I relearned a lesson recently. I deliberately describe this as relearning because I have most certainly learned it before (as this article, posted on my own blog in November of 2011, attests). It’s noteworthy just how often it can pay to revisit old images to see if new postprocessing skills and/or tools can render an improved final product.
Allow me to clarify my meaning; I’m not implying that the image itself will be better per se. But the final version—which will vary depending upon the intended final output—might be an improvement. Still not clear? Allow me to offer an example—the lesson I recently relearned.
I was contacted by a potential customer who wanted a large print of an image that was made the better part of two years ago. I recall processing the image in the spring of 2011, and it was quite a challenge due to the extraordinarily wide exposure latitude in the final product. (In fact, actually obtaining the image itself was quite a test of patience, as I had to slog through a rainy 4-mile roundtrip hike on the muddiest trail I’ve ever set foot on. In truth, I’ve never been particularly crazy about the shot myself, but you never really know what moves people. But I digress…) The image was a combination of nine exposures; this extended exposure set was the only way to capture detail throughout. (This is a personal exposure blending record for me; I’m not sure if I’ve ever used more than five since.)
After communicating with the customer and receiving the go-ahead, I carefully looked over the image. On my calibrated monitor screen, it looked fine, but I’ve been through this before; what looks good on the monitor may not look good in print (another subject for another time) and I’ve been doing this long enough now to have a pretty good idea when I may have a candidate for the fine-on-screen/lousy-in-print category. I had some real concerns about this particular image, but I did what I always do with images that I haven’t printed before: I produced a small test print to see how it would look.
I wasn’t surprised when the outcome was less than satisfactory, so I spent a bit of time working with the image to see if I could resolve the problems. After about 15 minutes, I concluded that I was wasting my time. This called for a return to the drawing board.
In the time since I originally worked up the image, I’ve more or less perfected a basic workflow to deal with images with issues similar to this one. So I went all the way back to the “digital negatives”—the RAW files—and started from scratch. After converting the RAW files in the batch of exposures—all nine of them—to the TIFF format, I began to apply a version of my tried and true workflow. It became clear quite rapidly that the new version was going to be a dramatic improvement. I’m only including the reworked version of the image in question as an accompaniment here (it’s immediately below this paragraph) because, as I mentioned above, when viewed on a light-emitting computer screen, the original version seems just fine. It’s only when dealing with light-reflecting paper that the problem arises. All of the images accompanying this entry have undergone a rework due to unsatisfactory printing issues that have been resolved as a function of an improvement in my own postprocessing knowledge or steps forward in postprocessing software (or both).
The moral of the story: don’t give up on your old images. This is a call for keeping your original files, even if your first attempt to process them was less than entirely successful. You never know what tomorrow will bring.
Thursday Tips is written by Kerry Mark Leibowitz, a guest blogger on 1001 Scribbles, and appears every other Thursday. To read more of his thoughts on photography, please visit his blog: Lightscapes Nature Photography.