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Bay Light, Hudson River / Olympus OM-D E-M1, f/14 @1/40 sec, ISO 200, 24mm, no filters

On a recent talk at a local camera club, I was asked if I thought it was possible to “over-process” an image. I’ve answered this question many times before, but wanted to elaborate on it here once again. As long as the final image conveys your vision and emotion honestly, then you can not over-process an image.

However, the key words in that last statement are “conveys”, and “honestly”. An image that is over processed will not effectively convey your vision, but instead call attention to the techniques and processing, and mostly likely fail as a successful photograph.

When you make images, the goal from the moment you press the shutter to the moment you decide the image is finished and ready for the world to see, is to connect with the viewer, to share what it is you’ve experienced. Often for me that’s a brief but profound moment in nature. Anything that obscures or distracts from that vision becomes a hindrance, something to be avoided, and that most certainly includes “over-processing” or any other adjustment that brings the veracity of the image, or your vision, into question. Once that happens, there is a shift in the viewers mind from the message to the medium, and that’s when over-processing becomes an issue.

Image processing remains one of the most important yet contentious topics today. I am not advocating some purist perspective, quite the opposite. Express yourself as personally as you can. Use the tools creatively. Just make sure there’s a real message behind the technique. And if you’re struggling with your message and vision, that’s ok – we all struggle with that.

It’s called making art, something I believe we’re all capable of if we trust ourselves enough. 

What’s your take, agree or disagree?

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This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. I have varied and complicated thoughts on this subject. I will just throw them out there even though it will seem disjointed.

    I disagree a bit in the linked article surrounding Tom Till’s “confession”. I think the general taste, from the perspective of the public, is shifting toward the extreme — deeper saturation, more obvious HDR, hyper-detail. For any relatively unknown photographer competing for attention it is very hard to resist the temptation to ratchet up every aspect of processing. I’ll admit that it very recently led me to become more aggressive in my processing, even to the point where I am now re-processing every image in my portfolio.

    I think the heavier-handed processing could become the new normal — I’m not confident subtlety can compete with surrealism.

    Granted, this is all outwardly focused. How do I feel about the change? I don’t dislike the new processing — seems like the same images, just with a little more zip. My fear is that I keep creeping along in these incremental steps, attempting to compete, and slowly lose perspective. Next thing you know I’m on the bathroom floor weeping onto a print with purple skies and green snow wondering where it all went wrong…

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank for producing images that are true to the scene and contain all the subtle marks of fine craftsmanship. You are a standard-bearer for Hudson Valley photography (whether you want to be or not) so your work influences the perception of fine art photography in the region.

    1. Michael – thanks for the feedback and for sharing your perspective and experiences, and for the kind words about my work. I don’t look that far out into the influence, still trying to really see the trees in front of me…

      I too have struggled with these issues, and have often swung one way then the other in search of balance and direction. But if there’s one thing 15+ years in music taught me is that an artist has one, and only one commitment – to himself/herself. The moment that is compromised for any reason – something is lost, given up, sacrificed.

      I would suggest a different perspective, one not based on competition, but rather on being yourself. I’ll quote from one of my favorite writers, Seth Godin:

      “The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way. When you have competition, it’s the pack that decides what’s going to happen next, you’re merely trying to get (or stay) in front.

      Competing with yourself is more difficult, requires more bravery and leads to more insight.”

      You have great work, and something to say. Don’t let someone else speak for you.


    1. Hi Myer – yes I do agree with you which is what I try and emphasize whenever can. Without that commitment being true to yourself, as you mention, then it just becomes an exercise that quickly loses it’s appeal.


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