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post-processing the city

the eye of the beholder

It’s very easy to get carried away during post. Some amount of post-production is always gonna be necessary for images (even those “straight out of the camera” JPG images have been processed by the camera as they were saved), but where do you draw the line? First, you’re just color correcting and adjusting levels and curves. Then you’re cleaning up the street. Then maybe removing a No Parking sign or two. From there it’s not much more work to clone out some errant traffic cones. Then hell, why not the whole orange area? Which is how you start with the photo immediately above and end up with what’s at the top of the page.

They’ve been repaving on my street all week and as I was walking home earlier today, I noticed that they’d finally wrapped up work. They hadn’t let cars back in to park yet, though, and I took advantage of the empty street and snapped a quick shot of my tree-lined block to share on with friends on Facebook.

Of course, you don’t just share the photo. You clean it up first, naturally. So I popped it into Lightroom and did some quick develops to the photo. A white balance tweak here, some tonal adjustments there, maybe a quick go at the levels. Nothing major. And then

“It’s a shame the street wasn’t paved cleanly. It would’ve looked a lot better without the marks and scuffs. You know, it’d only take a second to clean up in Photoshop.”

And so into Photoshop we go. It’s a quick one-two with the patch tool and I have to admit, it does look a lot nicer. And then

“You know, while we’re in here …”

Next thing you know, it’s twenty minutes later and you wind up with something like the masthead image, when really it looked more like

It’s very easy to get carried away during post. Some amount of post-production is always gonna be necessary for images (even those “straight out of the camera” JPG images have been processed by the camera as they were saved), but where do you draw the line? First, you’re just color correcting and adjusting levels and curves. Then you’re cleaning up the street. Then maybe removing a No Parking sign or two. From there it’s not much more work to clone out some errant traffic cones. Then hell, why not the whole orange area? Which is how you start with the photo immediately above and end up with what’s at the top of the page.

I’m sure more purist photographers would look down at me for doctoring the image, and maybe they’d be right to do so. I don’t mind. Sometimes it’s more important to capture something not as it is but as I wish it could be.

Whenever walking home, if the street is completely empty I’ll stroll not on the sidewalk but straight down the center of the road instead. I’ll look up at the thick green canopy as I walk, catching the sun peeking through the leaves every so often. Sometimes, a breeze will waft down the way and I’ll remember excursions as a kid. Sure, there are cars parked on the sides and it’s pavement under my feet instead of dirt, but this is the closest I’ve come in years to those country lanes of my youth.

That’s what I want to remember ten years from now, when I stumble upon this photo while reorganizing my Lightroom 15 library. I’ll save the exacting accuracy for my client work. I want my idle memories to be through a rose-colored lens.

1 reply on “the eye of the beholder”

I like your pictures, mike…and I’ve learned something, too! It is good to see the “before” and “after” …kind of like going on a diet! :-p For one thing, getting that street devoid of cars is rare…so you were very lucky or it was probably a day given to you as a gift. The after picture is awesome. Taking away those cones is one sure thing I would not want in the photo, either. Also, I like the darker colors — it gives a real sense of the shade given by that canopy you speak of … yes, those country lanes.

Keep it up, Mike. I do watch out for your photos. There is much to learn from you… now, I’m the student… =)

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