To PP or not to PP your images..that is the question!

To qoute my favorite cartoon character Popeye, I have to say that “I’ve had all I can stands, and I cant stands no more!” Yes, I have had it with certain people who are stuck in the stone age and think that software like Photoshop is the end of photography. Yes, I am going to rant here because quite frankly, my wife could care less. She will not listen to my photography rants so you guys get to hear it! You may not agree with what I say but it doesn’t matter. No, it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it doesnt even matter if you read this. I just have to write it to get it out of my system.

It all started with this image my son. It was a quick snapshot, on my front porch during a rainstorm. I used the M9 and Noctilux F1 at f2. When I saw the original I was surprised at the way it rendered the image and I liked it. I cropped it to square format, desaturated it and sharpened the eyes. THAT IS IT! Why did I sharpen the eyes? Well, first of all, because I could! Also because I was having fun with photoshop and thought it would enhance that evil ass look he had on his face 🙂

Well, it did just that and it made my son look sinister. Since he can be a monster at times I thought hey, I like this! Plus in print this image had some crazy 3D pop and depth. I posted this image here and on a popular photo forum. It struck a nerve with some poeple on that forum and I was told all kinds of stuff like I over processed it, I should not have sharpened the eyes, I should not have softened the skin or blurred it. HUH?? I DID NOT SOFTEN THE SKIN, I DID NOT BLUR IT and the eyes…whatever. I will stop before I say something I regret.

The fact is that this was a family snapshot. I had fun with it, and yes, the look of the eyes was INTENTIONAL! It was not a paid shoot, it was not for a client, and I sharpened the eyes BECAUSE IT IS MY IMAGE and I LIKED IT! I do not care if ANYONE else likes the image. PERIOD.

That is part of the BEAUTY that comes with digital photography. You can experiment with things like this quickly and easily. You can also learn quite a bit about processing and that is always a good thing. To continue with the story, this guy on the forum tells me I need to STOP doing ANY processing for a year. He says my photography will improve and he even dared me to do so. Is this guy nuts? If I did that my photography would suffer! No contrast, no color, no white balance fixes? Ummm, sorry but I will pass. This is the guy who thought I did extensive PP on the image of my son but I will say it again. I desaturated. I sharpened the eyes.

IMO, 99% of all digital images from higher end DSLRs and cameras need some sort of tweaking. Some need a light contrast boost. Some need a slight color fix and many need a white balance fix. Not to do these things is just lazy and simply crazy! I do this to ALL of my images and do not consider these things “post processing”. This is the benefit of shooting in RAW! To easily adjust or fix an image that needs it. No image is perfect out of the camera. PERIOD. Even with film this is true, but with digital it is VERY true. How many of us have a PERFECT Digital camera that nails color or white balance EVERY time? If you have one, let me know so I can buy one ASAP!

I am getting so tired of so called “purists” claiming that doing things such as contrast adjust, desaturation or a little sharpening is ruining photography. What it sounds like to me is that those people do not want to take the time and sit down and learn some software. Adjusting your image during RAW conversion is easy and works wonders for an image that is not perfect out of the box. Examples? SURE!

I was invited by Seal to shoot his show last April in Chicago. I brought my M8 and a Nikon D90 with the slow ass kit zoom lens. The M8 shots needed very little processing. For example, here is one right out of the camera, from the M8:


But it needed a little help with contrast and color balance, so I did some adjustments from WITHIN the RAW converter:


So, in this case if I would have just used the out of camera image (as joe purist on the forum suggested)  it would not have been all it could be. I mean, look at the original. It has a color cast and just does not look right! If I were to take the advice of the guy in the forum, I would have used that top image and been ridiculed due to the out of whack color! BTW, here is another that I extensively processed:


Yes, I did quite a bit to this one and guess what? It made the tour book. Without the PP it would have been a bit lackluster. In this image I converted to B&W, adjusted exposure, did some dodge and burn and even removed some of the spotlights and It works.


