This photo of Avedon’s instructions to his printer has been bouncing around the interwebs recently, and although I think I’ve discussed this before, I think it’s worth mentioning again: Digital post production is no different than chemical post production in a traditional film lab.
There is always the caveat of course: bad photoshop is still bad photoshop. Just the way that bad physical retouching is still bad physical retouching. To be good at intensive digital retouching you need to have control, subtly, creativity and knowledge of how things are supposed to look. This is why there are professional retouchers to offset every other schmo with a copy of Photoshop Elements.
I am do not use photoshop a lot these days. In fact, the more I shoot the more I want to do everything in-camera. Why? a few reasons. First, I’m impatient. I want the image to be as close to final when the shoot is over. Second, I find it much more fun to figure out how to make that perfect (or near perfect image) while working on the set, rather than sitting at my computer. I’ll nudge around pieces of black foam core for hours on set rather than try to photo shop out an unsightly reflection. And third? I’m not that great at retouching, so I try to avoid it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that I don’t do retouching at all. Like anyone else, I spend time removing blemishes and softening age lines and wrinkles. Note that I said softening, not removing. I do everything I can to not “remove” wrinkles. Wrinkles are character and there is a certain amount of photographic honesty involved here. In fact, I like wrinkles. I’ve never been a fan of the space alien completely flawless look. I’m usually not shooting beauty and fashion shots after all (at least no yet).
90% of my post production is done in Lightroom these days, which is a tool that has become invaluable to my workflow. Here is a quick run down of my post production process for most shoots:
Rough Selects: I do a first pass through the entire shoot, flagging picks. This is what I call rough selects and I flag everything that seems like it is worth saving. I generally don’t use the Reject flag at this point because I never like to throw anything away.
Selects: Next, I take a second pass and narrow down my rough selects further to a minimum number of shots that I feel are the best. This usually means that the cut goes down to three to four images per setup (this could be more or less depending of course on the project).
Develop: I shoot in raw, so that I can to develop those images similar to the way that film would be developed in a lab. I need to adjust the saturation, contrast, exposure and color balance. Lightroom makes it easy for me to make these adjustments to one of my selects and then sync the settings with all of the rest.
Minor retouching: Light room has some simple retouching tools for things like blemishes and spot removal. I use these tools minimally to take care of easy to remove problems.
Share with the client: Once I’m happy with the selects, I share these to the client. These days I’m using Photoshelter for this process and I love it. More on that in another post.
Final retouching: When the client gets back to me with their choice(s), then I do a final pass of more detailed retouching. It is at this point that I do the more intensive retouching that is necessary like removing copyrighted logos from a subject’s t-shirt or taking out an unsightly lamp that got into your shot somehow. Again, I’d like to mention that I do everything I can to make sure that all out removal is kept to a minimum in my shots. Depending on the final use I also make test prints to make sure that everything looks the way that I want it.
Image Delivery: Once the images are complete and ready to go, I make the high res images available for download (again via Photoshelter).
That’s it. I think my process is really no different than it would be if I was shooting film. The only real difference is that I can all of the steps at my desk instead of a lab, and I can do the whole process in one day if need be.