I tend to like photos that look dramatic or otherworldly (particularly when capturing things that may actually be fairly mundane). Aside from obvious things like air-brushing or photo-manipulations (e.g. to add in elements, or reshape people, etc.), I am having a great deal of difficulty distinguishing how much of a good photo of this type happens in-camera and how much happens in post.

This has become particularly difficult after seeing how drastically some basic work with something like some of NIK Software's stuff can transform photos I've taken that were decently composed, but otherwise a bit bland looking.

Is there any sort of resource with some examples of some skillfully-created photos of these types in RAW without developing or color grading vs. fully developed and post-processed?

Whether it's a candid b&w style like: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gorbochev/page2/ (my current photographer crush)

something more fashion focused like the first 4 or 5: http://www.kurtstallaert.com/my/fashion

or some of the more surreal stuff like the young photographer Kyle Thompson whose stuff I've seen around the internet recently, I'd like to get a better sense of how things look before they've been altered so that I can continue to evolve towards taking photos that I'm actually happy with, and not stuff that perpetually feels like it misses the mark.


2 Answers 2


A lot less than you might think. Certainly a lot of work goes into pictures like Kurt Stallaert's work after the shutter button's been pressed, but almost all of what elevates them from snapshot to photograph happened on the scene. (That said, I can't see anything special in Gorbot's photos other than composition and choice of subject. Sometimes deciding when, where and why to point the camera is all the difference you need.)

Almost all fashion advertising and editorial photography uses artificial or at least auxiliary lighting, whether that comes from hot lights, flashes, or simply reflectors. Stallaert's work is a good example: each of the photographs has at least two lights on the principle subject(s) in addition to whatever is providing the overall "ambient" lighting. And that light is controlled, not just spilling everywhere — grids, snoots, barn doors, flags and gobos, the things that keep light from getting where you don't want it, are as big a part of the lighting game as the lights, reflectors, umbrellas and softboxes themselves.

Post-processing can only create a spectacular image if it was at least very good to begin with. (And remember that we were doing images that we pretty darned close to this on slide film in the old days.) Learn to see the light first when looking at work that impresses you. Try to imagine how that highlight got there and why the shadow edges look the way they do. Experiment. See how much light you need to remove to make the highlights stand out. Figure out how close you need to get the lights to have them give the effect you're seeing. When you can get ninety percent of the way there in camera, the other ten percent is easy (drudgery, but easy).

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Stan. It sounds like I need to continue investing my time in lighting and actually taking photos and not get too hung up on elaborate post-production work right now. I've been slowly working through Light Science and Magic and Strobist's stuff. Is there another resource you might recommend with a focus on fashion advertising and editorial photography specifically? \$\endgroup\$
    – tiv
    Apr 13, 2013 at 15:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tiv It's hard for me to assess the mostly-technical resources out there simply because I don't know what assumptions may have been made that shouldn't have been made (I was a pro a long time back, and it's mostly about adapting to digital for me). That said, you can do a lot worse than Joe McNally's The Hot Shoe Diaries, Sketching Light and his "Deconstruction" series on Adorama TV (not specifically fashion, but highly informative), and Karl Taylor's fashion and commercial videos (expensive) are pretty good, mostly because he's more brute force than finesse (cont'd) \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Apr 13, 2013 at 16:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ ... and that allows you to see how he develops the lighting. Most of the rest of what I've seen are cookbooks — they'll show you the what, but won't tell you the why. And it's the why that you want to take away. Oh, and if you can tolerate the ad levels, Jay P Morgan's The Slanted Lens videos on YouTube fit a lot of info in between the brand names if you pay close attention. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Apr 13, 2013 at 16:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ Awesome. I really appreciate anything that explains the why because I've always been really bad at doing anything that I don't understand, even with explicit instructions. If I'm not learning the why, I'm not really learning at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – tiv
    Apr 13, 2013 at 18:44

The old saying crap in, crap out still applies in photography. Yes, certain styles require careful tweaking of an image to give it a certain surreal feel, but it's also necessary to have the desired end product in mind when taking the shot. You still are working with whatever you shoot when doing your manipulation.

If the shot doesn't have the content, style, exposure, depth of field, or lighting that you need, it's going to be awfully hard to get the photo to look like you want. If shadows or highlights are in the wrong places, it will make life very difficult if not impossible in editing. Other surreal effects (like soft water and motion trails) really can't effectively be done in post and have to be done in camera as part of the exposure.

So yes, while post production may be critical in surreal and "artsy" photography, taking the right kind of shot in the right way to start with is just as critical or more so.


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