Matt Gray

Photo Processing: Restful and Stressful

Oct 18, 2005

NOTE: This entry is an expanded version of the description for one of my Flickr photos, pictured below.

Moonlight on MN 61

Processing my digital photos is a sometimes arduous task. Every time I take a picture, I set the very highest standards for the final outcome—I am a perfectionist. I’m still very much a novice photographer, and often end up with an incorrect exposure setting, color balance, or poor composition. For every photo I post to Flickr, I meticulously adjust the brightness, contrast, and color, correcting any mistakes I made in camera. This procedure is both soothing and irritating, as the title suggests.

Digital is both a blessing and a curse; I can fix my mistakes in post-processing, with somewhat satisfying results. However, does this “Photoshop safety net” really help me grow as a photographer? I am sometimes tempted to shrug off shots that look poor in the viewfinder, since I can brighten / darken them later. Some of my photos are taken off-angle, with a slight (~2 degree) tilt that needs to be corrected. I selectively blur to remove “grain” or amplification artifacts.

The photos from my last excursion broke the 3,000 picture barrier: of those pictures, some 340 were worthy of posting to Flickr. My posting rate of about 10% of photos shot has remained constant throughout the past five months with my camera. Now I’m casting about for ways to improve. Equipment? Training? Try out film, or upgrade to a DSLR? So many options, most expensive (either time- or money-wise).

In this example, a noisy, underexposed night shot was saved (somewhat) using overlay masks and the levels tool. The original image is the slice on the right, the processed image on the left. Here the photo’s axis is close to level; it is exceedingly hard to frame a night shot through the viewfinder, especially with the LCD’s backlight destroying your night vision. The 30” exposure time limit on my camera is also a bit of a bummer (when trying to capture star trails, for instance).

I don’t think that my images will ever live up to my expectations, no matter the equipment or the training. Perhaps experience is the key here—understanding the limitations of the medium. I have to learn that some scenes cannot be captured verbatim: the human eye is a far better detector. Once I accept that and work within the limitations, I won’t be disappointed so often.

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