A while back I viewed a video of a talk given by Scott Kelby of the Photographic Industrial Complex, and found one of his pronouncements a bit disturbing. He was talking about editing your work after you’ve taken some shots, whether just from a session, day or an entire trip/vacation. In basic terms, he said that if you spend more than ten minutes post processing a single image, it’s probably not worth the effort and you should just move on to another photo. I suppose if you’re trying to pump out as many photos as possible and keep churning locations and photo ops, the more photos you put out there, the more opportunities it might sell, inspire someone to take one of your workshops or hire you to create a personal portrait or product photo. You’re always trying to keep your work fresh for all the folks that see your web site and want to hire you, whatever the reason.
But there might be another way to look at the dilemma of selecting photos worthy of further processing. And how long the necessary post processing takes should never be the determining factor on whether an image is, or is not worthy of your time. I took a photo of Jordan Lake back in late 2014 that I thought was a “keeper” and began working on it as I usually do, and after zooming in to 1:1, I discovered literally hundreds of tiny bits of crud on the surface of the water that I hadn’t seen while I was there. They were too small to notice, but as Clem Kadiddlehopper once said:
in the mind’s eye we see only what we wish, but the camera records everything else as well….
Well, it took me two days to eliminate each and every one in Photoshop using the clone tool! The photo from that post is at the bottom.
The photo at the top also ended up taking quite a bit of time to process because of the need for two photos to be merged and the problems that sometimes causes. When I first arrived at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh to see the field of sunflowers, the eastern horizon had a bit of cloud cover and thought there would not be any beautiful sky at sunrise, but the cloud cover might provide some even light which can be a good option as well. But as the clouds moved higher into the sky, they began to break apart, and although it was after the magic light just before sunrise, the sun began to light up the clouds in a way that was somewhat dramatic. There was a bit of a breeze, making the flowers never completely stationary, so an exposure was used which did not provide enough depth of field to keep everything front to back in focus and freeze the flowers. In addition, the sky was much brighter around the breaks in the clouds and even with a split neutral density filter, I needed to take one frame focused on the closest flowers with the appropriate exposure and another frame focused on infinity and properly exposed for the sky. Additionally, I raised the camera when taking the sky to get more of it in the frame planning to merge them as a panorama as well. A focus-stacked, exposure blended panorama! To try to make this story shorter than the long one it has already become, there ended up being quite a bit of ghosting between the two photos caused by movements of the flowers, and it took several hours to eliminate a few buildings, a tower, and to redraw the sky around the sunflower that is just above the distant tree line to eliminate that ghosting, all the while zoomed in at pixel peeping 700%. If it looks near perfect at that magnification, it should look fine for normal viewing.
Maybe I should have heeded Scott Kelby’s advice, tossed in the towel and moved on to the image above which required almost no post processing being a properly exposed image with a piece of black foam core placed behind these two young cherubs. It may have actually taken longer to find something interesting like these two than it did to do the post processing. The image below took a bit more time since I could not completely cover the background with the black foam core in one photo, so two were needed and then the two were blended using layers with a layer mask in Photoshop. Not much done in the way of processing in Lightroom afterward either except sharpening the bee and adding some clarity. Most of the work was done in the field, selecting a single, undamaged flower with some leaves that exhibited a bit of rhythm and flow in their positioning. And of course, it needed a bee, which in this case, was on the right side to help balance the image. If the bee were on the left side of the flower, it might have thrown the balance off and may have hindered the eye moving from around the flower and continuing to the leaves and return.
By using the amount of time it will take to process an image as the determining factor whether or not to do so, you run the real risk of skipping over some noteworthy work. No one ever said photography was easy or not time-consuming. We all have probably lost track of time as we work on our photos, and discover that several hours have vanished. But the time spent in “getting it right” according to your own standards, will always be time well spent.