Photo Critique – Post Image Processing

by Al Hannigan on July 28, 2006

In this photo critique I want to demonstrate some post image processing that turns the original camera image into the photograph I visualized when I saw this moment on the frozen lake in New York’s Central Park.

Frozen Lake in Central ParkAs you can see on the original there is too much foreground. Since the people were moving, I had to grab the image quickly while they were in the positions I wanted.

Had I taken time to move closer, not only would they have moved forward, but I would have lost the width I wanted.

This image is a 35mm slide, but the image I saw in my mind was a long horizontal. Fortunately, I knew I could crop the final image later.

I was drawn by the way the figures were so carefully navigating the ice. I liked how they were looking downward, the way the couple were holding hands, and how the young girl in the lead seemed less tentative than her partner.

Frozen Lake
The tall figure midway in the picture followed by the boy on his bike and then the lone figure sitting safely by the rock completed this moment.

The puddles, reflections and frozen water in the foreground competes with my main subjects, so I decided to crop this out.

The flare on the lens that you can see above the rock also draws attention away from the main subject and out of the picture, so it too had to go.

And to get the original brightness of the day, I increased the contrast and adjusted the color balance somewhat.

The final image captures the feeling I had when I was there.

Frozen Lake

Now there are those who would argue that post image processing is not “pure photography”, that it is cheating or some other such bunk. I totally disagree with this notion.

True creative photography, as with any visual art, begins with the artist and the image he sees in his mind. Nature, light, camera format, film or digital … all these are just tools that are to be used to achieve the artist’s vision.

Using a 35mm camera meant my images would all be about 1×1.5 inches … shooting into bright sun can cause flare on the lens. Moving subjects often require shooting quickly and exposure decisions to be made instantly with no time for bracketing. Sometimes nature and the environment contain elements that add nothing or even distract from the story you are trying to tell.

To allow these limitations to prevail and to control the final vision, is missing the entire point of the creative process. If you are doing documentary photography, then maybe it is important to remain true to the actual scene. But for creative photography it is important to make use of all the tools and technical skills you have to create the final image.

Give the above original to another photographer or artist and they might create an entirely different image … and it would be just as valid as the image I created.

For me, the final image is what is most important, not the steps I took to capture what inspired me that day in Central Park.



1 Brandon Layne August 3, 2006 at 7:09 am

Another excellent article!

The camera, lens, flash, reflectors, and post-image processing – all are the canvas, brush and pallette knife of the creative photographer.

I’m enjoying and learning from all your critiques, keep it up.


2 Nat September 25, 2006 at 11:10 am

Al, I just discovered the site and enjoying the articles. It’s a hobby and I’d love to explore the more creative side. Thanks!

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