Post Processing: Walking a Fine Line

The Embodiment of Vibrance

Pick up any magazine and there on the cover is an airbrushed model or a scene that’s been otherwise fixed for consumption. The photographer, art director, and retoucher all play their part and Photoshop has almost become a bad word. Its use has become so commonplace that Photoshop is now used in our language as a verb. When we see an obviously edited photo, we just accept it and say that it’s been Photoshopped, but at what point should we draw the line? Often enough we see the rush jobs that hit newsstands with retouching errors or the blatantly edited photos that no longer resemble the model or actress, but it’s more ubiquitous than we realize. There’s even a website dedicated to Photoshop failures.

Most of us though aren’t shooting a magazine cover, so how does post processing play into our everyday images? For all of the portraits, sporting events, landscapes, and weddings that are shot everyday, how much of a role should Photoshop play? Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an answer. Unlike journalism, where any editing of an image is frowned upon, the rest of us are only subject to our tastes and the tastes of our customers. That leaves a wide range of opinions, and like most, I think I sit somewhere in the middle of the road.

Some photos just don’t need to be edited in post. When great lighting and color and subject matter all fall into place, it might only need some simple tweaks in the raw file and a touch of sharpening to make it stand out. If the photo begs for a natural look, it’s too easy to edit the life out of it with Photoshop. Other photos demand a little more attention. Blemishes, dry skin, hot spots, and even distracting backgrounds are common things to tackle in Photoshop to improve the quality of the image without changing its nature. Beyond those simple things, depending entirely on my intentions for an image, I find that post processing becomes questionable.

Am I trying to be artistic? Maybe I’ll give myself some leeway. Am I trying to salvage an uninteresting image? I should know enough to stop. Am I trying to change reality? There are techniques and plug-ins to smooth skin, change facial features, and even re-shape bodies, but do I need any of it? It’s nice to have the option, but for me some of it goes too far. Do people all need to look as perfect and fake as the standards of beauty created by the magazines or can we step away from post processing just a little? Of course this touches on larger issues in our media and society as a whole and that’s not somewhere I want to go, so I’ll conclude with something simple. Photoshop is merely a tool, and that being said, it’s not always the right tool.

About The Photos

All of these photos are HDR of some sort and therefore relied heavily on post processing. Photomatix, Photoshop, and Nik ColorEfex all played a part to create a look that I liked. The featured image is actually composed of 42 shots that were merged, tonemapped, then stitched together into a panorama before taking its final form. The last two images are included to show a before and after. From the original raw file, I created a copy that was underexposed to bring back the color in the sky, layered it with the original and masked the two together to create a greater tonal range. After cropping, I warped the right side of the photo to lengthen the fence and isolate the house. A content-aware fill in Photoshop removed the houses and a selective focus plugin helped to blur areas of the photo.

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One Comment on “Post Processing: Walking a Fine Line

  1. Pingback: Bryce Dalhaus Photography » The HDR Learning Curve

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