Post Production Faux Pas

Post Production Faux Pas

Isn’t Facebook time hop great?! Every day I get to see the last seven to eight years of my photography. Like almost every photographer, I sucked when I started out. My actual composition and use of the camera weren't too bad, but my post-production was horrendous. The best way to describe the post processing is “heavy-handed.”

Taste in post-production differs wildly, although I am a firm believer that some things should be left well alone. Here is my list of editing faux pas and blunders to avoid.

Color Isolation and Selective Color

Over here in the UK during the 1980's, Elton John released a handful of music videos using color isolation. For those who are unfamiliar with this technique, it is where you make an entire picture black and white, apart from a selected item which you leave in full color. If you are doing this, unless a client is paying you good money, stop right away. 


HDR (High Dynamic Range) images are where you stack together multiple exposures when the camera's latitude can’t hack the scene before you. It is a great tool for photographers who use digital cameras, it also works really well for film photographers with low or mid-range scanners. Nevertheless, taste should be applied to the process. Ideally, you shouldn't know that HDR has been used without some careful inspection. The post-processing should rarely have more impact than the image itself. What I tend to see are HDR images where it appears to be a single file with the shadows fully opened up, the highlights crushed and then for the ultimate in editing faux pas, the clarity and vibrancy slides are cranked up to 11.

The Whites of Eyes

The whites of peoples eyes are not white, please don’t make them bright white burning orbs in post-production. It is terrifying. As soon as a friend pointed this out to me, I suddenly and very embarrassingly saw the error of my ways. 

Random Crops

I think this is something that everyone goes through at some point in their photography. Cropping thin slivers of images, slightly off 6x6 square formats and generally trying to fix poor composition in post. I find for most applications, sticking to your cameras natural aspect ratio is best.

“Soften Skin” Brush in Lightroom

At some point, we have all thought about getting into airbrushing and for us novices in the post-production world, Lightroom has created a “Soften Skin” brush. I was thrilled to find this. What followed were two months of portraits where I had taken the clarity to -100 and removed any detail, contrast, and texture that my poor subject's face naturally, and beautifully had. If you use this, use it lightly and sparingly. Better yet, head over to Photoshop for some frequency separation. 

What else should we add to the list?

Scott Choucino's picture

Food Photographer from the UK. Not at all tech savvy and knows very little about gear news and rumours.

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The exception to the HDR rule pretty much seems to be if you work in real estate world at just about any level under the super luxury stuff, where agents seem to want the homes that they're selling to look like they're straight out of a cartoon. I remember a period where I had switched over to doing things properly, setting up lights, gelling them to correct color, blah blah blah, only to face a wave of complaints that their photos weren't "popping enough".

Now I just run and gun through homes using HDR, paying no attention to color temperature at all, sticking VSCO's Velvia preset on everything, and bright the Highlights to 0 and Shadows to 100 on every image. Sadly, every one of the agents that I shoot for absolutely loves it even though it makes me want to vomit a little as I feel my soul dying each time I do it. Seriously... I've done shoots for $3 million homes and delivered images that looked like it belonged on a Simpsons episode to rave reviews. SMH...

And what's wrong with Color Isolation or Selective Color? I think that it can be a perfectly fine tool in the proper context.

I feel for you. I don't think i could do it. I would be trying to educate my client every step of the way. Sometime they need to learn that they are hiring a professional because they they ar not one, and should listen to your advice. You just have to approach it well.

Also, everything is wrong with selective color... everything.

Schindler's List, yo. Just sayin... :P

I certainly don't doubt that. A look at the modern cinema landscape easily shows that black and white is a niche when color is not a technical or financial barrier.

The use of black and white as well as selective color still certainly have their place in the artistic tool kits of both photographers and cinematographers, though. That's primarily the point that I was trying to get at.

Rather than talk about post production mistakes and issue blanket rules for things to avoid, I think that the author should have probably made more of a point to drive home the idea that anything you do should serve a positive purpose toward the end result you seek.

