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I am wondering how many serious photographers do heavy editing in Photoshop after taking those pictures. Do all or most professional photographers do that? Or they just do a simple cropping and adjusting a brightness and contrast compare to those doing like removing an object from a picture to make it perfect, etc.?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Like John, I can't really speak for pros either. I think it really depends on the person, as some people like to do post-processing, and others are real sticklers about doing everything in camera, with minimal (if any) post processing.

A couple landscape photographers I like span the range. Joseph Holmes is a great photographer who doesn't seem to do much in the way of post processing. A lot of his work is film, but is more recent stuff is digital. All of it looks pretty much the same (an amazing feat in and of itself to keep your digital work and film work similar.)

Marc Adamas is widely considered one of the greatest landscape photographers of our time. It is quite clear from his work that he does some fairly ample post processing of his images, which these days are all digital. His work is excellent, and particularly saturated and vibrant. Some of his works are compositions of a few shots (such as his image of a high mountain river with the milky way in the background.

In my own work, I've gone through a couple phases. For about 6-8 months after I first started photography, I did some pretty heavy post processing. I would spend hours fine tuning each pick, even more hours trying to use HDR to create "better" photographs, etc. My tactics have changed entirely in my more recent work. I have switched to putting more time into each shot, making sure I am using the correct lens (often taking the same shot with a variety of lenses and focal lengths), making sure I have exactly the correct exposure (resorting to graduated ND filtration rather than HDR when a scene escapes the bounds of my cameras dynamic range), using live view and treating my camera like a large-format view camera to get precise composition and perfect focus, etc. My latest work requires FAR less post processing, and is notably better than my early work where I relied more heavily on post processing. Where I could spend days working an HDR image and its tone mapping to get an ok result, graduated neutral density filters eliminate the need, and produce more pleasing results strait out of the camera. I spend maybe 5 minutes or so figuring out what filtration to use, and getting it placed in front of my lens. Ultimately, I am more satisfied when I put the time in out in the field to work the scene, find my vantage point, and meticulously prepare and take my photographs. I also enjoy having more time on my hands at home since I am not spending hours working my images just to get them to look "decent". I can now put that time into making them look like "mine"...a stylized, artistic signature of who I am and how I see the world.

A simple rule of thumb is, outside of basic exposure control and white balance, if you didn't get it right in camera, you generally can't fix it post-process. If your focus is off, if you blow out your highlights or block your shadows (or both in very high contrast scenes), if you didn't compose the scene properly, if you didn't even capture the most interesting scene (i.e. try different focal lengths), then there is little or nothing you can do in post processing to fix it. Basically, post-processing isn't a replacement for good camera work, although it can often enhance good camera work.

That said, some things can't be done in camera. A lot of stylistic, personal trait, or artistic elements of a photograph can only be done during post processing. While certainly no replacement for getting proper composition and framing, focus, dof, etc. in camera, you have a lot of artistic freedom when working with your images on a computer. The possibilities are almost limitless, from simply pushing saturation to the limit like Marc Adamas, to moderate image cleanup that removes unwanted elements from an image (i.e. using Photoshop CS5 Content-Aware fill to remove unwanted or unexpected ugly objects from an otherwise great photo), to complex photomanipulation that takes elements of one or more photographs (and possibly artificial elements), and blends them together to make something entirely new and unique.

Post-processing is ultimately a personal choice, and a fundamental element of ones personal style. You can choose to put all your effort into capturing the perfect picture strait out of the camera, or you can put some effort into turning what you capture with the camera into a unique, stylistic work of artistic perfection that is readily and clearly recognized as "your" work. Neither is the "correct" way, neither is the "best" way, any route you take is simply a part of your personal style, a factor of your work.

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Marc's work is absolutely amazing. –  Nick Bedford Apr 7 '11 at 23:01
1  
Marc Adamus rather looks a lot like the Dave Hill of landscape. Some pretty stunning shots there. –  John Cavan Apr 8 '11 at 2:39

There's a Nikon endorsed photographer named Cliff Mautner, and he said in couple of places that he does not do post processing. All he do is cropping and minor changes and he just chooses a good natural light and go with it. Apart from him, I have not seen anybody who claimed not to post process. So it really depends on the photographer but I think 95% of them do edit pictures. Pictures don't always look good if you shoot RAW so you have to process them anyway.

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In general, less is more is your friend. It is really going to depend on the type of photography you do. I shoot mainly events and portraiture.

