Post-Processing In Conceptual Photoshoots

April 17, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The lovely little dynamo, Ashley Devo. Such a wonderful shoot! Thanks doll!The lovely little dynamo, Ashley Devo. Such a wonderful shoot! Thanks doll!

I was very fortunate to have the lovely Karlee in the studio last week for what I hope to be the first many “conceptual” studio photoshoots - with the aim of creating a “Femme Fatale”, “Madame” and “Vampy” look (read: blacks, reds, crimsons, and alternating soft and severe profiles) Never have I worked with someone so prepped and ready to go; a model’s willingness to work within a defined concept is something that every photographer should try to achieve at some point in their career. (Thanks Karlee! You were fabulous, and such a joy to work with!)
I cannot understate the obvious - having a model ready to execute a concept makes the photographers (and editors) job of post-processing the photos that much easier, and the end results can be spectacular. Suspension of disbelief is also a photographic concept, and not just a literary concept - regardless of props, location and subject.
Think for a moment: all of those amazing night photography images of the milky way, all of those images of lakes, streams and waterfalls, all of those black and white photos with a single highlighted colour, all of those HDR pictures you have come to know, and more importantly, all of those high fashion shots you see (come on, they even retouch and process Jennifer Lawrence! Wowza!) require some level of post-processing, and all of them are “conceptual” type shoots. All of them, with no exception. 
I had recently posted one of the comps from this shoot to my 500px account - think of 500px as a “pro” Instagram - and many of the comments were along the lines of “amazing processing”, “perfect processing, Jake” and “love the look you got” - which made me want to write a note on post-processing in conceptual photoshoots here in my blog.
So, what exactly is conceptual photography?
Conceptual photography is an art of getting your “concept” across the mind of the viewer using just the contents of a photograph. It is a genre of photography where a photographer may put various things in the scenery and/or style the model in such a way that their idea or concept becomes clear to perceive. It is known to be one of the most creative genres of photography, partly because it is harder as compared to other genres (especially without the use of props or set design), but mostly because it takes a lot of time and patience as well as post-processing to get that perfect conceptual shot.
More importantly, it requires a certain modicum of ability to be used in the post-processing of these photos - chiefly in programs such as Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Many photographers fail miserably and predictably “ruin” all of their hard work once the shoot is completed by over applying or under applying these techniques.
As with all else, these techniques require a fair amount of practice and practical use. Personally, I have over 20,000 hours of experience (yes, 20,000 hours) working in Photoshop and Lightroom for commercial production and pre-press purposes. It really does take that long to become knowledgeable and proficient. If you don’t subscribe to this belief, I invite you to read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Outliers” and learn more about the 10,000 Hour Rule.
At this point, I feel that I must iterate (or re-iterate) - that without exception - every single photo you have ever seen applied in a commercial or illustrative sense - has been processed using Photoshop, Lightroom, or something similar. Phase One makes some great software (Capture One Pro) along with Photomatix (Photomatix Pro) for High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography.
Conversely, while some photographers assert that the best photos are the ones that use composition only - i.e. the work is done only in the camera - many of them will not freely admit their reliance on post-processing to achieve the look they seek to obtain. 
It is a simple, and true reality.
I personally lean towards the notion of using all the tools at your disposal to achieve the look you set out to get; whether that is using only the camera and lighting, application suites such as Lightroom and Photoshop, filter sets such as VSCO (which, BTW, are exceedingly amazing and well worth exploring for any photographer) or better still - developing and saving your own filter or process set - giving you a more consistent look to batching out your photos. 
I try to always shoot for the “end product”, based on a knowledge of how to post-process the image using all of the tools in my arsenal. Some may scoff at this idea, but years of photo and video production only serve to reinforce notions of “how I can make my life (workflow) easier in post-production”.
The concept only goes so far without an understanding of how to manipulate said concept from beginning to end. It only starts with the model and their willingness to execute a concept through hair, makeup and wardrobe. Yes, props may or may not be used; lighting modifiers may or may not be used; you may or may not choose to re-touch the model using the clone tool, or spot healing brush; you may even have a whole crew lending their efforts to achieve the look and feel you want - but in the end - it largely boils down to your ability to manipulate the product in post-production.
As the technology gets better and better - you literally can do anything with a computer and some time, once you have the skill set. This is the true essence of concept “suspension of disbelief”, and holds especially true with modern photography.
I invite you to try it for yourself. Free trials for all of the applications I mention in this post are available to download, for both Mac and PC. 
Just a word to the wise - DON’T OVERDO IT! The line between too much and too little, is very, very thin - and has a direct impact on how your audience will perceive the end product.
If the end product speaks for itself; does it really matter what path you took to get there?
I’ll leave that up for debate. You know where I stand.
View Karlee's Full Set By Clicking Here.


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