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Who among us really enjoys chores? No one, I think it’s safe to say. It’s a sentiment that, for most of us, surfaces as kids when we’re pressed into the horrific reality of having to keep our room clean and take our turn washing dishes. We learn that chores are an inescapable part of life, but we also figure out that not all chores are created equal — some are far more detestable than others. Unfortunately, many people find that even when engaged in something they absolutely love doing, there is sometimes a degree of drudgery involved in one aspect or another, some chore that has to be completed as an inextricable component of an otherwise enjoyable activity.
Photo by Andrew Seaman
For many a photographer, this unwelcome chore is post-processing. And you know that the more shots you’ve taken, the more work lies ahead of you — but you can’t let your disdain for image editing dictate how many shots you take. In the interest of keeping as much joy as possible in photography, the following ideas are presented to help you take some of the stress out of post-processing.
Photo by Håkan Dahlström
Be Extremely Selective About the Images You Keep
You have to serve as curator of your own image collection; it’s not an easy job, but you’ve got to do it. As you transfer your images from the memory card to your computer, remind yourself that not every shot is a keeper. Take a critical look at all your new images and keep only the very best. The “best” ones aren’t limited to those that are tack sharp or perfectly exposed, but more importantly are the ones that are most meaningful to you, the images that are most representative of the experience captured in the photos. Working with an application such as Lightroom makes the whole keep/discard process a bit more efficient, as you can simply flag the shots you want to keep and mark the rest as “Rejected.” You can archive those rejected images on a separate drive or delete them altogether. Either way, the point is to have only your best shots in front of you.
Photo by Bert Kaufmann
Divide the Editing Process into 2 Stages
To make things a little easier for future use, start by adding a few organizational elements like keywords, categories, or ratings. Then apply basic edits to your pared-down image collection: straighten, crop, fix exposure; you can even use a keyboard shortcut to apply identical edits to a batch of similar images, which greatly speeds up the process. This first round of edits will give you a better idea of what/how much subsequent editing your images will require. Don’t underestimate the importance of this first phase; it’s easy to dive into doing a full range of editing on a single photo just to come out the other end realizing that you’ve got shots more worthy of your attention. Starting out with basic edits lets you know which images will move on to round two.
Photo by jDevaun
Now with a set of “almost there” images before you, it’s time for the fine-tuning of each remaining photo. Here, you will adjust and apply things like white balance, contrast, saturation, skin smoothing, burning/dodging, sharpness, and noise reduction. Take your time and get everything exactly the way you want.
Take a Break
After you have applied the finishing touches to all your images, get up and walk away from your computer. Do something — anything — unrelated to image editing. Just leave your photos alone — they’ll be fine on their own. Return to them a few hours or even a day later; looking at them again with fresh eyes will give you a great deal of perspective and new insight. You might suddenly find yourself wanting to go in an entirely different direction, with an entirely different look; you might sit back and find yourself thoroughly satisfied with what you have created. No matter what conclusion you arrive at, it’s easier to trust your own judgment after you’ve had some time to clear your head and rest your eyes.
Photo by streetwrk.com
We all have to accept image editing as a fact of the photographer’s life; the idea, though, should be to make the process an efficient one so that you can get back to shooting as soon as possible. Even if you continue to see post-processing as a chore, it doesn’t have to be as dreadful an activity as it once was (and post-processing digital files is surely orders of magnitude easier than what you would have to do if you were working with film); all you need to do is rethink your basic workflow and get right to it. Who knows, you may even come to enjoy editing your shots. Some people do. It’s okay if you never count yourself amongst those that like image editing, just don’t let it stress you out and take all the fun out of photography.