In-Depth: Does Post-Production Belong in Film Photography?


For today's article, we are talking about a hot topic. Post-Production in analogue photography. Photographers out there have strong feelings regarding this issue.
There are two sides: one believes in the purity of photography and argues no editing whatsoever should be made to an image. While the other side believes that editing is an integral part of the process.

The definition of post production is the very root of divergence for many people. In analogue photography there is a strong belief that this way of taking photos is more authentic to the meaning of photography.

Credits: thegreatgasmaskman, amp_puttipong, johbeil, duffman, leitz & flimandthegirl

Some people believe that with film there should be no altering of an image. The analogue community likes to praise the virtue of certain film stocks over others, and commends the power of a single camera to "make a photo". Aesthetically and sentimentally attached to their favorite gear, many photographers have defined their style through these specific choices.

The Myth of The Film Look

What does it mean to be faithful to a film? As soon as we convert a negative to a scanned file, we have altered the photograph. Even labs make minor adjustments. If we are lucky enough, what they do is to our liking, and we keep it as it is.

But not all scans are the same. If you have been practicing analogue photography for a while, you might have noticed the difference in scan quality between the machines each lab works with. Different software can give different readings to the color cast when we convert an image, therefore the first look we get is already compromised, and the same stock can appear different from lab to lab. This is true for homemade scans as well, since each plug-in, preset, or editing tool setup, will inevitably have their own specific characteristics.

Nevertheless, here lies another crossroad. The alterations we make on our negatives from this moment onward are in control of the photographer, and personal taste plays a crucial role. Editing software mimics tools that were common in the darkroom. Dodge and burn, cropping, contrast control, white balance, and so on, were always techniques a photographer had to master to finish a photo to their liking. However, how far you believe it is right to push your post production is up to you.

Perhaps there is a limit to the editing you want to make on a film, over which there is the risk of making that stock unrecognizable. This is an artistic choice only you can judge.

Credits: tdave, ciuffo, wsnake, linsenbruch1, mgctoday & fh_miguel

What Reality?

One school of thought works with the goal of representing exactly what they have seen at the moment they took a photo. We ask one question: isn't choosing a certain film stock already a manipulation of reality? You can keep editing confined to adjust a photo to the recollection of the scene as it was, but wasn't a stylistic choice already made before the photo was taken?

Keeping “real” colors to a photo, doesn't exclude the fact that we are forcing personal preferences upon a picture. Adding a warm or cold tone, altering the hue, the magenta, and the greens in the shadows or the highlights, more or less contrast… These are all twists and tricks that alter reality and are the beginnings of our personal aesthetic style.

Total diversion from a reproduction of reality occurs when we drastically alter the natural conditions of a scene. Whether this is done in camera with color shifting films such as the LomoChrome family, or afterward, is a photographer's choice. But the possibility is there to create an “unreal” image, and photographic tools are a way to materialize your vision.

Editing is not limited to color correction. Cropping is no different. There is no shame in directing and adjusting the intended point of focus for your viewer. Sometimes we carry a lens that might not be perfect for the situation we are finding ourselves in.

Credits: campestcowboy, anttihoo, realmustache, fisheyemary, jessicaoe & dudizm

As long as you can make an image work, there is nothing wrong with getting closer to your intended subject by cropping. If you aim to make a perfect composition in-camera it is a matter of training yourself to get it right each time, and it is not an easy task to accomplish in every circumstance.

Perhaps it is better to consider when and for what purpose these alterations are even made? A few genres are ethically bound to faithful reproduction, such as photojournalism and documentary photography. These fields of photography, which aim to show the state of the world, are ethically obliged to respect and uphold the value of truth as much as possible. However outside of this type of work we are free from ethical rules, and therefore, our images are open to post-production and the manipulation of reality to pursue a vision. When and how a photographer decides to actively work on their image making, whether it's before, during, or after they take a picture, is a personal artistic choice.

We are put in mind of the famous Queen anthem I Want to Break Free. Perhaps this is the same anthem we wish for analogue photographers in 2024. Break free from an ideal aesthetic and from what you think is an acceptable “film look”. As long as we don't force our way on others, all is fair in the world of art making.

How do you approach post-production in your analogue photos? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

written by eparrino on 2024-04-07 #in-depth #post-production #editing #analogue-photo #color-correction #film-look #film-authenticity

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  1. hervinsyah
    hervinsyah ·

    Frankly I don't process my film by myself but a senior photo journalist who work with film since 90s have wrote on his newspaper said that even at film process "the edit" process are happen so the term of edit or no edit became ambiguous. But I choose to upload the file that I receive from photo lab without changing it except at some photo that I crop 🤣 the photo lab are also made an important role for example my local fave photo lab are Chandra Foto Bandung, Indonesia, because they are process the film without editing the film into a vibrant color like other photolab named Seni Abadi Bandung, Indonesia which sadly Seni Abadi are recently close their photolab last month after operating since 1948 and being the first photolab in Bandung 😭 but at some case Seni Abadi are "saving" my very bad underexposure photo which will appeared very poor if I process it at Chandra Foto. Seni Abadi vibrant edit are also being the favorite of trending photo editor 🤭

  2. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    I edit only in a technical way,
    but would never manipulate an image digitally, that's cheating!
    When i print black&white in the DR, i of course do some dodge and burn, but this is craftsmanship.
    With colornegs i work hybrid as many will do here,
    so i let my scanner interpret the neg, that's technical.
    After that the only thing that happens is adjusting the tint, the contrast and maybe the gamma,
    all technical. then i would print it with an Inkjet with adjustments as near as possible to the scanned neg.
    I would really like to try DR Color Prints, atleast once, just to feel the "natural" way to do this.
    But actually i don't care at all because,
    everything we do here with film, is 100% more real then any prestine digital shot out there.

