In nature photography, how much post-processing is too much?

Saturday morning arrived cool and very, very overcast gray in my part of the mid-Atlantic region. Those conditions can occasionally make for great photos, but often they leave me with dull, muddy images.

The photo above of a great blue heron stalking in Colonial Lake just off Business U.S. 1 in Lawrence Township is what my camera captured about 7:15 a.m. Other than cropping in about 15 percent of the frame in Adobe Lightroom, what you see is virtually identical to what I saw when I snapped the shutter: a gray heron against a dark surface of water.

Compare that to what came up when I hit the “auto” button in LightRoom.

Big difference! The bird is a bit brighter but what surprised me was how the surface of the lake has a green sheen. Unless I’ve suddenly gone colorblind, this “corrected” photo gives a false impression.

Since I switched to shooting RAW from jpeg a couple of years ago, I’ve used LightRoom to edit my photos. Under most conditions, I use LightRoom’s sliders to enhance my photos to some degree in an attempt to get an accurate depiction of what I saw in real life.

While I studied art photography in college and graduate school and have a deep appreciation for it, I also trained in photojournalism. While never a news photographer full-time, as a reporter and editor I’ve taken many news photos, usually when I happened onto the scene or took my camera to an event because a “real” photographer wasn’t available.

While I’ve managed to take a few abstract or otherwise arty shots, my style is journalistic. In shooting birds and other wildlife, I try to get the lighting and color right to portray the subject truthfully.

As I scroll Instagram, I repeatedly see ads for apps that will excise exes and cut out other “distractions” from photos. I won’t and don’t do that, although I do crop to remove distracting branches or other elements that draw the eye away from the subject. I’ve also learned to clean up digital noise that shows when I crop in on a distant subject. The noise isn’t part of nature.

Where does one draw the line?

That’s up to each photographer, informed by the purpose of the image. With my photos, I want you to see the bird as it really is, or at least get as close to that ideal as I can.

Published by Dan

University media executive by day, blogger by night, I am a well-traveled resident of New Jersey

4 thoughts on “In nature photography, how much post-processing is too much?

  1. I’m with you in that I try to edit to what I saw and keep colors more restrained. That said, it sometimes happens that what looks well balanced and “realistic” on my laptop appears garish and overdone on other devices.


  2. One of my favorite birds, the Great Blue is hunting. And I like your journalistic style. I often try to be careful with Lightroom and stay with more with realistic colors but it’s not easy to be objective, especially if you are emotional about your work.


    1. I understand the emotional aspect of photography and other artistic endeavors. I rarely fiddle with the color sliders in Lightroom. I’m fact, part of my reluctance to do so is that I am not experienced in using it. Thanks for the comment, and agreed, the great blue heron is a favorite.

      Liked by 1 person

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