For events, beyond correcting white balance and adjusting crops (which includes leveling the photos at times) I do very little.

For portraits, after making selects, I will do some more post-processing, but in general less is more. I might remove minor blemishes, whiten the teeth and eyes a bit and adjust levels if my exposure was off.

Something to keep in mind, post-processing a bad photo will not make it better. At best, it might elevate a mediocre photo to passable. Even with heavily processed HDR work, unless the composition is awesome to begin with, you're not going to make it awesome by doing tons of tone mapping. If you polish a turd until is shines, at the end of the day, it's still a turd.

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Not for certain type of Pro. Images represent the publications that they appear in and it is not usually up to the photographer to decide what level of manipulation is needed.

It is up to the photo-editor to decide when changes are acceptable and when they should be applied. Most of the time, it is limited to cropping to fit the aspect ratio of the required format. Contrast and colors are only touched to allow images to print correctly.

In some publications were are not even allowed to edit (in the selection sense) which photos get seen by the photo-editor. They require all images to be handed-in and the editor chooses which part of the story is to be told. It is extremely important that the magazine can represent images as truthfully as possible as the reputation depends on this greatly. One manipulated photo may be all it takes to discredit a publication for years.

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It will always depend on the type of photography, but I'd suggest there is a scale:

With virtually no post-processing (so maybe keywording, maybe lens calibration adjustments) you get the world of the Stock photographer - most agencies prefer unsharpened pictures, as it would be normal for their client to go on and make final adjustments ready for their media.

With a bit more processing (so we're adding in things like sharpening for final display, or tweaking levels for greater artistic expression) you get your landscape photographers.

Then you're into the realms of portraiture, which generally needs the most attention; Wedding shots must be colour corrected (there's nothing more embarrassing than a white wedding dress coming out cream, or the groom's white shirt appearing pink). Wedding shots generally have wildly changing lighting conditions whilst at the same time having to get the shots in quickly, so it's difficult to get this right in camera - personally, I always shoot weddings in RAW, and tidy up the white balance later when the camera gets it wrong. Some wedding photographers will also tidy up skin blemishes, or marks on the dress much like...

Finally you get your studio photographers, dealing with either inanimate objects (food/product shots/etc.) or models under controlled conditions - this means they can nail things like exposure and white balance "in-camera", and focus post processing on getting the correct textures and sheens.

As a general rule, I, like many of the the other photographers I've spoken with, like to do most of the work "in camera", as it is generally faster in the long run, and with better results.

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Great answer, although there seems to be a recent trend in landscape photography towards heavy photoshopping –  MikeW Mar 7 '12 at 6:43

For me it really depends - I have been trying to improve my shots on camera and then the plan is only to heavily process a shot if I am looking for a distinctive look.

I do tend to spend more time cleaning up portraits, making sure the skin tone is even. Occasionally a spot of photoshopping to remove blemishes.

When I first started I used to think that heavily processing shots was cheating in a way - I now understand that it is a methodology for enhancing what you have already done. I wish my editing skills were better

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The standard answer is "it depends". Sometimes you get everything right and only minor adjustments are needed, and sometimes you want to make sure it's perfect in every way because you want to print it large.

For me it depends on the nature of the photograph. I spend more time cleaning up portraits, and almost nothing if it's just a family snapshot. And by "almost nothing" I mean correcting white balance and cropping, and that really is minimal.

I do think that all digital pictures could always use some processing, even if it's a simple curves adjustment, to bring them to life. It is a major advantage of digital photography.

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I can't speak for the pros, though I would tend to think that if they're selling it, they probably spend some time on it. Of course, if they're shooting for advertising, then it is pretty much assured that the image is going to see a lot of post-processing work...

For myself, it depends. In general, for most, I feel that if I have to spend more than a few minutes on the image, than I haven't taken a good enough shot. Usually I do some curve adjustments, perhaps noise reduction, sharpening (since RAW needs it), and maybe some minor saturation adjustments. Mind you, I'm not about to be featured in a photo magazine for my brilliance, so take my approach with that particular grain of salt. :)

Now, if I'm going for something "artsy" that just uses the image as a base, I'll spend more time on it, quite a bit sometimes. I didn't used to do that kind of thing, but then I came to the conclusion that I'm not a photojournalist, that I'm trying to create art, and so using one of my photographs as a base for that is just fine. I can't draw or paint, so I have to start from something!

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