Over-Used Post-processing Techniques

Film, filters, chemical processing, and paper used to be the determining factor in the overall look and texture of an image.  Digital changed all that so long ago that even many of us old pros don’t make the comparisons between the old darkroom and the digital one anymore.  The look of our images is determined initially by our choices during the actual photography, then altered in substantial ways by our post-processing in Lightroom, Photoshop, or some other image editor.

Like so many others, I’ve been through phases where one or another basic look or effect appealed to me so much that I used it regularly, but eventually started to get bored with it or grew to dislike it.  An eventual backlash will happen when something is overused or becomes cliché.  Digital punch and crispness can only be appealing as long as it’s new.  And Instagram effects are cool until you see the same ones used over and over until the nostalgia they elicit simply becomes the latest vintage effect that gets old and boring.

I’ve decided to take a recent image and create some examples of a few of the post-processing techniques I’ve used over the years.  Actually, it’s fair to say that I still use these to some degree but I’m just not as obvious about it anymore.  And maybe that’s the lesson; subtlety and moderation can go a long way when it comes to post.

post-processing-demo1Image #1:  This is the image that I am happy with.  Basic retouching for skin and flyaway hair.

post-processing-demo2Image #2:  A basic black/white conversion in Lightroom.

post-processing-demo3Image #3:  Selective color is something I really do not like.

post-processing-demo4Image #4:  The vignette is my vice.

post-processing-demo5Image #5:  Yes, you can bump up the saturation with ease.  But should you?

post-processing-demo6Image #6:  Super-saturated, glowy overlay.  The lazy skin fix.

post-processing-demo7Image #7:  Heavy retouching.  Too plastic for my taste, but I used to do it often.

post-processing-demo8Image #8:  White vignette and over-exposing the skin to blow out the details.  Meh.

Lately, I’m much more interested in subdued colors and sharpness without the bite.  I don’t want my images to look necessarily like film photography, but I don’t want them to scream “digital” either.  So, I continue to refine my personal taste and execution.  Moving back and forth, looking for that balance.  That’s part of the discovery process.  We outgrow the things we get too familiar with, but we never outgrow the classics and the fundamental aesthetics that we seem to always go back to.

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One Comment

Pedro Schmitt

Great article, Ed! People nowadays aer so obsessed with things like vignette and presets that seems to put the final result of their skills in pos like that.
Im not a purist, Im like Photoshop a lot but try to trace some limits, specially in portrait.

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