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  • Writer's picturePhilip J Hatton

"How much editing goes into your photos?" My answer: it depends...

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

I love a good rhetorical question, and one that springs to mind in this instance is: how long is a piece of string? In the sense that you cut string to the length required for its intended use, the same applies to photo editing. Here, I'll share a couple of examples.

Photojournalism and event photography

When speed of delivery is critical, professional photographers often choose to shoot in JPEG and deliver lightly edited photos that are true-to-life. I've worked events where it was key for the client to receive photos almost immediately for sharing on social media. Here's how I did it:

A quickly edited event photo that greatly benefited from a dark background and light hitting the subject
  1. Shoot in JPEG, paying particular attention to the correct white balance (since a JPEG file doesn't have much latitude for white balance adjustment)

  2. Transfer the JPEG files to a mobile device, such as an iPhone or an iPad, using the camera manufacturer's file transfer software (most modern DSLR and Mirrorless cameras have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth)

  3. Apply a preset, also known as a photo filter, to selected JPEG files using mobile photo editing software, such as Adobe Lightroom Mobile (I typically edit one photo beforehand, save the settings as a preset, and then apply this preset to all photos for consistency)

  4. Refine each photo, only if required, with additional adjustments (such as exposure and cropping/straightening)

  5. Send finished photos to the client directly from the mobile device (such as via AirDrop or other file transfer protocol)

Landscape and fine art photography

When a crafted photo is the desired outcome, then very deliberate and careful photo editing is often required. This can take hours, days, weeks, or even months for the photographer to settle on the final edit. In the following example, I'd noticed a local scene with two distinct trees, and when the conditions were right, here's how I got the shot with a fine art goal in mind:

The unprocessed RAW file — looks terrible, right?
  1. Shoot in RAW, in the interest of brevity, I'll stay high level on this subject. Quite simply, a RAW file is an unprocessed image containing a large amount of data that has greater latitude for editing when compared to a JPEG file

  2. Transfer the RAW files to a desktop computer, from camera memory card to a PC or Mac using a card reader (I use either CFExpress type B or XQD cards, a suitable card reader, and edit on an Apple iMac with Calibrite color calibrated monitor)

  3. Apply basic global edits in Adobe Lightroom or Camera RAW, or other photo editing software. Global edits include: lens distortion correction, removal of chromatic aberration, white balance, exposure, black/white point, highlights/shadows, contrast, hue/saturation/luminance and color grading ('global' meaning adjustments across the entirety of a photo)

  4. Apply detailed local edits either in Adobe Lightroom or Camera Raw, or more powerful photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop. Here's where the photographer's vision is brought to life. Compare the unprocessed RAW file (above) to the finished photo (below), there's clearly been some work ('local' meaning adjustments to specific areas of a photo):

The finished photo — much better!
  • Clean-up of clutter and distractions from the foreground and background using a mixture of Clone Stamp, Healing Brush, Patch Tool, and Content Aware Fill (this took time and effort, but made a huge difference)

  • Expand the canvas for more breathing room around the trees using the same tools as above

  • Straighten the right tree using the Warp Tool (it leaned too far for my liking, so I gave it a gentle nudge upright)

  • Soft glow added to the highlights by subtly applying an Orton Effect

  • Shadows, highlights, midtones, and color fine tuning using Curves

  • Sharpening the subject details (the branches and leaves) using Unsharp Mask

The aha moment — fine art print

I was very pleased with the result, but the aha moment came when I printed this at 17" x 22" on a Canon imagePROGRAF Pro-1000. Wow! Printing is a whole other topic, but having previously only shared socially and stored digitally, I can fully attest that creating a lasting print is an extremely enlightening and rewarding experience.

In conclusion, a typical commercial client requires a batch of edited photos delivered within a week of shooting, i.e. a middle ground of the above two examples. My normal workflow is to (1) shoot in RAW, (2) apply global adjustments in Camera Raw, and (3) apply local adjustments and finish the finer details in Photoshop.

Lastly, we're all keeping a keen eye on the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), as this has already greatly sped-up many of the laborious tasks involved in photo editing, and promises much more.

— Philip

N.B. don’t hesitate to reach out if you’d like assistance with photo editing – I’d love to help.

The links in this article are not sponsored, affiliated, or earn me any commission


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