How Much Post Processing is Too Much?

PF 071: How Much Post Processing is Too Much?

Is it Hard to Know How Much Post Processing is Too Much?

Determining how much post processing is too much is something of an undefined line. The reasons vary based upon purpose of your photographs.

Personal photos are up to your own sense of taste. If you're happy with your photos, it doesn't matter how much post processing you do.

If you're seeking validation from others, then the invisible line of post processing starts to creep into view. Some photos may be too crunchy, too colorful, too grungy or filled with halos for another person's taste. Sadly, some of those people will tell you about their opinion whether you asked for a critique or not.

Then there are different answers when you start to use your photos commercially, for sale, or for a journalistic intent.

To Deceive or Not to Deceive

Photos can be deceptive. It isn't just post processing that deceives the viewer. Different lenses may distort the view. Your composition and lighting can change how someone perceives the subject.

We saw examples of that during the 2016 election cycle.

If you're reporting news or documenting a topic, your post processing has much more impact than something shot for an advertising campaign.

Imagine that you darkened the eyes of your subject.

For journalism, this may have a very negative connotation. If you're creating a movie poster, it could define your villain. Fashion and cosmetics ads could sell millions of dollars of cheap cream.

Context is imperative.

Something as simple as skin smoothing could be completely accepted in a portrait and also completely inappropriate for a journalist.

It's Up to You to Decide How Much Post Processing is Too Much

During the episode, Lee and I discuss our own lines for our photos. She takes a much more conservative approach to her photos. I will gleefully erase tourists from travel photos and widen the eyes of my portrait subjects.

I will gleefully erase tourists from travel photos.Click To Tweet

Am I deceiving the viewer or am I presenting the subject as I experienced it? In some cases, a little of both.

You see, photographs may be fact, but they are not truth. If I take a portrait with my flash or studio lights, I've frozen them in time. The light will show off every pore and imperfection on their face.

Is that really how you remember someone?

Of course not. People move about and the light on their face constantly changes. It isn't fair to represent a person with a stark, frozen moment in time.

So portrait photographers and retouchers compensate for facts with their own idea of truth. You may not notice an imperfection on someone's face while talking to them, but it really stands out in a photo.

So we remove the imperfection.

At least, some of the time. Older folks have wrinkles. You don't remove the wrinkles, because they are part of the subject's identity. You don't take freckles off a kid.

However, you may decide to reduce them a bit because they didn't stand out as much in person as they did face to face.

Your Line Will Move

I'll leave you with a closing thought. As time passes, your own standards will change. There was a time when people accepted grungy HDR as a form of art. These days, people are less accepting and consider that look to be overcooked.

Your own photos from a few years apart may take on a different look. That's because you have different post processing tools or your talent with post processing improves.

Basically, it's a good thing when you recognize that you've improved and your thoughts about how much post processing is too much shift from your old position. It's called growth.

Styles change. You can change with them or chart your own course. It's not a bad thing to be unique.


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