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Sunday, 3 May 2009
How much is too much?
Category: Digital Room

I read an article (forwarded via mail) about how too much post processing is masking real talent and was thinking about it ever since. Recently, I am browsing through a lot of photo blogs (ofcourse, looking to learn and emulate) and saw that a lot of post-processing is indeed being done. Once I learned a few basic tricks, a lot of the pictures actually look 'too much sharpened' or 'too high contrast' or 'nothing much in it, other than post-processing'? Does, anybody out there get a similar feeling?

Ofcourse, there are lots of people who does very minimal post-processing and come up with astonishing results. Those are the people, I would like to emulate! As a rule of thumb, I dont think about post-processing until I see the pic in my comp (except may be when I am trying an HDR: see 'HDR image from Golden Temple, Bylakuppe' or a moon merge: see 'The Full Moon Glory' - a very old post). Once, I have the picture in the comp, I would play a little bit in GIMP: trying to improve sharpness, color, contrast and do some cropping to remove unwanted portions. Thats about it. Some of the pictures I posted here are almost untouched. But, I am sure that there will be some people who may still think that I do too much of GIMP. I am sure, my dear wife is one of them :) The fact is, everybody would have their own levels of 'too much'!

If u r wondering where this is going, I was just thinking aloud and there is no conclusion :) Infact, I am sharing a heavily post-processed picture today:

I have a fascination for rural scenes, involving a lot of colors and I grabbed the opportunity on seeing this lady on my way from K M Doddi to Mandya. I had good light and shot this picture with the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L (macro) lens, handheld and set in Av mode, ISO-100, f/3.5 for 1/500s. But, the picture didnt turn out to be as smashing as I thought ... in spite of applying an Unsharp Mask, improving the constrast and turning up the color in GIMP!

Hence, I sat and played a lot more than usual with that image. I could have done more, like trying sepia toning instead of Black and White and coloring the entire foreground, but I was too lazy to sit and do that much :)

For those who may be interested in knowing the 'How-To' part, here is what I did:

  1. Open the picture in GIMP and open the Layers Dialogue (Ctrl-L).
  2. Create a new layer (lets name it the 'B W Layer') and select the background layer.
  3. Go back to the image, select all (Ctrl-A) and copy (Ctrl-C).
  4. Open the Layers Dialogue (Ctrl-L) again, select the 'B W Layer', go back to the image and paste the copied layer back to the Image (Ctrl-V).
  5. Go back to the Layers Dialogue (Ctrl-L), right click on the pasted layer and 'Anchor Layer'. The pasted layer should merge with the 'B W Layer'. Select the 'B W Layer' again.
  6. Go back to the image, right click, go to Colors -> Hue-Saturation, move the 'Saturation' slide bar to its extreme left position and click on 'OK'. The 'B W Layer' should now turn black and white.
  7. Now, select the 'Eraser' tool from the toolbar and erase the portions you want colored in the final image. Double clicking on the 'Eraser' tool will give you options to control the size and shape of the eraser.
  8. Once, erasing is done, go back to the Layers Dialogue (Ctrl-L) again, right click on the 'B W Layer' and 'Merge Down'. You should now have a selectively colored image.

One has an option of converting the image to Sepia and using it instead of the 'B W Layer' for a sepia toned background. Ofcourse, the most tedious process is the erasing part and there are lot of different ways to do it, like 'Select by Color' / 'Select Contiguous Region' and delete (Ctrl-X). It might get tricky to properly erase some portions and increasing the size (Ctrl-+) will help. Infact, this is the reason why I got lazy and chose to color only the clothing, instead of completely coloring the lady and the bundle of grass :)

Update: I am setting myself a personal limit for post processing. Anything, I can do in-camera, I would try to do it in-camera. But, there are always limits to existing technology (say, in terms of dynamic range), equipment (lens not fast / sharp enough) or photographer (unsteady hands, improper focus, non-optimal frame requiring crop) and post-processing can help in some of these cases. Ofcourse, it should not be thought of as a fallback option while shooting, unless its used to overcome a technology limitation (read HDR, super imposing moon). The aim is to post the pictures as it is :)

Posted by usandeep at 12:01 AM
Updated: Friday, 19 June 2009 6:12 PM
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Wednesday, 3 June 2009 - 3:05 PM

Name: "Neelima"
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Now thats food for thought! Even i keep wondering every now and then how much is too much?!

Since i do not own a DSLR yet.. i tend to sharpen and saturate my photos.. and then sometimes i even try to pp the sky to get the polarizer effect. And again i wonder if am faking the pic now.. :-S

And just as you said i have reached no conclusion either.. :D

Now returning to your photo. I love rural scenes too! they are so colorful and full of life! Nice shot here!!


