Just thought I'd mention that the most important part of post-processing for me is simply looking—looking at what you've done. I never "sweat" post-processing on the first go-round—I work quickly and fluidly to get it "mostly" right. I don't worry about it much or fret over it. In my view, it doesn't make any sense to labor and suffer over processing an image your first time working with it, because you don't know how you feel about it yet anyway—how would you even know what you want to do?
What I like to do is get it mostly right on the first pass, and then live with it for a while. If it "catches" in my brain and I find myself going back to look at it repeatedly, then after a week or so I'll be more familiar with the picture and how it's working, and I'll have more of an idea of what I want it to look like. That's the time for the careful—and time-consuming—post processing. On the second pass, I never start with my first result—I start over from a duplicate of the raw file and do it all over again. I like the opportunity to work from the top with a clearer idea of where it is I want to end up.
On occasion I'll make two or even three different quick versions to look at to help me decide which direction to go.
For instance, in the previous post, the top picture already doesn't look quite right to me. But the second picture is having the opposite impression on me—I'm sensing that that one's close to where it needs to be. These kinds of feelings about processing decisions tends to take some time to "settle."
This approach does derive from fine print making. The natural thing to do when making prints is to make a "good enough" guide print without fussing over it too much, then put it up on the wall for a week and study it. By the end of that time your ideas about what it should look like will have gelled, or become clear. At that point, I start all over again knowing much better what I want to do.
Working quickly on "first passes" has an additional benefit, in that, over time, you learn to see quickly what files need and which way you want to go in realizing the picture. It gives you a certain freedom, ease, and fluidity with post-processing decisions.
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