Thursday, January 14, 2010

Post Processing Cliche's

Yes, this is the same pair of shoes from yesterday. If you didn't like the shot the first time around I suggest you stop reading now and wait for tomorrow's post since I'm going to show you several versions of this same image edited different ways. The version above is an example of high contrast. If you look at the dress and the Bride's legs, all detail has pretty much been washed out. I also pumped up the saturation.  Here's the original for a reference point.

Now the contrast shift isn't something I normally do, I like my highlights and shadows to have as much detail as possible, but for this image I really think it works. The original looks as if it was shot in Seattle in January (oh wait...). The increased saturation and brightness gives it warmth that is much needed. It's a moderate adjustment, not heavy handed or overbearing. Thus the reason I like it. Note: use the brightness/contrast and hue/saturation adjustments with moderation. A little goes a long way.

Too often though photographers are turning to gimmicks in post processing to turn images into something better. Truth is, if the image wasn't great in the first place, no amount of adjustment layers in photoshop is going to make it a great photo. You have to start with something worth looking at! The easiest analogy I can think of is macaroni and cheese. If you've ever had the homemade real cheese, whole milk, and baked in the oven all day version the blue box of funny shaped pasta and fake cheese looks like crap on a cracker. My point is that it's all about ingredients and skill.

So let's talk trends. My number 1 hated trend these days, grunge textures. To me this feels way to contrived. Now back in the film days I was all about purposefully damaging film and printing it. Processing it wrong, lighting it on fire, you name it. It was great fun and the results were terrible some times and magical the next. It was so unpredictable. Adding layers of other photos (mainly of junk, rust, and other randomness) doesn't have the same spontaneity. Here's my example.

The edges have been roughed up slightly and two different images have been sandwiched on top. The saturation on the background was also pulled down to -43. Shoes were masked out to preserve their color but ultimately I lightened them and adjusted the hue slightly. I also added chromatic abrasion (under the lens correction filter) and a vignette. I don't see this effect on wedding photos often, these days it's mainly on senior photos and it makes me throw up a little in my mouth every time I look at it. Once or twice is fine, but it shouldn't be on every image in a portfolio. It's not a style at that point it's a handycap.

Next up: Black and white with selective color.
I get asked by brides all the time if I can do this. Short answer: yes. Long answer: Do I have to? It reminds me of a '80 cherry coke commercial OR Schindler's List, possibly the worst movie you could associate with your wedding. But since I aim to please, I do it again and again. Granted it will NEVER make it into my portfolio.

This is actually very easy to do at home. Simply create a Black and White adjustment layer and then paint on the layer mask black where you want the color to show through. Only trick is making sure you mask is perfect so no other colors are visible. Oh, one other movie reference just came to mind. Wizard of Oz. It's officially cliche' if it's been done for 70 years or more. The funny thing is, I bet someone reading this blog will love this version the best. Go ahead, say it, I have to admit I kinda like it too... but that's the funny thing about cliche's they work most of the time. Otherwise why would we keep doing it?

Finally we go off the deep end and mess with the colors just to show you how to ruin an image.

This is a mix of a cyanotype with the selective color. Only one word for this version, Yikes. Believe it or not folks, I've seen stuff like this in "professional" portfolios. What do we learn here? Just because you can do it in Photoshop doesn't mean you should. Blue feet say "dead bride" probably not a good visual message to send. Honestly, our brains are trained to see color a specific way and though it's fun to create images that challenge that perception, there is a limit. You need to always be cognitive of what message you are sending.
Final score? Two of the above versions get a thumbs up (high contrast and selective color) where two don't (cold feet and grunge layers). Oh and don't get me started on cheesy quotes on photographs. I dry heave every time I see a photo frame with "Live, Laugh, Love" on it. Photos should speak for themselves. If narration is required, something is wrong.

That concludes today's personal rant.

Just keep it simple folks. The best images are always the ones filled with emotion. Tell a story, make it simple, honest, and personal. You can't photoshop that stuff in.


  1. It's interesting to me that you say the selective color will never make it into the portfolio, because as you said, so many people love the effect especially for wedding photos. I personally like it and occassionally play around with it in pictures of my kids. Some of the filters in Photoshop though are just plain weird and make me think "why is it even there?"

  2. @ Mandy
    I agree about the filters,don't use them and my best guess is that someone has to or they would be long gone. As for the portfolio, I only want to include stuff I love and not show something just for the sake of saying "hey look what I can do." When people ask "can you do the black and white with one color thing" I can just say, "yep, that's easy" and the problem is solved. Plus I think that style is liked by person's of a certain age. My brides get younger each year and these days they've only ever see Schindler's list as a part of their 8th grade curriculum. I'm Doing my best to look modern and fresh. It's really important in the photography world to keep up a modern and stylish look while simultaneously putting your own spin on it.