It doesn’t seem that long ago when I wrote my 100th article for Photography Life, and here we are today with article number 150. I must confess that I mulled over what topic that this ‘mini-milestone’ article should cover. My ‘little voice’ told me that it needed to have a philosophical orientation. So, this article shares some of my philosophic approach to photography, and answers the question why I prefer being a lazy post-processor than a lazy photographer. And, make no mistake, I am a lazy post-processor.
I suppose ‘lazy’ is commonly interpreted as a derogatory term, most often meaning that someone is not willing to work or use any effort at all. That’s not the interpretation that I’m using in this article. Another common use of the word ‘lazy’ is to describe an activity during which you are very relaxed, and in which you take part without much effort. Like ‘taking a lazy stroll in the afternoon’. That’s the interpretation used in this posting.
This article in no way places any kind of value judgement on folks who spend hours working on individual images to produce the results they desire. That’s a personal decision they make, and as such should not be subject to any criticism from anyone.
My passion has been, and will always be, spending time with a camera in my hands creating images. I love being fully engrossed in the act of creating, allowing my instincts to lead wherever they may. Sometimes folks like my work, and at other times not. How people choose to react to my images is not something I can control, so I don’t let that get in the way of my creative journey.
What does being a ‘lazy’ photographer mean to me? It means not pushing myself to try to get the shot right the first time. It means not experimenting. It means consciously settling for less, when there could be more available. It means taking the easy way out. It means letting myself down.
For me, there has always been a very clear and simple alarm bell that sounds when I’m at risk of being a ‘lazy’ photographer. That alarm bell is the thought in my head that “I can fix that in post.” It could be caused by me relying too much on cropping my images to get them composed correctly. It could be caused by me not working with my composition long enough to get an intrusive branch or detail out of the frame. It could be caused by me not moving around enough, or not looking for enough different composition approaches, to help minimize the effects of some difficult lighting. It could be caused by me not using a filter when I know I should.
Before I press the shutter my goal is always to capture an image that I can use 100% without any cropping. Does that happen with every image? Of course not. Sometimes I just can’t find an answer for the issue at hand and I do the best I can with what’s in-front of me. Some subjects, such as birds-in-flight, can be very difficult to capture without having do some cropping in post, and personal expectations need to be adjusted. On the other hand, I believe that some subjects like landscape photographs, should be held to a much higher, personal standard.
I don’t enjoy post-processing. To me it has always been a necessary evil that is part of the photographic process. My goal when I work in post is to get my images to the vision I have in my mind for them with as little muss and fuss as possible. Typically an image takes no more than 5 minutes in post, including computer processing time. Usually if I can’t get what I want in 5 minutes I move on to a different image. If, for some reason, I get fixated on a photograph I may spend double that amount of time working with it in post to see if I can get it to where it should be to match the vision I have for it. If I can’t get it there in that extended amount of time, I stop and then move on to a different image.
Whether I move on at 5 minutes or at 10 minutes, at that point there is much learning to be had, but it is never about what I can do in post to ‘fix’ the image. The fact that I still need to ‘fix’ it after working on it for 5 or 10 minutes tells me the issue isn’t with my software or with my RAW file. The issue is with me, and what I could have done differently and better upfront, when I was creating that image. That’s why I prefer to be a ‘lazy’ post processor than a ‘lazy’ photographer. Spending less time in post reveals my shortcomings as a photographer to me much faster.
Doing executive coaching for over 20 years has taught me some valuable lessons. One of the most important ones is that encouraging a client to pour a tremendous amount of effort towards mitigating a weakness is a waste of time, and will not help them reach more of their potential. That only happens when they develop and leverage more of their core strengths. I could never help a duck become a better eagle, only a better duck.
All photographs in this article were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO OpticsPro 11/PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.
Article and all images are Copyright 2017 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, adaptation, or reproduction of any kind is allowed without written permission. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Readers who call out offending websites that steal intellectual property by posting messages on offending websites are always appreciated!
Cute shots with a cute camera mate. Try taking your bird pictures at eye level with the bird. Had you gotten on your stomach to take the wood duck picture, it might have turned out nice. But I guess it was easier to just point the camera down and get all of that distracting water in focus. We’re all lazy sometimes.
The image was taken from a snow-covered dock with my camera held just above the snow. Given the lighting that was the lowest position I could get.
Really nice and thought-provoking article (as always), Thomas.
After only a couple of years taking photographs after many years as a musician / recording engineer (which is actually a very similar process) I think photographers fall into two very broad groups: there are those people who are trying to work against the limitations of the camera technology available to us in order to create something that looks as close to real life as possible, and then there are those who embrace and ‘lean into’ (and almost exaggerate) the limitations of the camera technology to create a finished image that looks more obviously like a photographic representation of reality.
I don’t think one approach is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ and I am glad that both exist to varying degrees, and I enjoy looking at the product of both. But it is natural that those who work against the limitations of the camera are going to need to spend an awful lot more time on post-processing, whereas those who embrace the limitations will need far less. I guess it just depends what you enjoy doing and what kind of photographer you want to be!