I could go on and on but in todays “digital” world, post processing is something we should ALL learn and implement in our photos. Me, I like to have fun with it and experiment on my snapshots. It is a learning experience for me. I get to mess with the non important images and see what I like and dislike. In my paid work I take care to get it right and not overdo it, but for someone to tell me I should not do ANY PP in my photos, that is ridiculous. They are MY photos and I can do whatever I wish with them! Besides, to blab your mouth like that and not even show any of your own work, well, what can I say. End of story.

So “Mr. forum poster/Joe Purist”, wether or not YOU do any tweaking to your photos is up to you, but to ridicule me and tell me I will be a better photographer if I did not do ANY image editing whatsoever is nonsense and shows me you have no clue what you are talking about.

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Yes, sometimes, very rarely, my processing can be over the top and I will be the first to admit it. With that said, one image that I did some CRAZY post processing to actually won a 1st place ribbon at a photo cometition/exhibit. No, its not even close to the out of camera original, but it sure does look “interesting” and it got people talking and wondering how I did it. If I did not do the PP here, it would not have even been entered into that competition. The color, exposure, and light have all been tweaked to give it this look. Nothing was added or taken out but it was “enhanced” with a 5 minute photoshop job. This is probably one of my more “processed” shots ever. Mr. Joe Purist on the forum would say this had the “rolled in chocolate” look.


Also, another I recently shot of an old empty hostpital in Clay County brought me some exposure. When I posted this to my facebook I got an email saying the local newspaper wanted to do a story on me. Yet another example of crazy processing that HELPED me tremendously!


So I do not expect everyone to like my photos, but what IS important is that I like them and that I feel good about them. Everyone should feel like that about their photo work. Everyone has their own tastes, but what some of us forget is that we now have the tools available to enhance our images to get them to where we want them to be. Even when I do extensive PP like the two samples above I do not EVER add anything to the image that was not already there. I just do contrast, sharpness, color and sometimes add some fill light. Thats it. Sometimes its nothing, sometimes its minor and sometimes I go nuts. It all depends on what I want to accomplish.

As I near the end of my rant I feel much more relaxed. Writing can be good therapy! BTW, for the images in the reviews you see on this website I do not do any of the “extensive PP” that I do on some of my personal images. I convert them from RAW and inside the RAW converter I adjust contrast, color balance or exposure (if needed). That is it.

With that I will end this as UPS just delivered a Leica Noctilux F0.95 lens and I have to get to work! But to answer the question, “To PP or not to PP” – I say if you consider adjusting things like contrast, levels and color balance PP, then by all means YES as all digital images can benefit from this and that is a FACT. Now, if you are shooting just family vacation shots with a point and shoot then I would not mess with any PP. What I am talking about here is for crazy enthusiasts like me who shoot with DSLR’s and cameras that are not optimized for pleasing out of camera results.

Here are a few of my personal images from the past two weeks that are pretty much straight from camera. When I say “straight from camera” I mean all I did was maybe fix exposure/color or contrast in the RAW conversion. NO outside PP was done in photoshop, and 90% of what I shoot is done in this way.






  1. In my opinion, what really is important is to show what our eyes have seen, principally if you are in art photography if have pp your picture or not is less important than achieve the peoples emotion.

  2. This is an old topic, but I liked it. In the end, I would say we have our eyes to see and photos to convey what we feel. This is why photography can be called art: because art is not about mimicking but mostly about conveying, and PPing is a part of it.

  3. old article at this point but amen. Theres a reason photography programs like the one offered at my college are 50% photoshop, 25% business and 25% shooting.

  4. This guy just wanted to feel better about himself by making his (obvious) shortcomings related to a totally necessary discipline within photography, an imaginary advantage.

