Post Processing Is Important, But It's Not Everything

Over on Google+ I'm part of The Patch, a weekly themed photo challenge for 2014. We've been discussing photo critique, giving and receiving constructive criticism, and what makes a "really good photo". Of course photography, like any art, is subjective. Although there are commonalities across good photography. There's all the "rules" of photography - rule of 1/3rds, framing, tack sharp focus, leading lines, border patrol. There's the technical aspects - proper exposure, choice of aperture, ISO, focal length, and so on.

Yet at the heart of a "really good photo" is a story. A photo can be executed on the technical front flawlessly, and yet not be compelling. (I've got a growing collection of those! :)

During the discussion, post-processing techniques came up. Post-processing is an important part of digital photography. It can make a good photo great, but it won't make a mediocre or poor photo great. Here's an example I took years and years ago with my first 35mm camera (a Canon EOS Rebel ... I still remember the commercials with Andre Agassi):

Before (35mm film shot, scanned)

After (Processed in Aperture & OnOne)

I spent about 10 minutes in post-processing on this photo in Aperture and the OnOne suite. The "after" photo is better. Distracting elements are removed, the contrast is boosted so the photo isn't flat, the colors are more vibrant, the textures are crisper. After all that .... it's still just an uninspiring photo of a random rock along the beach. Meh. There's no story. All the post-processing in the world isn't going to make this photo great.

Now look at this photo:

The Morning Tide  |  San Diego Gallery

The Morning Tide | San Diego Gallery

I love this photo - one of my favorites from 2013. A great story here. The action of the tide rolling in, the sun rising, the motion in the clouds - Mother Nature doing her thang. And yes - post-processing played a big part in making this photo pop. The merger of processing and a great story ... that's what I'm after as a photographer.