Getting the right image doesn’t stop after you take the photo.
Post-Processing (referred to simply as “PP”) is the act of manipulating an image to get the result that suits the photographer’s style and taste. As your skills progress and your shots get better you usually rely less on PP to save your photos (although PP has become a vital part of every photographer’s workflow, and often involves extensive retouching in industries such as fashion or product photography). Unfortunately the best moments are often ones that we don’t expect, and may not be prepared for. You see a great shot, click the shutter release – but crap! The photo didn’t turn out the way you wanted.
Thankfully your photo may get a second chance. That’s where post-processing comes in to save the day.
Many people will say that the best post-processing is when viewers can’t tell the photo was edited at all. Other photos are so heavily and obviously manipulated that they no longer look realistic at all (like many of these). Most of the time, post-processing falls somewhere in the middle: close enough to reality that the image embodies the spirit of the shot, but perhaps with some artistic license to help portray the story or emotion that the photographer wants to convey (i.e. wedding photography).
To help shed some light on how PP can be used to salvage an otherwise mediocre image, I wanted to share an example of my own work. I had the benefit of being able to travel through Wyoming on a family trip several years ago. The scenery is beautiful everywhere you look but also posed several challenges to a new photographer such as myself. Not only was I new to photography but I was using someone else’s camera and frankly wasn’t interested in learning proper techniques for the few days we were there.
As we traveled along along the road, we passed by a beautiful glacier lake and I snapped the photo below. I remember seeing this lone tree on a sandbar and feeling connected to it, and the idea of finding serenity through being alone in nature. Unfortunately, the photo I actually took fell far short of portraying what I felt at the time or the tranquility of that place.
So let’s discuss how we got from the original image to the one we have today. Post-processing can be as simple as a slight change to the exposure, or as complicated as layering several photos on top of one another, each with varying effects. This example falls somewhere in between, with the following adjustments in Adobe Photoshop:
- Adjusting color to bring out the blues in the sky & water
- Increased exposure
- Increased contrast
- Isolate the water in and further increase exposure
- Applied a sharpening filter
Hopefully this helps explain a little bit about PP and how it can be used to improve your own photography. How would you edit the original photo? Share your thoughts below!