Thanks for adding to the discussion with your comment! I completely agree that one approach is not better than another…they are simply different and are a product of ‘what you enjoy doing and the kind of photographer you want to be’ as you stated in your comment. This strikes me as a very important observation.
I understand your sentiment and I share it. I’d rather be out shooting than taking the better part of the day post processing. Still, post-processing has its place, especially for commercial work when shoot day is a drab/flat/dull-light day and the client will not take that for an answer/excuse for turning in flat images.
Beautiful images as always! Congratulations on hitting the century mark. Onwards to the next 100.
I actually hit the ‘century mark’ with my articles on Photography Life quite a while ago…this was posting #150!
I take the same approach with my client work (which is almost all industrial video projects) in terms of focusing my efforts upfront on ‘getting it right in camera’, I do some work on my video files in post, but it tends to be very minor adjustments.
Mea culpa Tom. Onwards to your next 150 then.
Not a problem Oggie! Hope we’re still having fun together here on the occasion of #300!
You always amaze me with your photographs and what you can do with the Nikon 1 systems.
Thanks Ed – I appreciate your support!
I like your photos – birds, and landscapes. I have learned a lot from your articles and from the replies you always make to questions and comments. Teaches me some processing tips to try. I’m getting to where I don’t care to handle big cameras and lenses so I have switched to Olympus EM1 Mrk II which means some experimenting, trial and error, as I learn more about taking and processing my photos. Thank you for sharing.
I’m glad that my articles and reader responses have been of benefit to you!
Thank you Thomas for both your wonderful images and a great article and I was pleased to see other readers write in with a similar point of view. Personally I loathe post processing and do my utmost to try and capture images that won’t require time in front of the computer by taking the same shot at different settings then selecting the one I like the most. I don’t mind a little cropping or playing with brightness and contrast but that is it. Too bad Picasa bit the dust, can anyone recommend a similar basic editing download?
Thanks for your supportive comment, and adding to the discussion!
you hit the nail at first stroke!
Like you i´m a lazy post processor.
I do Photobooks in A3 on real photo-paper or photo-canvas up to 1,20m X 0,90m using the least amount in post-processing or cropping.
Working in CWB in RAW i even have no fiddeling with colors.
Most fun for me, when other photographers with top-notch gear asking me what camera i use!
It´s like slow-food, take time in framing, the output is rewarding.
Thank´s for your fine article.
Best regards from Germany
Thank you Bernd – I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I can relate to your comment about the gear you use… the camera we use isn’t nearly as important as trying to do the best we can with whatever gear we own.
Oho! Nice photo of the wood duck! After I recently encountered these beauties for the first time in the wild, I’ve put them near the top of my list for future photo capture. Even the females, which aren’t nearly as colorful, are nevertheless quite cute. I unexpectedly spotted them in an outflow on the other side of a marsh lined pond within a natural area, but I only had 300mm available which didn’t give me sufficient reach, and the ducks didn’t seem inclined to come out into the middle of the pond. It didn’t help that a noisy family showed up on the short boardwalk I was set up on, probably scaring the ducks, and they stayed for a long time. Tripods don’t work well on boardwalks with little kids bouncing up and down on them. By the time they left, the shy ducks had hidden themselves. They weren’t there on a return trip.
Thanks for the positive comment about the wood duck image – much appreciated!
We are fortunate in my area as we have one little guy who isn’t too shy around people, and makes a great subject especially in late day sun. I was out again today and got a few more images of him. I haven’t checked them out on my computer yet as I just walked in the door and wanted to get caught up replying to readers. If I have enough additional shots I may put a small, dedicated article on my blog.
when I shot film and had no editing capabilities I tried for “the shot”
then I got a scanner and photoshop
post allowed me the latitude to make whatever I wanted
when I went digital and could fill a memory card with as many images as I wanted and make them whatever I wanted photography became enjoyable again
frankly every shot I take is going to be evaluated with an eye to post
it isn’t like I spray and pray but I don’t agonize over the process either
I like using the software and I like the results I get so I don’t begrudge the time it takes to create an image
sometimes I have a concept in mind when I start but most often I just see where it goes
a serendipitous blending of tech and art, if you will
if you care about your output some effort will need to be made
whether it is at the front end or the back end doesn’t matter to me
as always your thinking and photography are thought provoking…thanks
Thanks Craig, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I agree that if you care about photography that one must invest some time. For me, I’ve found that the time is best invested at the front end.
Great read and right on point. I would like to repost this article on my blog site if that is okay with you. I would only link to Photography Life.
What also impressed me beyond how right you are is the fact that you shot all these images with the Nikon J1 which of course Nikon has decided to do away with. Sad. But the images are excellent and way beyond what I would have imagined that camera and lenses could produce.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article! I don’t think that Nasim or I would mind if you linked to this article, but we would not want you to reprint it.
I used a Nikon 1 V3 to shoot all of the images in this article. This is still showing as a current model on the Nikon Canada an USA websites. I’m not sure of its status in other markets.
And didn’t use the J5 at all ?
3 of the 5 images were captured with the J5 as per the EXIF data.