Thoughts on Processing

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Iksan, 2010. Ricoh GRD3.

The hardest part of photography for me is processing. The part that pisses me off the most is processing. Basically the only thing that annoys me is processing.

I fucking HATE processing.

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Near Iksan, 2011. Leica X1.

Why? Well, there are too many options. My mind changes too often. I hate being in front of a computer, yet, spend half my bloody time there.

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Seoul, 2016. Fujifilm X100.

It must end.

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Toronto, 2013. Fujifilm Something.

Film certainly helps. I don’t do or need to do as much to scanned negatives.

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Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul, 2016. Sony RX100M4.

Film is also the problem. I am constantly dealing with wanting my digital photos to ‘look’ as good as my film photos.

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Iksan, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

Nostalgia plays a part here. I always imagine my film photos to be more contrasty than the really were. I always seem to make my digital photos more contrasty than they need to be. I always seem to remember my film photos having more grain than they actually had and my digital photos suffer because of this ridiculousness.

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Suwon, 2014. Ricoh GR.

While in the shower today, I had a good think about this. This past week I spent hundreds of dollars on film shit so I could go back mostly to film. In the end though, I’ll have a scanned negative and it is quite likely that at some point I’ll have no option but the digital one.

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Seoul, 2014. Nikon Coolpix A.

In the shower, I came to several conclusions about my photo processing and what I want from it.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII

The most important thing I want from my digital photos is consistency. If you’ve followed my blog at all up until now you’ll know how often I change cameras. While I don’t buy as many as I used to, I now end up with different ones even more often it seems.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

The problem with changing digital cameras is that every digital camera has a different “look”… Sensors are like types of film. This makes it hard to be consistent when processing digital photos.

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Near Gunsan, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

This is my biggest struggle these days in relation to digital photography. After my shower today, I went through a series of random images in my Lightroom catalog from different times, places, and cameras.

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Near Gunsan, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

I should start by saying my Lightroom catalog is about as clean as it gets. I have a rule that I never have more than 200 images at one time in there. This keeps me constantly editing my images down to a manageable amount.

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Iksan, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

Anyway, after going through those images I realized several things, the first of which being a lack of consistency.

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Suwon, 2014. Ricoh GRDIV.

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Seoul, 2015. Sony RX100M4.

The lack of consistency came a lot from the fact that the older I went back the more contrasty my images were. Contrast is fine but it is becoming too overdone. It is becoming a crutch for shite photographers to post shite photos of shite things. I dunno if it is because of this or just the fact that my aesthetic has changed but I process my images less and less contrasty all the time now.

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Daechon Beach, 2012. Leica M9, 28mm f2.8 ASPH.

I found some old photos and sat down for a couple hours with a coffee and tried to process them in such a way that they all looked similar to my eye. I put a photo of mine taken with Tmax and an old Leica and had at it.

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Seoul, 2016. Olympus Pen-F, 25mm Lumix F1.4.

Right away I realized that I add way too much contrast to digital photos. Even though I thought I was taking a “gentle” approach it didn’t seem like it at all next to the old pushed Tmax. I intentionally processed them without looking at the film photo first and even though I thought the film photo would have more contrast, in reality, it didn’t.

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Seoul, 2016. Ricoh GRD (2006).

Weird how our brains work.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

So, one thing I realized is that film contrast is a different kind of contrast. Natural film contrast comes from pushing film and contrasty lenses. One way I’ve found lately to make my digital photos look better is to underexpose them in camera and then push them later. They look more natural to me this way.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

Another thing I realized going through the group of photos is that a good photo is a good photo no matter how it is processed. The first photo, of the boy in the bus, is one of my favorite photos that I have ever taken. The version above is barely processed at all and yet I think it is much better like that than it was when I went all Daido Moriyama on it in the past.

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Iksan, 2008. iPhone 3GS.

I also realized that some of my best photos were butchered by the “old” me. Sad really, ha. Sadder even that I rarely kept the originals so I can’t even fix my own fuck-ups.

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Iksan, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

The next thing I decided I was going to do while in the shower was to not worry about cameras. Not worry about buying them or selling them. I mean, I will buy one when I feel like and not buy one when I don’t. If I can get a consistent look from my digital photos I could care less about the camera that took them. I enjoy cameras, for what they are but there is one truth:

The photos last.

The cameras don’t.

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Seoul, 2014. Ricoh GR.

In the end, the photos are most important. I often write about loving the work of some photographers who are consistent in their approach and their photos are consistent in the way they look. While I don’t think I’m there yet, this morning shower, shave, and processing session really helped. I have a better idea now of how I want my digital photos to look and a better idea of how to get them to look like that.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

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Busan, 2016. Ricoh GRD (2006).

I know what you’re thinking. Almost all the photos here are from Ricoh cameras so it is easier to get them to look similar. This is true, ha. I would contend though that there is quite a bit of difference between the GRD from 2006 and the GRII from 2016 which are the cameras mostly showcased here. The truth of the matter is, I end up with a lot more “keepers” from Ricoh cameras and therefore had a lot more to go from today.

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Seoul, 2014. Ricoh GRD3.

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Seoul, 2014. Ricoh GRD3.

I digress..