Wednesday, 3 June 2009 - 9:58 PM

Name: "Dinesh"
Home Page:

I am not a fan of selective coloring. It kills the natural look of a photo. It has to be either fully color or fully B&W or fully Sepia. But that's just me. So if you ask me, I liked the first photo better than the second. I try to do minimal post processing in little doses of Contrast, Saturation, Sharpness, Highlights, shadow adjusments (only if needed). Sometimes I leave it as it is too.

Thursday, 4 June 2009 - 11:27 AM

Name: "Dhanush Gopinath"
Home Page:

I had this interaction with Mahesh Shantaram, and he said it is also important that how you display or portray your image along with how you take it. So a little bit of post processing is definitely needed, especially on the croppping, sharpening, contrast, lighting, coloring areas. I extensively use Picasa, not yet a fan of GIMP and Photoshop. Some how I break my head when I read about layering and then leave it like it :). But probably I should think about it some time soon.

 But  definitely post processing is to be done. They did it in Analog age man, so why we shoul not at this digital age. But definitely its a thin line, between spoiling ones picture and making it look simply great.

Thursday, 4 June 2009 - 12:30 PM

Name: "Rajesh"
Home Page:

Beautiful snap. I loved the processing you have done on it to evove the second image.

BTW I've left a little gift for you on my blog


Thursday, 4 June 2009 - 6:29 PM

Name: "Thomas"
Home Page:

I m of the opinion that post processing can make a decent quality original (histogram showing everything is within dynamic range, neutral color, nil saturation and sharpness) into a fabulous composition without making the image look unrealistic.

Since I come from this school of thought, To me the original is far better than the processed one, which is completely unrealistic.




Thursday, 4 June 2009 - 8:29 PM

Name: "mohkum"
Home Page:

Another lively image here!
I think the level of processing is left to the photographer. Minimum corrections like levels, saturation or usm filter are always welcome and should never reach...image manipulation. Nobody wants to adjust anything on a well exposed shot!

Saturday, 6 June 2009 - 1:30 AM

Name: "Squirrel"
Home Page:

I agree, I often feel that there is too much post processing going on in the photography business. Some photos are very eye-catching at first, but then when you look at them a little longer you realize that the original was tinkered with alot to get the image to look so unnaturally perfect. Nature isn't perfect, so why should we try to depict it that way? Don't get me wrong, I often do a little adjustment here or there to balance out the histogram or mess around with the color, but I try to leave the photos alone as much as possible. By the way, I love your blog!

Sunday, 7 June 2009 - 9:49 PM

Name: "joshi daniel"
Home Page:

loved the way you capture rural scenes and the treatmet with color is also nice!

Saturday, 20 June 2009 - 9:38 PM

Name: "usha"
Home Page:

masking's always fun, no? :)

my 2 cents: did you try highlighting the stack of greenness, which she's carrying? for me, the focus point was more that, than her yellow saree, somehow.

Monday, 22 June 2009 - 8:55 PM

Name: "sandeep"
Home Page:

Neelima: My conclusion is something on the lines of using post processing (only) for things u cannot do in the camera. If the original photo is not sharp / properly exposed, no amount of sharpening / saturation is going to help.

Dinesh: I dont like it too ... usually :) But, for once I thought lemme try something different :)

Dhanush: I am sure most people will do croppping, sharpening, contrast, lighting ... etc. But, I guess the thin line is when u say a lame photo is ok, since u can always correct it or make it interesting using post processing :)

Rajesh: Thnx a lot for that gift :) I am really thrilled to recieve it, that too along with some bloggers/photographers I have utmost respect for!

Thomas: Completely agree with ur first sentence. And yes, I too like the original more than the processed one :) Thought, I'll do something different for a change :)

Mohkum: Yup, nobody want to adjust anything on a well exposed shot. And a good photographer should be someone who wudnt need the adjustments later. Unless, ofcourse, if he/she visulazed something not possible without post-processing

Squirrel: I guess, the problem is when people try to make the images 'eye-catching' with 'fake' effects. But, isnt perfection a good thing :) ? Luved ur blog too ... thanks for visiting

Joshi: Thnx Joshi

Usha: Actually, I tried, but its alot more effort than coloring just the saree ... and I gave up pretty soon :) Its indeed playing with the colors, but I didnt want to post a half baked result here ... so chose to color only the saree.

Thursday, 25 June 2009 - 12:14 PM

Name: "ashes"
Home Page:

Can I ask you how did you achieve that effect? I mean, did you first turn the entire pic black and white and then superimposed the colors (how?)? Or did you selectively turn it black and white? What tools do photoshop/GIMP have for such a feat?

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