  5. Amen brother!!!

    Sorry. I’m late to the party but a big and hearty THANKS! for this rant. It was way overdue and I’m glad you did it (since I can’t write sh!t). Meaning, mine would have been not so clear, precise and foremost polite.
    (I would probably get suit afterward by Joe Purist 😉

    There’s one big difference to shooting film or shooting digital. When you shoot film you pick your pp profile in the store when you buy your choice of film.
    With digital, a raw file is even less than a film negative. No pp profile has been added to it. It’s basically pure and naked binary data. That’s all. In pp one HAS TO add a profile (color temperature, white-balance, sharpening, etc) to make the raw file an equivalent to a film negative.
    The ONLY difference is that with digital we the photographers have the liberty to choose our own profile (or say style) instead of using what’s been given to us by Kodak, Fuji, Ilford and others. Period.

  6. Just my 2 cents, I am learning a lot here. We take wayyy too many picts without thinking them (talking about myself here). Your pics are good to start with, razor sharp and yes you remove a cast here and there and sometimes extensively more. When I come back with 300 picts (maybe 20 good ones and 5 keepers) the workload ahead looks like a mountain. If I woulld take 20 to find my 5 keepers, it would be 30min of pp to get my day’s souvenirs. PP is fine Meagan’s PP’ed picts look great and is even an expression of creativity. For the cartesian me, it is great to look at, they are piece of art. Casual shooters like me will be happy with a few seconds of adjustments (and since I don’t know what a mask or level is, imagine)… guys like you will look at my pics and see how it could be made perfect but basic stuff can make it real nice if the file is sharp and clean. I get bothered when the picture becomes an illustration of a moment that never took place but in the mind of the scapbooker (talented mind you) who put the elements together… then they are illustrations not pictures…Thanks for sharing your experience.

  7. I stumbled across this blog when I saw the review of the Noctilux.

    The whole PP thing is nonsense. But as soon as you put your work out in public, especially in a forum, it’s just fair game unfortunately. People just start oozing out of the woodwork making amazing statements that make most people go “WHA???”. I guess that’s the “fun” of the internet… I’ve stopped getting annoyed and just enjoy what I do. If others like it, it’s a bonus. But in the end if I like it and my client likes it, that’s all that matters really.

    Good job with the blog!

  8. Steve,
    This means that you have to spread the word! I’d love to see more of your little videos that you had on the old site about your post-processing tricks.

  9. Such a silly argument to make. Let’s face it…99% of raw images straight out of a digital are crap and would stay that way without any PP, whether minor or not. This is art, not science. As we know, there is no right or wrong and it is about individual interpretation. I shoot plenty of B&W and I’m always playing with developers, timing, agitation, scanning, adjusting. Is that wrong too? Come on already!

  10. For me PP is only a way to enhance the moment you’ve captured. And you do this extremely well. Pictures should not reflect reality as it is, but the mood/emotions the photographer felt when he or she pressed the shutter.

    Glad you put it all out with this post! But don’t spend one second more with that guy… He got way more publicity than he ever deserved.

    • @ Carlos

      You couldn’t explain better how I look at PP (even at photography),
      totally agree!

  11. Ansel Adams was the biggest “Post Processor” there ever was yet he is hailed a genius??? It was probably one of his most important skills in fact, does it make him any better because he did his tricks in a “wet” darkroom as opposed to our 2009 “dry” PS based equivalent? I’m sure if AA was still alive he would be out there with an M9 and using PS like anybody else.

    Ignore the fools Steve, keep doing what you do and enjoying it which after all as you say is what it’s really all about anyway. As with any form of photography, some stuff works …other stuff doesn’t whether it’s PP or not but hey …. that applies to all of us no exceptions no? 🙂

  12. What PP does is basically emulate most of what we used to do in the darkroom. It does cropping, exposure and color correction, Dodging and Burning, and contrast adjustments. We had these tools at hand using different combinations of things starting from the choice of film, to the kind or grade of papers, the developer types.. Even Layers came from the dye transfer process.
    Also, most masterworks exhibited in any museum have been thouroughly post processed in Darkrooms and we used to send any high standard work to specialzed Masterprinters to get the most out of our Negatives.
    I think Photoshop Liberated us and opened up new doors for the creative process, and like Steve said, we can now experiment and have more fun.
    As for the purist view, I believe he is closing doors on the evolution process or like somebody put it so funnily, he is still at the caveman level.

