In the (slightly) older days professional photographers were revered for their ability to see, capture and create exquisite imagery and it was an expected norm for them to spend hours if not days in a chemical darkroom experimenting with blends of chemicals, dodging and burning, and varying levels of exposure control to create their artwork.

In the modern age we’ve all been sold a dream, by the clever people who market and sell digital camera’s, into thinking that the skill of a professional photographer can be duplicated at the press of a button with any modern camera set to automatic. The realisation however is dawning worldwide that exquisite high-impact imagery cannot necessarily be automatically created in-camera and a similar dedication to the time-consuming process and simple art of photography still in fact remains.

Professional-level digital photographs HAVE to be post-processed if not to just make simple adjustments to the exposure, levels and curves, contrast, saturation and varying stages of sharpening to counter the effect of the anti-aliasing filter that digital cameras have then at least because this is largely where the creativity of image-making lays and it’s where any photographer has the potential to differentiate themselves in a competitive market.

Just like in the age-old days creativity still demands a dedication to the art of photography and there is a direct relationship between the level of art that can be produced and the amount of time that process requires, and there-in lays the dilemma… what is any client prepared to pay for a commission and how much time does that afford the photographer artist to create something unusual and high-impact that best showcases the subject and gives maximum value back to the client.

In the three sample images demonstrated below (post-processed to varying degrees) the first is straight out-of-camera (from a full-frame Canon EOS 5D DSLR shot through a 17mm tilt-and-shift L-series lens). I’ve exposed the capture carefully aiming to retain detail in the bright parts of the image, i.e. the underside of the illuminated roof, but also careful not to lose too much detail in the shadows and also aiming to keep some life and colour in the sky. I know it’s shot correctly for what I knew I was going to do to it in post-production, I know it’s exposed with the balanced range of tones that I knew I needed, but it is certainly not in a condition that is suitable to hand over directly to a client (despite that some still might).

The second image has what I call some ‘minor’ post-processing; I’ve cropped it slightly, done some dust spot removal, adjusted levels and curves, added some local contrast, done some initial sharpening to counter softness from anti-aliasing (I always do three stages of sharpening on my images), masked out the sky and increased curves and saturation on that, done some more sharpening, pulled down the reds, pushed up the blues slightly, run a soft high pass filter, done some dodging and burning, etc. In all I estimate I might invest 20-30 minutes on an image like this including the time required to download from my compact flash card, import into Adobe Lightroom, adjust and convert to TIFF format ready to open and process in Photoshop.

The dilemma however is that to process say 30 images for a client in this ‘minor‘ manor might take therefore up 15 hours of my time excluding a break for lunch, a cup of tea and a few visits to the bathroom, etc. Add the 4-6 hours I spent on site exploring angles, getting ready, chasing the light and shooting my images any basic shoot needs probably 3 full days of my time!

The third image below takes post-processing to another level altogether and into the realms of creating a bespoke set of what I might call my ‘signature fine art collection’. These are the high-impact images that certainly catch people’s attention and are probably more suited for boardroom walls, coffee table books and for exclusive limited-edition prints.

The third image below however probably took up about 45-60 minutes of my time to post-process including the stage 2 adjustments mentioned above. I’ve done some further black-and-white blending, lots more very targeted masking making waves and waves of subtle adjustments to various layers of luminosity, more dodging and burning, sharpening with the blur tool, etc.

Again include some more time for doing all the final stage conversions from my publication-quality TIFF files creating sets of high-resolution printable JPEG’s and low-resolution web-ready JPEG’s, burning all the images to DVD and creating the DVD artwork, time for some admin and paperwork, a professional shoot at this level can easily eat up a week of my time – for a SINGLE shoot…!

The ultimate question of course is whether a client is prepared to commission a full week’s worth of any photographer’s time to get a full ‘wowing‘ image set of this standard or whether they still expect anyone to simply point-and-shoot and pay them accordingly…?

I find the top clients locally and internationally certainly do seem to understand all of this and how great images have the capacity to define the stature of their business and help them in turn grow and win more work.

There are photographers and clients who work at each end of the creativity spectrum but it’s certainly still a truth that in terms of both time and money, you set your own standards and you get what you pay for!?

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