Image editing has great value beyond just the corrections done.
I often hear photographers state a goal of minimizing or even eliminating the time they spend on the computer editing images. Some say they don’t like technology. Or maybe they are too busy to spend the time editing. There are some who seem to think that a well executed image should already be complete right out of the camera.
I believe all of these attitudes are mistaken.
I have ceased to like technology for it’s own sake. I’m not impressed nearly as much as I used to be by fast chips with great graphic processing and lots of memory. However, the computer is a necessary tool. Virtually all imaging is done digitally now. Digital images need a fast computer to process them efficiently.
Like it or not, photography is probably one of the most technical art forms you can find. It is inextricably linked to technology. The computer is our darkroom. Just like Ansel Adams and his generation spent hours in the wet darkroom processing their images so we will spend hours at our computer doing the same.
Of course, we have the advantage of being able to have a nice glass of wine next to us while we work. 🙂
The inescapable fact is that computer-based processing is required for modern photography. In practice, this means learn to love Lightroom and Photoshop.
I have seen videos from well known photographers describing their process and it is apparent they only have a limited depth of Photoshop knowledge. Yes, results are what count, but I am sorry for them. They could possibly do more if they became more familiar with the technology they use. A craftsman should be an expert with their tools.
So if a computer is a necessary tool for our art then we should consider getting an adequate one. Bigger is better here. Bigger meaning more speed, more cores, more memory, more graphics, etc. Get one that makes editing very large files as speedy as possible. It is part of the cost of doing business.
Need for editing
It is a common misconception that the image you just downloaded from your high-end camera should be ready to share or print with little processing. Some people are able to do this for limited applications. For instance, I have seen wedding photographers or sports photographers who are able to ship their images out to clients almost immediately. What you often don’t see is the preparation that enabled that. They are able to shoot and ship jpg files and they spend lots of time getting their exposure and white balance dialed in before the shoot, along with presets for their typical processing steps.
This can work excellently for an experiences artist. But only for certain niches.
If you are following this blog I hope you do not shoot jpg files. For landscape or fine art RAW files are a requirement to make all the sensor information available to you for editing. Most of us need to dedicate the time for processing our RAW files.
OK, our images need some processing. Is the goal to minimize this time? To what end?
Something I am discovering is that, at a higher level, the goal is not to see how many images I can accumulate. The goal should be to make great art. I hear people complain that time at the computer takes away from time shooting. Yes, it does. That isn’t all bad.
I am even starting to consciously throttle my image making production because I get too far behind on the processing and refinement. Making new images is a joy. I would prefer to be out in the field shooting. But a balance is necessary and the follow on editing is equally important.
The images have to be assimilated and processed, both by my computer and by me. This is the process I am referring to as editing.
Value of editing
What I have come to realize is that editing is not just about making some corrections in an image so I can get on to shooting more. Editing is an extensive and necessary process. There is the filing and culling. There is the tagging and quick corrections. Then there is the more extensive edits required to bring a promising image to fruition. Sometimes over and over. Finally, there is more culling. Yes, ample opportunity to throw things away. And be sure to set aside time to play and experiment.
I am not a conceptual artist. Unless I am working on a project I do not shoot planned or designed images. Most of my images are discoveries, something that captured my imagination. Because of this the value of an image may not be consciously recognized by me until much later.
Some of my images need time to mature, time for me to understand why I was drawn to them in the first place. Sometimes this requires trying several variations on editing an image. And time. It just takes time for a tricky image.
The realization can sneak up slowly or it can come in a flash of insight. It is great when I finally understand a difficult image. Sometimes it never happens and I end up just filing it away or even deleting it.
I have written before that we should kill our darlings. It is painful but true. One mark of our maturity is what we choose to keep.
It sounds mystical, but editing, for me, has become much more than correcting an image. The time spent with my images is a key part of the process of me understanding my art. I start to see patterns of being drawn to recurring themes. Understanding the way I subconsciously work a subject over time is significant. When I spend more time with my existing images I can gather more insight to better understand my art and myself.
Just the time spent browsing, culling, rearranging, and grading my images has led me to better understanding of some of the themes that are important to me. By removing good images that no longer align with my style or interests my portfolio gets stronger. Less is more.
So, if anything, editing time is becoming more and more valuable to me. I value it as a necessary and important part of the image creation process. Your mileage may vary, but this is where I am.