  13. I prefer to use PP to my photos, we need to enhance the photos because there is no such perfect “exposure”. PP means enhancing in order to make things beautiful, it is just like women, putting on or wearing make up to enhance their beauty when they go to parties. IMHO.

  14. Steve,

    Great stuff. In my mind, small though it may be, it’s all about using the tools you have to get the image to look the way YOU want it to. Post Processing, hell yeah!

  15. One of the things “purists” need to recognize is the PP’ing in many ways is a seperate (or tangent?) hobby, just as is (IMO) printing. I LIKE using the winter months in cold New England when I am using the camera far less than I do in the summer to work on the computer with my images. I am NOT wasting time doing this because it is a hobby and I am having fun. It is also a time when I download free trials of other software and have fun with that, too.


  16. What ever one does, someone somewhere will critisize . You put your work out there Steve and so of course there are going to be guys around, loving to have their say, in this case crap, and if the guy’s an attention seeker you will have made him very happy.
    I think you should listen to the great majority of us who really like and enjoy your work, including Seal!!

  17. I think that “Purist” people are like Talibans, specially if they don’t see life as something fun.
    Here is a great quote from a great Philosopher and Psychiatrist.
    “All the best works of man have their origin in creative fantasy. What right have we then to depreciate imagination”.Carl G Jung
    As I can see in your pictures and in your family pictures you enjoy life, so who cares about frustrated people that needs to criticize someone else job without
    didactic purposes and respect.
    We (I’m shure I speak for a lot of people (sorry if not)) love your work, we like
    Photography and Photography is ART, so there are no limits, just a problem of taste….Be glad, we are lucky,we have good taste and we have a bigger Universe in Photography to choose than the so called “Purist”.I feel pity for them (not too much).
    Steve keep going!

  18. Post Processing is just another way to make an image yours. This is part of the creative process. It is like taking an image from a different angle or selective
    focus, these are all part of the creative process.

    The same people will tell you the shadows are blocked and you should regain more detail (IN PP). I like black shadows in some shots. Whatever you do, you are right, because it is your image.

    You have a great site.

  19. one other thing…..I really get a kick out of how differently I can interpret the same image with different PP. Is this not wonderful? Why fight it? How is this different from using different films to get an effect, or using a specialist lens such as a Noct f1 for a specific look?

  20. @ Jag Siva

    This happened over dpreview forum? Hahaha! Link! Link! Please… 😀

    As for the topic of PP, in the professional world, a paying client just wants great photographs for their money. Paying clients really do not care if the photo was PP’ed (as long as it remains the same photo in essence) so I don’t get where Joe Purist gets his opinion from. He is obviously just a caveman pretending to know something about digital photography whether professional or otherwise. Someone should point that out on the forum and possibly send him an actual digital P&S camera.

  21. Joe Purist is ridiculous. It’s like he’s trying to stifle the quality of work by telling you not to do any PP. Technology was created to allow us to be better in the things we do, so why avoid it? Steve, your PP and the rest of the shots you take have made your photos stand out, and I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    No matter what it is, at the end of the day, these are still your personal photos. Unless you join a photo competition that states you cannot do any form of PP on your photography, I say just carry on with what you’re doing now, because what you’re doing is great!

  22. It is nothing wrong in PP. Back to the film, we do it in darkroom. I attended a seminar related to Digital Photography. I was told a lot of photographers chose to be a specialist in PP. They earn more than photographers because a lot of photographe do not know the PP skill.

  23. steve,

    you need to record your photoshop actions and sell the ps action scripts! wonderful work. and I would be a paying customer for the huffaction!

    yes in the perfect world we would have perfect digital negatives. or at least be able to control them better like film when shoot. oh how i miss a dense negative from pulled tri-x 400 film. but we are taking digital not film. and one has to take time of on the image one conceives when working from a decisive moment or found light that fleets so quickly.

  24. Saw the original saga on DPr and it has given me some nice chuckles over the past 3-4 days, great response….and some wonderful pics.

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