Everything is in the Editing . . . Almost

by | Oct 14, 2014 | Perspective | 5 comments

I figured I’d better not exaggerate after my last post and added the word “almost” to what’s on my mind to blog about today. There’s a lot more to post-processing than one might first recognize.

I went on a morning photo excursion with a friend last week. I’m trying to get to know more photographers in my local area so Dan and I got up early to go on a first photo shoot last Thursday. We went to a covered bridge that’s just about 15 minutes away. Because I travel so much, I had only been there once before, but it’s really nice to have such a unique subject close to home. Being autumn and all, I figured it would make a great subject to shoot at this time of year. It was still a little early in the season, but it turned out to be a great morning.

1815_Marshville-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 35 mm, 1-80 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

As we were shooting, Dan asked about one of my compositions. I really wanted to get a foreground anchor in my shot so I was shooting very wide and very low to include a small protrusion of rock in the middle of the gravel road. The brightly-lit foliage behind the bridge and still-in-shadow road in the foreground created incredible contrast, so Dan was asking how I was metering the scene. I flipped through my pictures, showed him the one that was exposed for the bright areas, and told him I would probably end up using that one as the starting point for my final product. This was the original shot:

1801_Marshville-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 23 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200-2

It was simply impossible to capture the high dynamic range that this scene presented. Technically, it’s terribly underexposed. But I knew the following picture was what I could get out of it using the appropriate camera settings and Lightroom capabilities to reduce noise and keep it looking natural:

1801_Marshville-West Virginia-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 23 mm, 1-60 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

The more I work in the field of photography, the more I realize that everything is in the editing . . . almost. Cameras have limitless limitations and it’s impossible to capture reality with one click. Cameras are not as fearfully and wonderfully made as the human eye. I can work very hard to be at the right place at the right time with the right equipment . . . but a picture will still turn out pretty ugly in it’s raw format. With today’s technology, it is very important to know how to skillfully process a picture on the computer. It’s just as important as composition, choosing a good subject, shooting at the right time of day, or understanding the buttons and menus on your camera.

The art of photography is composed of a series of steps. Each step has to be learned, honed, and mastered. Post processing is one of those steps, and I’m finding out more and more how important that step is. It’ not necessarily true that everything is in the editing, but I like to think of it as a triangle. Without one of the sides, a triangle ceases to be a triangle. Or maybe an apple: skin, flesh, seeds. Without either one of those elements, you can call it an “apple” but it really isn’t the real thing any more. Composition, exposure, subject, focus . . . processing? Every single element has to be in it’s proper place for a truly good image to work. And perhaps that’s why I love photography so much. It’s so complex, and yet it’s so seemingly simple at the same time.

Remember that example image from my last post? I did everything that was possible with my equipment to capture this incredible moment in time. However, when I reviewed the photos on my computer later, I was completely disappointed with how they turned out. I tried various things in Lightroom, but wasn’t happy with anything so just left it for later. Well, later happened to be when I wrote my last post. I knew it was an awesome shot, but I just had to take the time to take it through the next step. Being there at the right time was important . . . and I captured that. Composing the shot was equally as important . . . and I captured that too. Now I just had to finish the process. The last step isn’t more important than the previous steps, neither can any one step make up for any of the other steps. Taking a picture that “passes the test” at each new step is the work of a photographer. Very few pictures pass every test. Very few make it through.

0195_Chugatch State Park-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 78 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200-2

0195_Chugatch State Park-Alaska-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 78 mm, 1-250 sec at f - 8.0, ISO 200

Everything is in the editing . . . almost. You see, everything is in the composition too . . . almost. Everything is in the lighting . . . or subject . . . or whatever. Everything is in everything! Every element is important, and to skimp in one step in the process is to sacrifice the entire thing.

Interesting how similar this sounds to the age old principle: Whoever will keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. (James 2:10)

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  1. Sarah

    Thanks for all your articles! Really enjoy reading them. 🙂

    I like how you show your before and after editing pics.

    • James Staddon

      Yes, from my experience following other photographers, this is one thing I wish they would do more of. Sometimes it’s looked down on as being “unethical”, but if it’s educational and can help others do better by understanding what each step in the process is like, then I don’t mind showing some unedited pictures.

      • tjons

        Why would it be seen as unethical?

        • James Staddon

          Perhaps not “unethical” in the true sense of the word, but from the perspective of what some think is a deviation of true photography as defined in film photography.

  2. Megan Hutchinson

    Wow! Thank’s for the great article!
    (….I wish I had more time on my hands for photography!!! One day,perhaps….)



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