graduated neutral density filters to unnaturally darken the sky. It is what I envisioned when I exposed the RAW, unfortunately the camera wasn’t able to display it the way that I saw it. Cameras don’t yet have that ability.

Would you prefer 128 crayons to color with or 12? Whatever you choose is the right choice for you. I know what is right for me.

Happy shooting,


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~ by Dan Jurak on July 23, 2012.

7 Responses to “The importance of post processing your landscapes”

  1. Great post Dan, especially liked the comment about the deodorant! As far as I’m concerned, taking the image in the field is only a part of the creative process and almost every image needs some lovin’ in order to get it to a point that conveys what our eyes saw.

  2. It’s kind of sad. I know some local wedding photographers that list everything right down to the brands of the memory cards thinking the bride actually has any idea what he’s talking about.

  3. Awesome post Dan! I’ve taken your influence and I shoot a little more HDR these days. Much more straightforward than filters.

  4. @ Jason, I hope that you’re getting the results that you want. I had to chuckle the other day when I read a photo blogger say that some agencies that he worked for insisted on NO HDRs. Too funny. Maybe they meant no photos looking like over processed HDRs. I defy anyone to tell the difference between an HDR that is done where the strength slider is below 50. It’s impossible. Why limit yourself by silly rules?

    Good luck with the HDR,

  5. @ Justin, there are photographers and there are equipment collectors. I think that the equipment list person is the latter.

  6. Good points, Dan.
    I have, at various times, joined local photography clubs wherever I have been living. Occasionally this has been a good experience (local art college), but mostly it has been a group of old, white men who want to show their friends their latest camera equipment, and destroy the creativity of anyone who hasn’t shot a photo at f11 and achieved front to back sharpness.
    I once went to a fantastic talk by a member who showed a fascinating collection of photos he had made while doing his national service in the late 40s in India. It was in incredible view into a time and culture none of us had experienced, and this guy had a great eye and stories to tell. The club wanted to know what scanner he used to digitise his film, and criticised him for not embracing digital photography now. Talk about ‘all the gear, no idea’!
    I hesitate to be labelled with ‘photographer’ by strangers, in case I get lumped in with the people who want to suck all the creativity and fun out of it.

  7. @ Mike, the f11 thing is particularly funny. There’s a landscape photography forum where the discussion of diffraction limits are argued like politics. I think that they’re probably the same group of people, more worried about the theoretical limits of their equipment instead of going out and creating great art. People managed to shoot wonderful landscapes one hundred years ago with inferior equipment. There are talkers and there are doers. The talkers tend to hang out on the forums and spend their time debating theory.

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