Saturday, April 2, 2011

Photoshoot Hangover or Postprocessing Blues

So, I've just finished a photoshoot with a model, it's been a blast, she's gorgeous, been extremely cooperative and inventive, and now comes the really fun part - uploading the files to the computer and taking a closer look.  If possible, I like to do this with the model present, because I love seeing and hearing her reaction as we look through the pics together.  It's always a case of her (and me) being super excited as we sift through them.  Actually, this part of the "workflow" is like Christmas to me.  It is so much of a rush to open the pics, and see them in all their glory.  It's like being a kid and opening presents on Christmas morning.  Really!  I don't think that feeling will ever fade away for me.

But soon afterward comes the part that, to me, isn't so much fun.  It's kind of like having a hangover after a late night of drinking and having too much fun.  That's right - the post-processing phase.  It starts with getting organized in the filing system, adding my metadata, making two backups, etc.  That's the easy part, actually.  The hard part (or maybe I should say time consuming, and somewhat like drudgery) is sorting through 500+ photos to pic the best, then narrowing it down so a handful of shots I'll actually do detailed editing on.  Then, finally - editing them.

At one point in my photographic life (this was before I shot model portraits - things like street photography and landscape shots) I shunned any kind of editing.  I conveniently discredited it as "cheating" in some way, and figured the real challenge is to capture a great image "as shot".  Then I stumbled across an article somewhere along the way (my apologies for not remembering where, therefore not being able to credit this insightful author) that compared digital post-processing to the film equivalent of darkroom skills.  The author recounted how Ansel Adams had reportedly commented that half the task of getting a great shot was in the field, and the other half was how it was processed in the darkroom.  (Again, my apologies for possibly butchering the exact words, but the intent is here intact).  Once I read that, it was like I was suddenly nakedly holding forth the idea that "as captured" was somehow righteous.  I had to admit it now - I was wrong.  I would need to confront my modern day "darkroom" ignorance, and begin to immerse myself in the possibilities that post processing presented.  To this day, I remain convinced of this truth (though my own preference is for a subtle touch in area of post work).

And so, enlightened and inspired, I set out to know more about the digital darkroom, equipping myself with a copy of LightRoom 3.3 and an excellent instructional book by Scott Kelby.  (Note - I haven't yet delved into Photoshop per se, since I haven't yet found a need for it, and since LR does most of what I'm looking for so far.  I'm sure that will change someday...).  Indeed, I have learned about so much than can be done to bring lackluster photos back "to life", or further enrich an already pretty tasty shot.  At this point I have a pretty standard workflow I follow with most of the model photographs.  The photos do look better as a result, and I haven't posted a "raw" shot in a long time now.

I don't honestly know how film photographers doing their own processing could have sequestered themselves into the darkroom for what must have been endless hours.  Maybe part of it was that this was the place where they would "unviel" their shots for the first time, and that would build enough excitement to keep it going.  Things are a bit watered down for us digital chaps; after all, we see the shot initially in the viewfinder, then see it again - larger this time - when we upload to the computer, and then see the shots again and again as we catalog and sort through the pictures.  When we finally get to the point where we're doing specific touchups on a particular photo, things aren't quite as fresh and exciting as they were initially.

Realizing that the touchups, white balance tweaks, skin smoothing, iris enhancement, teeth whitening, cropping, sharpening, dulling, etc., etc. are absolutely necessary and part of the gig, I spend those hours in front of the computer screen.  I have to admit, though, that I'd much rather be unshackled from the computer, and out thinking about, buying clothing for, scoping locations for, or shooting my next model.  Yeah, for me, the energy flows freely and abundantly on the upside of the shoot, and doing the post work is a bit like cleaning up after doing some kind or art of construction project. 

Not sure why I'm relating all of this, after all.  Maybe I wonder if other photographers feel the same way?  Maybe it's a long explanation of why I cringe when a model says, in a cavalier tone of voice, "Oh, just Photoshop that out...".   Easy for her to say...

As an aside - sitting here with my laptop in the Coffee Society, drinking my latte and writing in my blog - that I totally enjoy.  Hmm, maybe it feels more creative to me. 

1 comment:

  1. heh! i can totally relate! yes, no matter how much fun the shoot is (and to me that's the best part), going through hundreds of photos by yourself, especially when shooting for a client that requests edits to dozens of shots, is the least fun part of it all.