My post-processing rules

Everyone has a different set of rules for their own post-processing. For transparency purposes, I am listing mine here.

Cropping

I freely crop and use arbitrary aspect ratios when desired. I have no problem cropping and there does not seem to be any valid artistic reason to be strict with cropping. Bird and macro photography require cropping, even if you’re using very long lenses. Of course, I try my best to get the best framing in-camera to use all those delicious pixels.

Cloning and Healing

I tend to avoid cloning and healing as much as possible. I prefer not to clone out anything, including branches. The only exceptions I make are with very minor imperfections, such as dust spots on the sensor, dust motes floating in the air (if there are just a few), or other minor particles.

If there is an interfering branch, I’ll leave it in, unless it’s a tiny piece sticking in the composition from the edge of at most a few pixels.

Dodging and Burning

I do make use of dodging and burning using masks to make subtle changes in light such as vignetting or vignette correction, and to brighten or darken certain areas. I also might brighten catchlights very slightly, but as mentioned above, I won’t clone in a catchlight that wasn’t there before.

I am cautious about using too much vignetting, and if I apply it, it will be very subtle. However, in many shots I tend not to correct vignetting from my lens (it has some) too much, although I might correct it a little selectively. And I do use vignette correction for some landscapes.

Noise Reduction

I use basic noise reduction and selective noise reduction, such as noise-reducing the background more than the subject. I do not use AI noise reduction. I have tried it and it does a good job but I am wary of it because it is hard to determine when the line is being crossed of reducing noise versus actually replacing parts of an image with a small piece from a learned model.

There is another reason why I don’t use AI noise reduction: I don’t want to support AI. Noise reduction software is relatively benign as far as AI tools go, and it’s certainly not on the same level as generative AI. In other words, if you use AI noise reduction, then I do think your shot is still ‘photography’.

Yet, AI has much wider implications, including replacing huge numbers of people in creative disciplines as well as creating a strange world full of AI creations. This world will not be a good one for people to develop genuine human connections.

In short, I’ve made it my policy to oppose AI as much as possible and not support any form of it. Yes, I may not be able to avoid AI completely. For example, the next camera I buy might have its autofocus trained with machine learning. Yes, AI is a broad term and includes algorithms that are mathematically equivalent to a least-squares fitting algorithm.

Yet, the spirit of AI is to take over creative decisions, and thus we should all be extremely careful when welcoming AI into our domains. When in doubt, err on the side of caution.

Besides that, with most of my shots, AI noise reduction isn’t an improvement over regular noise reduction. It does do a pretty good job at ISO 20,000 where traditional methods don’t work. However, even in those cases, I’m not really impressed.

In other words, AI noise reduction might make a horribly noisy ISO 20,000 shot look pretty decent, but it will never look like a beautiful shot taken at ISO 800. And that’s what I’m after: really amazing shots. I’d rather spend my time taking shots I really enjoy instead of making horrible shots look passable.

In fact, it seems to me that AI noise reduction isn’t really about improving your photography at all, but rather about encouraging everyone to produce as much photography as possible, which to me totally counters the very idea of improving one’s art.

Yes, I can think of exceptions. Maybe you’ve got a shot of a very rare species at ISO 51,200 and an AI program can make it look good. I can’t argue with that, but I all I can say is, we can’t have everything in this world.

Color Adjustments

I am conservative when it comes to colour adjustments. I do basic white balance and color correction. I also boost the saturation a little, but that is only because darktable, my editor, starts out with no default saturation and thus the starting point is fairly desaturated.

I do use some minor creative color effects from time to time. I sometimes use split-toning to make backgrounds a little more interesting. I do correct for potentially blown-out color channels by reducing saturation in them like in very red flowers.

Other Things

I am avidly against AI editing, including generative fill, object removal, and other significant modificaitons. I do not believe that any of these constitutes real photography. Generative fill, sky replacement, and object removal cross the line from photography to graphic art.