Photography 101: Post-processing before and after

“What you see is not what you get!”

There, I’ve said it.

It’s a not-so-small mystery behind what we do as photographers. The product that we show is not what we initially captured, there is work and time, and talent that goes into post-processing. Some dedicate more time and varying software to it, some spend hours upon hours retouching a single person’s face, and the truth is: WE ALL DO IT!

Because honestly, after you start editing your images, it’s kind of addicting and you can’t stop, you just can’t show the world the Raw files.

Cooks don’t do it.

Painters don’t do it.

Gymnasts don’t do it.

Architects don’t do it

You get the idea.


Because the before picture is what everyone is capable of clicking. It’s not sexy. It’s flat. It’s wrong and is probably breaking so many rules.

It makes us cringe, maybe even vomit a little…

Photographers get giddy at the thought of importing a new file into their chosen editing program, messing with the levels, dodging, burning, sharpening, toning down highlights, brightening the shadows, choosing actions or filters, and creating a brand new image that the world hasn’t seen.

For some, editing is just the beginning, for some, it’s the means to an end.

For me, it is exciting but can get tedious if I have a lot of files to work on. And as an educator, I see it as an excellent way to illustrate “how to’s” and “why’s.”

This post is not about judging or showing off, it’s meant to showcase that images out of the camera are incomplete baked goodies that still need time in the oven to shine and taste even more delicious.

So get your powdered sugar and oven mitt ready and read along:

The image on the left is before editing and the one on the right – is after.

While my Fuji xt10 is set to shoot in a 16:9 ratio, it suits landscape shots more than vertical, which require a crop. This image also benefitted from additional sharpening, increased saturation, and a slight vignette to draw the eye to the subject – the man on the bicycle.

This image benefitted from a curve adjustment of lightening the brights and darkening the shadows. The white balance was tuned in the colder direction to help bring out the blues of the water and lots of sharpening was added to better expose the roughness of the dock.

Here, white balance was tweaked in the warmer direction. Dark tones were lightened, saturation added and the center of the image (the boat) was lightened to draw the eye towards the subject. Sharpening was added to make everything pop.

The image was cropped to eliminate the distracting elements. Saturation was added to help the colors stand out. The woman’s face was brightened and sharpening was added to make small details stand out.

Here, the image could have benefited from tilting the camera down to show what the woman was referring to (not 6, but actually 7 chickens (we later counted again, together, in a single cage). Sadly, I was shooting “from the hip” and while trying to conceal my picture-taking, couldn’t see exactly what angles I shot.

This straight out of the camera image isn’t bad, to me it just looks muted and flat, like a stale, warm, uncarbonated beer. Let’s add some pizzazz with increased saturation, overall brightness, sharpening, and the lightening of dark tones.

Once again, shooting from the hip, this picture benefitted from a crop to eliminate the distractions. Overall brightness and saturation were added, dark tones lightened and overall sharpness mixed in.

The second copy was saved in order to create the following image with the emphasis on the framed in sales lady.

Here, saturation was decreased to change the image into Black and White, the vignette was added, center – brightened and sharpness added to increase texture and lady’s old age.

So as you can see, an image straight out of the camera still requires a few steps in post-processing (whether it’s Photoshop, Lightroom, or my go-to choice while traveling – Snapseed App). If you missed last week’s post, check it out here to see the rest of my Travel photography gear, which just happens to fit in a single carry-on bag.

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