You have just finished editing your most recent landscape photo using Lightroom. You have systematically worked your way through all the sliders in the Develop module and made adjustments the best you could possibly do. But something is wrong.
The image doesn't look like you expected. And it certainly doesn’t look as good as the images you see online.
When you’re just starting or have limited experience with post-processing, this is a typical scenario. Amateur photographers unknowingly make some common mistakes when they first begin to learn post-processing.
In this article, I will discuss the most important reasons you might find post-processing a bit challenging.
Let’s get started.
Reasons leading to post-processing mistakes
Many photographers have an idea that the creativity in making photos ends when they press the shutter and save the image file to the memory card. These photographers see the time spent behind the computer as a waste of time or even unnecessary.
They do some quick fixes and are done.
This approach might work when the light conditions are good (which often is a challenge in landscape photography) and the execution in camera is well done.
If you don't post-process your photos, you miss an opportunity to express your creativity.
Filters and presets
Other photographers use the editing software basically to add random filters or preset to their photos. This is also a quick fix approach that might or might not work. The approach is relying on other photographers vision and post-processing workflow.
When you use presets or filters created by other photographers you can get unexpected results.
Reason being most presets are designed to fit with the type of photos the creator of the presets makes.
Photography is art and depends on the photographer's ideas and creativity.
Many photographers spend a lot of time to learn and improve their post-processing skills. The mistake is they focus too much efforts on the software and software features. Typically they work through the software sliders, one by one, believing every single slider need to be adjusted.
With this approach you let the software dictate where you’re going with your photos.
What is your goal?
One of the most common questions I get about post-processing is “where do I start?” and when do I stop post-processing my images?”
I tend to answer with a couple of questions.
- If you don’t start the editing process with a goal in mind, how do you know where to start?
- If you don’t start the editing process with a goal in mind, how do you know where to stop?
How do you even know you’re not happy with the result if you don't know how you want the final image to look.
Not being critical to the raw material is a typical post-processing mistake
Let’s start with the most important first.
How good is the raw material - the file you download from the memory card?
You can compare a professional photographer with a professional chef. They both want to start with the best possible raw materials. A photographer can’t make an amazing image if the execution in the camera is terrible. A chef can't make a delicious meal if the ingredients are of bad quality.
But premium raw materials alone are not enough to create an outstanding dish or image. The chef can follow a recipe, but he also tastes and season the food as he creates it. For the most part, he will follow the recipe, but with experience, he will make adjustments that reflect his personal style. The dish becomes unique for him.
The same applies to the photographer. Two photographers with the same shot out of the camera are likely to end up with two different finished photos. The difference is in how each of them decides to post-process the photos.
Well known photographers on the Internet are masters of post-processing. They have created their own editing style.
What you might not be aware of is, these photographers don't make their photos amazing only because of their post-processing skills. The photos they edit are already well executed out of the camera.
Post-processing is the final touch - "the icing on the cake"
The digital studio
When you understand the possibilities and limitations of post-processing, you can create photos that are uniquely yours.
But to be successful in the digital studio, you must learn how to visualize the finished image early in the process. Experienced photographers plan for post-processing already at the time they compose and take the photo.
Sometimes limitations in the camera and camera sensor are the reasons you don’t get the exact result you saw in front of you when you took the photo.
Post-processing is all about closing the gap between what came out of the camera and what you saw.
It’s less likely you can close the gap if you just use someone else's workflow or presets on your photos.
Three approaches to post-processing
Close to reality
The first type of photographers are the ones that use post-processing to create an image that looks as close as possible to what they saw when taking the photo. This is probably the most common approach.
The second group is more concerned about the technical aspect of the photo. They are obsessed with noise reduction or how to optimally sharpen the image. Noise reduction and sharpening are important, but if the photos are mainly posted online, it's less critical.
The third group is photographers that are focusing on the creative side of the process. The goal with their images is to evoke a response from the viewers. They add an artistic twist to the image but make sure the picture still looks natural and real.
As you develop as a photographer, you’ll be able to handle all three aspects I’ve mentioned above.
Analyzing the image
As I mentioned earlier, the most common feedback I get from photographers new to post-processing is “I don't know where to start.” My response is most often “start with the image in mind and not the software.”
Before you start, you must identify the gaps between the current state of the image and the result you visualized when you took it.
Identifying the gap is the most crucial step in post-processing and a step many photographers skip.
Which areas in the photo can you improve to get the desired end result? Can you remove or make distractions less disturbing?
If you don't know what you need to do with the photo, you’ll have a hard time both knowing where to start and when to stop editing.
The biggest of all mistakes
Finally, the biggest of all post-processing mistakes is to believe you can turn any photo into an amazing image, with just some simple post-processing techniques.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy.
The next time you’re post-processing your photos, make sure you spend some time reviewing your image first. Post-processing is exactly as with the camera. Knowing the buttons and setting won’t help much if you don’t have an idea of how you want the photo to look. Remember you have many creative choices in front of every scene. Don’t leave it to the camera to decide.
Similarly, don't leave it to the software to decide the look of your images when you edit. Post-processing is a tool to express your creativity and vision.