Photographic Post-processing: Two Approaches

© Jim Hutchison September 2017




There are two strong philosophical and psychological approaches I take to photography, depending on who the target audience is. Of late, they have been real estate agents, and Facebook fans of my aerial landscape photos.


For real estate stills, I strive to make an image look like you were standing there... no artsy fartsy tricks, no embellishments. I make the observer of my work think they were standing beside me when I took the shot. A great analogy is when I used to run sound for various bands, churches, and recording studios...


my goal was to make it so natural, the observers forgot they are listening to it through a PA system. The medium (photography, sound...) should not get in the way of the observer totally experiencing the content of what they are seeing or hearing. Be a delivery boy!

The folks looking at photos of real estate and architecture want an accurate depiction of what's there. That means a ton of post-processing in Photoshop, cuz face it - what comes out of our camera is nowhere close to what our eyes actually see. Why is that? Before I explain, on to approach two...

Stylizing the content to make it look more artsy is another branch of photographic post-processing. Making an image look "painterly" is something I do lots, but not for clients that pay me for, say - real estate photos, aerial or otherwise. So when I decide to stylize a photo, it's usually a long term investment of my time... I'll perhaps get it printed as a gallery wrap which will maybe sell in a month or two (or more), or just share it on social media to keep my followers interested in my work.

The foundation of both approaches to photographic technique depend on an understanding of the physical differences between the human eye, and any camera. Read on...

The Interesting Physics of Optics
Ever wonder why some photos look so distorted? Especially the fish-eye effect from super wide angle lenses. Well, it has to do with the fact that camera lenses have to project onto a flat surface, whether it be film or a digital sensor. Because of this, a myriad of things happen. In the same way maps of countries are also distorted, in both cases we are attempting to flatten out an image which comes from a spherical source. It's like trying to flatten out an orange peel - something's going to tear.

For camera lenses, just having a single magnifying glass like our eye's lens doesn't cut it, as the image will be sharp in the center, but blurry towards the edges. Then there's chromatic aberrations that cause colour fringing. That results from the lens acting like a prism as you get to the edges of the photo.

If - and that's a big if - we could manufacture a digital sensor that was spherical like the back of our eye, lenses would be far simpler, and not require the multiple elements needed to compensate for the physics of image projection onto a flat surface. In the same way our brain "prints" our eye's image onto our consciousness, an image from a spherical sensor would print onto paper in a non-distorted way.

And there's more: perspective distortion. As you point your camera up to take a shot of say - a tall building, what should be parallel lines now look like they are converging to an unnatural looking vanishing point. That's why those old bellows cameras were developed, so the operator could tilt and shift the lens to make up for this problem. Not surprisingly, these cameras were most popular with architecture photographers. These days, software such as Adobe Photoshop has tools to compensate for these distortions in post-processing. I use them extensively with real estate images... see the before and after pics.

Now on to dynamic range: the human eye spans about 20 f-stops, which is huge. That's a contrast ratio of a million to one (1,000,000:1). However, our film and digital sensors have a much narrower dynamic range than our eyes, which is about a thousand to one (1000:1). So, us photographers have to pull out our bag of tricks to reduce highlights and boost shadow details with things like bracketing, and/or shooting in RAW format to milk out all the details we can. Again, we do this to emulate what we see naturally.

Adding Artistic Interpretation: Let's Get Stylin'
So, with all of that explained, some - or all of it - could possibly be ignored for the sake of creating a piece of artwork that expresses your creativity. Things like intentional blurriness, over or under-saturation to emulate film styles, adding effects filters, etc. are all lawful once your inner artist is released - no holds barred! So, whether it's a shot with strong geometric elements like architecture, a portrait of a street person, or a landscape of the Rocky Mountains, there is no end to the playing around you can - and should - do.

Personally, I'm a bit of a one-trick pony when it comes to being artistic - I prefer my effects to be somewhat understated so the viewer goes... "Is that a photograph, or is it a painting?". I try to let the content of the image take the viewer away on a little trip, as opposed to applying effects that distract from the content. But that's my philosophy, not yours.

There's a bazillion tutorials online that will help you achieve your goals in this area of creative photography, so if you use a search term such as "creative photography post processing", you will be richly rewarded.

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In future articles, I'll get into the details of specific post-processing techniques to overcome the aforementioned flaws of camera optics, such as perspective distortion and dynamic range. Stay tuned! Cheers,




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Jim Hutchison is a full-time aerial, real estate, and landscape photographer who resides in Burnstown, Ontario with his wife Moira. You may vist his aerial photo page at www.HoverWolf.ca.