    Every shot i took over the years is a fuzzy memory of the moment i took it.
    I was there with all my senses, before during and after the shot,
    not possible when i take the digital short cut!
    I mean we analogues atleast have a neg, and its real, its physical.
    The digitals have a raw, thats nothing!

  3. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @hervinsyah ✨🙌

  4. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @stereograph I would also love to print in color once in my life! Working in darkroom is so rewording! Love the whole process! 🙌🙌

  5. stereograph
    stereograph ·

    @eparrino It is! i can only value a paperprint from the DR,
    thats part of my philosophy,
    i'm an analogue person, if i tell somebody that i'm still doing analogue,
    they start showing me pictures on their smartphone telling me
    "i photograph too!"
    and i just walk away!

  6. keithdevereux
    keithdevereux ·

    I'm quite happy to edit my digital shots any which way: zooming, cropping, colour effects, the works. But with analogue shots, apart from adding a frame, I'll do nothing. Instax shots will be straight from the camera. That said, just lately I'm getting into glitching, and it's been fun to run a Lomochrome Purple or a black and white photo through a color-shifting Processing script.

  7. mackiechartres
    mackiechartres ·

    very interesting article.
    For now, I process black & white film at home, & color films are processed in a lab. After that I do the scans, and editing is just a matter of cleaning the dust and scratches, sometimes a little bit of contrast control and white balance but to a minimum level - only when I want to correct some of my obvious exposure errors. I never print.
    when I shoot film, I try to keep on the analog side as much as I can do, and scanning is the only exception to that since I don't have the equipment + skills to work in a darkroom.
    But we have to keep in mind that photographers from the past also edit their pictures, some even "painted" their photos manually, with pencils and cutters ! Artists like Man Ray and others didn't follow the rules of processing and thus created works of art. Their photos were not "pure" at all. More commonly, playing with the chemicals, and trying to adjust the contrast in the darkroom was quite usual.
    So I am not sure that analog photography is more honest or more pure than digital photography, while cameras, lenses, film (or sensors), scanners, dark room devices, all that are only tools. you do it whith what you have. and after, it's just a question of where you set the limits to your own practice.
    cheating only begins when you lie to others about what and how you are shooting.

  8. guypinhas
    guypinhas ·

    That old conversation hahahahahahaha!

  9. eparrino
    eparrino ·

    @mackiechartres I agree, I don't think that analogue is purer than digital perhaps it can only be more straightforward, compared to a digital photo that requires post-processing. Photography is a tool in the hands of creative people in the end we should all do what fits our voice.

  10. digitalemotions
    digitalemotions ·

    Единого мнения не будет, кому как нравится, так и делает. У меня пока раздвоенность по этому вопросу. Но склоняюсь к тому, что не надо вмешиваться никакими программами и т.п. Я снимаю на плёнку, потому что начинаю ценить каждый кадр и, как следствие, задумываюсь о качестве снимка, а не щёлкаю десятки ненужных фотографий. Во-вторых, плёнка позволяет получить снимки с достаточно высокой детализацией и хорошей цветопередачей. Во-третьих, целью фотографа не является снятие точной кальки с реальности, а художественная фотография не обязана быть идеальной. И тут мы подходим к следующему аргументу в пользу плёнки.
    «Неидеальности» могут выглядеть красиво. Расфокус, видимые царапины на снимках, зернистость — всё это ассоциируется именно с плёночной фотографией. Начнём с того, что перечисленных шероховатостей можно избежать при использовании корректно работающего фотоаппарата и подходящей плёнки. А закончим тем, что иногда «неидеальности» просто классно выглядят.

  11. drummond
    drummond ·

    Analoge Fotografie sollte so ursprünglich sein wie möglich. Gerade wir als Lomographen sollten uns für unbehandelte und nicht veränderte Fotos einsetzen.
    Wenn wir die Bilder im Nachhinein behandeln, können wir ja gleich bei Flickr hochladen, das ist schon so ein Digitalgeschäft geworden.
    Wir machen auch Bilder mit den einfachsten Point - und - Shoot Kameras und mit Einwegkameras.
    Das ist rohe, ursprüngliche Fotografie. Die sollte auch so im Bild herüberkommen.
    Die Welt der manipulierten Bilder wird sowieso immer mächtiger und schlimmer, daher sollte man bei uns in der Lomographie soweit es geht, bei der Analogie, bei Rawfilm - Photographie bleiben.

  12. mharvey
    mharvey ·

    I think it would be impossible to find 2 photographers that are in agreement on this matter.
    Personally, I would love to know more of others’ post-processing methods. For example, when I am looking at a double exposure on a lomograper’s page, is it in fact a double exposure or two overlaid images? I don’t mind either method, but there is a difference.
    I wouldn’t mind sharing my post-processing details if lomography provided a metadata section for it.

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