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Prioritizing Tasks as a Photographer: A Look at How You Value Post-processing

We all have a mental image of the photographer at work – bulky camera in hand or on a tripod, with studio lighting and a thoughtfully posed model. A less common image perhaps is that of the same person editing hundreds of pictures on a laptop, hours or days after the shoot is done. Post-processing is still considered to be a part of the photographer’s job, but many find that professional photo enhancement takes up too much time compared to the more exciting work on the actual shoot. Yet digital software can make a difference. How much time and effort should a photographer spend on the invisible task of post-processing? Here are a few things to consider when deciding what it’s worth to you.

The origins of post-processing

In the early days of photography, post-processing was an integral part of the process. You could not produce a photograph without making conscious choices regarding what chemical treatment to use in the darkroom, and what sort of medium for the plates, or film in later years. The results of each medium and process varied greatly – and afterward, the photographer might do further retouching work with traditional artist tools and brushes.  But even as camera technology developed, before the digital age there was no way to truly separate post-processing from the act of taking a picture. You’d only be left with a roll of film negatives. Thus, in the days of film, post-processing was intrinsic to the photographer’s skill set. How you translated the scene you saw with your eyes, the composition you envisioned in your mind, still depended on the process used after the exposure was taken.

The rise of consumer apps

group of friends taking a pictureIn recent years, advances in processing power, software capabilities, and handheld camera design have all contributed to the rise of the smartphone as a camera for the casual consumer – and with it, a variety of user-friendly image editing apps. Some photographers lament that anyone can now be a photographer with a fraction of the skillset once required. The same argument extends to post-processing – after all, software filters can achieve in seconds the same look that would have taken hours of expert treatment from photographers in the days of film. However, some jobs require more than basic editing steps. Retouching to the level expected by high-end clients is a time-consuming effort and when done right, yields a noticeable difference in output compared to simply applying a couple of presets. When your photograph is printed on a large scale or your reputation is on the line, maintaining such quality can be the most important consideration.

Finding the right balance for you

There remains a strong need for post-processing in getting the final image right. But it may not be for everyone. Casual consumers might be satisfied with one-touch preset edits. Hobbyists may prefer to spend their time and effort doing what they enjoy. Full-time photographers need to balance multiple tasks. They are effectively running a business, after all – and in any business, it’s normal to have others take on different responsibilities. Delegation is key to succeeding without spreading yourself too thin or compromising on quality. Consider what you enjoy most about photography, and what’s important to your output, and you can better decide how much of your own time and effort goes into post-production.
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