Advanced Shooter — Creative Photography – Using Post-Processing to Enhance Story and Mood (full story)

What is creative photography? For me, as soon as I see the word creative I think personal expression. Art is about personal expression. Therefore I think of creative photography as art. Art often points back to its maker. How do you feel about a subject? What is your connection to what you see? Why are you attracted to a particular subject? External motivations like making money, getting “likes” on social media or pleasing others will only spoil your artistic expression. Create for yourself, but understand why you create.

Once you’re creating for yourself and not others, and you’re photographing from your feelings and feel a connection with a subject, then you can think of which camera technique and post-processing methods will enhance your message. In past columns I’ve covered camera techniques that can be used to enhance your personal feelings about a subject. For example, if you want to show your subject as romantic or nostalgic maybe you’ll use an aperture like ƒ1.4 for its dreamy, soft field of blur. Or maybe you’ll use a long exposure to get a painterly movement of grasses and flowers. Or maybe a combination of both.

Take whatever your motivation is in the field and carry it over when post-processing your images. If the techniques you use in post don’t enhance your creative vision from the field then you’re at risk of contaminating your message. All too often I see photographers taking a perfectly expressive image into software only to process it to oblivion, and in doing so destroying the intent of the image.

Don’t get lost

It’s so easy for photographers to get “lost in the sliders” with software. I used to ride every software slider like a bronco, try every preset and experiment with every plug-in. I was often blown away by the coolness of it all. “Gee, I can try this cool technique here, and this awesome plug-in there and wow, check this preset out!” The only problem was the image was more effect than message. I got lost in the software possibilities and forgot about why I even took the photo in the first place.

So now, before I even start processing an image, I take a step back and ask myself, what’s this image about? What’s the mood I tried to capture in the field? What’s the story of this photo and why did I take the time to make the image? Once I have answers to these questions I can decide on two things. First, did my in-camera capture techniques successfully enhance my creative vision for the scene? If not, I likely will delete the photo. If I did a good job in the field, then I move on to decision two, which is all about figuring out the best way to process my image to enhance my creative vision for the scene.

More often than not, if I did a good job in the field then my images only need minor processing in software. My processing often involves simple things like altering the white balance, adjusting colour saturation and tweaking global and local contrast. I tend to avoid software moves that add ornamentation or fashion gimmick. In fact, the older I get, the more I want to spend time outdoors and not on the computer. This realization led to the only photo processing book Samantha and I have made to date on our website, Our Quick & Dirty Processing Shortcuts eBook is a grab-bag of tips for photographers who know what they want out of a slider instead of having the slider rule them. Really, your photo should stand on its own for content and not for the funky way it was processed.


Photography is like baking a cake; the field capture is the cake, the processing is the icing. A great cake is amazing on its own, the icing just adds that sweet little finish. Too thick, too sweet, too hard, too drippy or anything but “just right” and the icing can ruin a perfectly great cake. Just like too much processing can wreck a perfectly fine photo.

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