Getting Messy with Photography Series – Stylistic Post Processing

Do you process your photos to get a picture that was different from how you remember it?

 The Divide Out There

Here is how a typical Facebook friend vs. Google+ Photography community member reply to the same statement.

The Instagram look is ______.

…fun and easy to apply.




Cut through the opinions and get to what we all can learn from, the rules

Let’s back up, what are rules?

Rules in Photography are very important. They are only as good as they describe what our mind innately find beautiful. That is their one and only purpose. Any other “rule” isn’t one at all.

Breaking rules in photography purposefully is an ingredient to beautiful art.

Breaking rules in photography requires you to know them. (That’s simple logic, don’t be mad!)

Check out this 30 min documentary on two people who both make photography their full-time job. One uses a DSLR and Lightroom and Photoshop  and obeys the rules. One uses his iPhone and Instagram and loves to reinvent and break them.

A Documentary on Instagram vs. Professional

Rules of stylistic post processing

The style should match the subject, setting, and the message

Did you add a Sepia effect when a little boy had a Sponge Bob shirt on?

If you are planning a shoot and want a Sepia image (that looks beautiful), you may have to put some thought into clothes and background.

If the bride who wants the images to look like they were printed in 1910 you have some homework.

If you’ve already taken the picture and are deciding a style take another second to look through your options to decide which one feels right.

It’s not about trying to meet some rule, it’s about finding a style that will make the statement the most effectively.

That’s the difference between taking an image that will make the child’s grandmother cry, and taking an image that will make the grandmother and her friend cry. And it’s my hope that this exact reason is why you are taking the time reading these words.

Following the Rules to make something great.

Following the Rules to make something great, but not my style.

Stylistic Post Processing is like baking.

Having a plan for how hot the oven should be and how long the food will stay in is good, because even if there is no exact recipe baked

photos can be undercooked and they can be overcooked.

Making stylistic changes with purpose means having an end in sight before you start so you know when you’re there.

Make changes to accent the subject. Your other choice is to make the style the subject. (see below)

How to not over do it

Step away and come back.

Try to start from an accurate reference. If it’s a colored look you are going for it helps to start from a proper white balance using tools like the Expo Disc or the Color Checker.

  • Your Trending Personal Style

Paid Photographers

Being successful in this business often means specializing. This means having a portfolio that’s consistent with client expectations and matches your branding to draw the right market.

  • This all adds up to a need for those in the business to change their style slower. This means if you are thinking about making the big break this is something you need to figure out before you start.
  • Market Research -> Determine market -> Branding (style is chosen here)-> Marketing (consistent with branding)

All this to say, business photographers must change style more slowly than those doing it for a hobby.

Hobby Photographers

Can change style between each shoot.

Changing styles teaches you valuable lessons.

Unique to the picture- Style as the subject

The piece needs the style to fit the function and is shot with this in mind ahead of time

  • costumed
  • lighting
  • posing and expressions
  • setting

Chernobyl Examples

  • Inside Chernobyl Each image gets a HDR treatment. Style is consistent and well done. Is it overdone. You decide, is HDR accenting the subject or attracting attention away from it?
  • Chernobyl Today  Style is not consistent, composition is a bit erratic, but look how the style accents the subject. I can almost feel the radiation danger in the yellow tinged photographs.

Style as cover up

Sometimes stylistic post processing is used in an attempt to rescue a poor capture.

It’s just this tendency that causes a bad taste in the mouth of professionals.

The Instagram look is ______.


See the actual issue and tool in the passion he has.

Stylistic processing can cover up mistakes

  • poorly exposed
  • out of focus
  • bad composition
  • unrecoverable color

Did you take an Instagram  or a memory?

Did your stylistic editing result in something with more of an emotional impact? Does it tell the story of the subject any better after your edit?

Your Homework

Learn the craft. The tools should be in your hands to use. That’s why I made this tool. It’s every ounce of Lightroom presets I could squeeze out of the internet. Presets are single click picture wide effects. Use them wisely.

The Point

The point of this article is to communicate what these styles are and what they are not. It’s a benefit to photography as a whole for capable cameras to be attached to our phones and put into everyone’s hands. It’s great too that Instagram and the like are available and in wide use. I want to distinguish its purpose and limits. What many professionals are fearing is that the art of photography is changing. The fear isn’t of people using Instagram to make awe inspiring and truly communicative art. The fear is not that customer’s definition of art changes from one awe inspiring look to a different one. The fear is that photography goes from putting awe inspiring images on our  walls to simply accurately capturing a moment. Yes, as this becomes the case, and as technology improves, the profession is in jeopardy.

The fear is not that people’s expectations are changing, it’s that they are lowering. So I encourage you, no matter what you are holding in your hand or what programs you use afterwards, capture an image and make art.



  1. […] Ultra HD Texture- Overlay a texture for and classic feel or an edgy feel. If the overlay is full resolution the video will look better. This is one of the tricks photographers have been using for years when they get a bad shot but the moment was just right. It’s called Instagram. It’s often used like putting perfume on a stinky pig. […]


  2. […] Answer third party development the Apple way. Modifications to brushes, picture wide presets, books, frames, will be offered in the Mac App store, free or paid.  This will flood the community with free modifications, good ones sifting quickly to the top. People will turn to the Mac App store to find the newest silly Instagram effect. […]


  3. […] is getting better and better, but ends up messing up most the time. Hey, that’s what Instagram is for […]


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