You’ve probably heard the terms “post-production,” “post-processing,” or simply “post” about movies but they also apply—and are equally important—to photography. Let’s break down what they mean.
The three terms—post-production, post-processing, and post—are, short of Hollywood movies, basically interchangeable. The “production” is what happens on set or location; it’s what you’re doing when you’re wandering around with your camera in your hand shooting photos or video. “Post-production,” then, is everything that happens after you’ve finished shooting, “post-processing” is all the processing that’s done after you’ve finished shooting, and “post” is an abbreviation for the two.
What Is Post?
So, we’ve established above that post is everything that happens after a shoot, but what does that entail? In most cases, it involves some (or all) of the following:
- Importing all the material you’ve shot and backing it up.
- Going through all the material you’ve shot and selecting the good stuff.
- For videos, editing together all the different clips into a single movie.
- For videos, adding music and fixing any sound issues.
- Correcting color, brightness, contrast, and other basic exposure settings.
- Fixing any issues like crooked horizons, distortion, dust spots, or blemishes.
- Applying any color toning or similar stylistic adjustments.
- Prepping the photos or videos for export and printing, sharing, or posting them on the web.
How much post-processing is involved and how long it takes utterly depends on the project. A professionally shot short film will spend months in post-production with each step being done multiple times, on the other hand, I can process a few dozen photos in an hour—as long as I’m not doing any major retouching.
Here’s an example of an image I’ve taken through the steps above in about 20 minutes. Here’s what it looked like straight out of the camera (I also had another few similar photos that I rejected in post).
And here’s what it looks like after.
Note, the list above is far from a complete list of steps for post-production. There are essentially infinite things that you can do to a photo or movie in post—it just depends what you’re trying to achieve.
Why Post-Processing Is Important
Post-production is at least as important as the actual production. It’s a big part of making great work for a couple of reasons.
Post is an opportunity to fix small issues you overlooked on location, correct color and exposure, and generally, just make sure your work looks good and professional. Digital cameras aren’t perfect, and they make a lot of assumptions about the world, so it’s your opportunity to adjust for them.
In post, you can put your stamp on your work. It’s your chance to make your photo of the same tourist spot everyone visits a little bit different. You can develop a consistent look, either for this piece of work or for all your work. For example, here are two of my ski photos. While shot more than a year apart, they’re edited to look part of the same collection.
Here’s the first.
And here’s the second.
Post-production also lets you prepare your work for different mediums. Facebook butchers any images you upload but there are steps you can take to minimize the quality loss. On the other hand, if you’re planning to print your work, you need to do completely different things.
While post-processing certainly gets a lot more attention now than it used to, it’s worth noting that it’s not new. All the great film photographers—and every movie director—spent at least as long in post-production as they did shooting.
You Can’t “Fix It In Post”
With all that said, post-production isn’t some magic bullet. You’ll never be able to fix major flaws with things like the composition in post. You still need to work hard on location to make sure you get the shots you want.