Why processing your photos is important.

If you have already read some of my previous articles you will know that I am not a fanatic of image quality nor do I promote inspecting your photos on the computer pixel by pixel. But, one of the things that I do encourage my students to do is to shoot in .RAW.

Why? Well, it’s simple. For starters, .RAW files offer more flexibility in terms of recovering highlights, shadows etc. but more importantly because when you shoot directly in .JPG, the camera is the one deciding how to process your photographs and although this may be practical, it also means that you lose out on part of the creative process of your work.

Often, especially in street and documentary photography, photographers claim that all their photos are ‘straight out of camera’, that what you are seeing is an exact replica of the scene they shot, and though sometimes this might be true, the vast majority of times it is not.

In fact, “purists” of street & documentary photography disregard the fact that photos were being processed long before the digital age. For example, in the photo above left by Magnum photographer Dennis Stock you can clearly see his notes, these were instructions for his laboratory and on the right, the result of his photo after post-processing (this is just one of many examples!).

As I said before, the .RAW format gives you more margin when it comes to recovering highlights, shadows, reducing noise…this allows you to focus on the fundamentals: composition, light, moment, story etc. and worry a little bit less about the technical aspects while you are out shooting, and that’s a great thing.

That said, post-processing is about so much more than flexibility.

It’s about your personal and final vision. It is the stage where you will be able to control, in a more precise way, the white balance, (perhaps you are doing a series on loneliness in big cities and you are interested in giving a colder tone to your photos) or emphasise certain areas of the photo with more or less exposure (like Dennis Stock’s photo of James Dean) or create your own interpretation of a black and white using the color channels (instead of filters) and without having to do countless tests at the lab. Your computer is your lab and you develop as you see fit.

I know that sometimes programs like Lightroom, Camera RAW, Capture One etc. can be a bit overwhelming, but I encourage you to research, try the possibilities of post-processing and experiment. Photography is a means of personal expression and skipping this part of the process means leaving part of your story in the hands of the manufacturer of your camera. And who would want that?

If you’re in Barcelona and want to brush up on your processing skills, sign up to our workshop!

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