Depending on the artistic vision you have for an image, using selective color, cropping in an unorthodox manner, or even turning a person's face as plastic as a Barbie Doll might actually be the correct editing decision to make. Much like pre-faded, pre-aged, or just pre-ripped jeans, intentional flaws are not flaws, but rather design choices.

Michael, I disagree. The color could have had better impact if the whole film was shot in color, just in muted tones. But throwing color in a BW like that pulls you out of the film and is distracting rather than impactful, IMHO.

I'm not talking about muting them in post. I'm talking about set design. War is dark grey and dirty the way it is. Throw something red in there and will stand out on its own.

I would partially disagree with this. The photographer might know more about photography but the realtor knows home buyers. If this helps attracts potential customers then, that's what you should go with....even if it's cringe worthy.

Yeah. That's pretty much where I'm at with all of this. I went through a very brief phase where I tried to educate the real estate agents about the technical virtues of having more natural colors and such, but in the end, when I take photos for them, I'm there to do a job and provide photos that will help their business. I'm not there to take photos for my portfolio or to impress my peers. The artistic side of me cringes, but that's what sometimes happens when you're running a business. It's not about me. It's about the customer.

Also, I would in no way suggest that this applies to every real estate agent or ever real estate market. You just have to play to the expectations of the market you're in and the clients you have.

Whats the story with the LR thumbnail before/after? I like the edit.

I agree. It's something I was doing already with negative films. For me, a Raw file is the basic material that has to be molded to fit with the goals of the photo. Understanding that studio, landscape, personal works demand different treatments. Cropping is a very common one of them (especially with a 95% viewfinder...)

One that I hate is when people use the brush in Lightroom to increase exposure on a subject and make it stand out from the background or the rest of the image. What they often achieve is a glowing halo around the subject which looks terrible and is horribly distracting. It looks like what amounts to a child that can't keep inside the lines edited your photo.

Also, heavy vignetting! I love vignetting in Lightroom, but, a lot of people get very heavy handed with vignetting.

You nailed it with the whites of the eyes and the skin smoothing tools. I see so many portraits where the model looks like a white walker with plastic skin. When I point this out and suggest it's been over done in comments, the response is usually "check your monitor, man!", and the photographer suggests nothing looks unnatural or out of the ordinary.

Something that's starting to get to me is overdone fake images with blatantly replaced skies (especially milky way skies), added elements like extra birds, or other things like that. Sure, they add drama to an image, and if they're subtle, it's fantastic, but I've just seen a lot of overly exaggerated changes lately.

I really enjoy articles like this, and I'm glad I went to the comments section. Even if I don't agree with everything, it opens up my eyes to things I was subconsciously doing, and it gives me more perspective on other people's thoughts about certain procedures. It's always interesting learning about these little intricacies that most people don't really think about too much. And to the average viewer, most of this would completely go unnoticed. But to a trained, photographer's eye, these sorts of things stand out immediately.

Sadly enough a lot of folks starting out seem to not even get exposure correctly. The camera might even do it right for them but they have bad brightnesses on their monitors and then just ruin it.

Also Clarity in itself in lightroom. SOOOOOOOO many clarity cranked way up and you can see the haloing around contrasty edges.

I remember a period of about three years in the early 1980s when all normal drum beats in music were replaced with a stupid "crash" like sound. I thought, This sounds stupid and this fad won't last. Sure enough, a few years later people said, This sounds stupid. Let's use regular drums instead again.

Then when HDR was introduced with all its electric garish tonemapping and colors, I thought, This looks stupid and this fad won't last. Over a decade later, it just won't go away. I can't for the life of me figure out how HDR didn't disappear the way of the drumbeat crash years ago after people actually looked at it.

I know people who who use HDR for real estate work because they can hire multiple people with no lighting skills and no matter who they send out the client gets the same looking work all the time. All they have to do is convince realtors that HDR looks good. I'm still amazed any client buys it.

Personally I have only one rule. If the image actually looks and feel better after you have done a change to it. Make the change. But always be transparent about how and what you did.