The bottom line about processing is that no matter how you process your photos being consistent is the most important thing. I think the workflow I have now is the best and simplest it has ever been.

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Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul, 2016. Ricoh GRD (2006).

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Somewhere between Iksan and Seoul, 2016. Ricoh GRD (2006).

Simple is always best. As happy as I am to have had the “revelation” I had today I hated the two hours I spend in front of the computer having it. The less time I have to be in front of the computer the better.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

Because obviously that is time that would be better spent doing something else.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

I love film. Love it. While I don’t enjoy the darkroom as much as most guys who do it I “get” why they do. I get that it is a more complicit art form. Lightroom isn’t the same. I get spending time in the darkroom because it should be a slow process.

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Newfoundland, 2013. Sony DSC-W100.

It is supposed to be a contemplative kind of thing. I turn on some music and just work.

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Somewhere near Gunsan, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

Digital is supposed to be simple. It is supposed to be quick. It is supposed to be autopilot. At least, that is how I see it. People will argue the film vs digital thing to the death. I don’t get the argument. Strokes for blokes (and ladies) as they say. I love the look of film. I really don’t find digital the same.

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Seoul, 2017. Ricoh GRII.

The shadows and highlights are the key. Film renders highlights and shadows softly. Digital has a hard time with this. Digital highlights drive me mental.

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Near Gunsan, 2017. Ricoh GRD (2006).

I think the nostalgia is in that softness. It creates a dreamy feeling that is hard to mimic. Sad, really, that our brains work like this.

At least, mine works like this.

 

That is probably why I bought all that film equipment. I find it ironic that I made a workflow that is by far my favorite for digital the day after I spent those hundreds of dollars.

To be fair though, film will always be different.

Plus, I get to use this:

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Iksan, 2017. Ricoh GRII. Pictured: Leica M3, 50mm LTM Canon F1.4.

๐Ÿ˜‰

Iksan, February 19th, 2017.

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on Processing

  1. Born in the late 60’s, grown up through the 70’s and 80’s I’m still a film dude in 2017. I really know what you’re talking about reg. the processing of digital stuff sitting in front of a computer working with digital images. It’s a bloody pain, and I hate every single second I have to do it. So I stopped, simple as that. Now I only do processing inside my phone, and anything that takes me more than 15 sec. to do in snapseed will not be done, period.
    Luckily I’m a different man when going inside the darkroom doors. Patient even, at times.
    I really love the looks of your digital files here, by the way.
    And the pictures themselves, the obvious reason why I started to follow your blog in the first place, they are just up there in the highest league! Keep them coming :))

  2. BW can be a pain in the arse sometimes. You would think that processing BW would be easy (it is just black & white), but I actually find it harder to work than colour shots (with all it’s various hues) most of the time, probably why I switch back and forth between the two quite a lot. I sometimes wish that I could have just one preset for each, one click and done, no extra processing needed. Unfortunately, photography isn’t like that, we have to work for our art.

    I will try your tip about underexposing in camera for digital. It makes sense really because digital cameras tend to overexpose generally when compared to film I find.

  3. I started meaningful photography in 1967. I have been photographing ever since. I have a consistent approach, details in the highlights, substance in the shadows, and a full range of grays. I switched to digital as soon as it really became responsive. I try many different cameras, I used to work the front desk of a camera repair shop, but I have settled on Micro-Four Third cameras for the last ten years. Reading this morning I realize that I have never wavered from my approach. It is really based on the definition of a good darkroom print that I taught myself in the early days. My purpose is the photographs and what they express. Many times I see an excellent photograph, the content, the emotions, and the composition, ruined by the processing.

    • Hi Stephen, thanks for your very rational post, it makes a lot of sense to me. The simplicity of a single approach to processing for one’s whole life, has merit for sure. Even though I see the need myself for different images to receive different processing approaches, dependent on the photographer’s intent.

  4. Got to say you’re a very good photographer. I find myself really looking at each of your images. Maybe because you capture the feel of Korea that I remember having been there many years ago. B&W is so very appropriate. Thanks for posting!

  5. Thank you for sharing your struggles. I’m an amateur and even I am trying to get some consistency in my photography. I’ve discovered I like my photos somehow darker then other photographers, but I like that way of editing. And I’m a huge fan of colour photography and I’m a bit scared of taking pictures / editing in black and white. Seeing your beautiful photos and reading your story, I’m reconsidering my doubts and I’m going to take a shower as well ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. Josh, I follow you because of your photographs. They fascinate me for the emotional depth they often portray amongst other things. I could care less what camera you use to capture these moments. I guess it’s normal for all of us to worry about some aspect of our pursuits and expression, in this case consistency. From my perspective and quite a few other people that feel the same, we can always recognize your work. It transcends any camera brand. It’s wonderful to witness. I think you have to struggle though, that’s the most important part of the process, not the digital or analog darkroom work. If you didn’t struggle there would be nothing to achieve.

  7. A while ago I read this: While I am satisfied with the post processing and final result for this image I canโ€™t let go of the feeling that using the same software and digital algorithms as everyone else must render a certain uniformity to images. [source]
    Makes a ot of sense.

    • Classic gsp process used the same chemicals, same paper, same enlargers, same lenses… doesn’t make much sense to me ๐Ÿ˜‰

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