Photography Tip: Commentary Processing

Posted by on Oct 3, 2014 in Photography, tips | No Comments
Photography Tip: Commentary Processing

You come home from a photo walk with a cardful of images. You find some free time, and then you shut yourself away in a room, make sure nobody’s going to disturb you, fire up Lightroom, and start work.

Processing alone

Does that sound like you? It certainly sounds like me. But this makes photo processing something of a solitary occupation. And it means nobody’s going to challenge you about your decisions.

I realised this when I processed someone else’s photos recently. I wanted to be able to explain to them what I’d done during the processing, and this made me work on the photos with a completely different perspective.

As I worked, I tried to put into words—to speak aloud—this process that’s become somewhat unconscious over the years. Why was I doing this quick first pass over all the pictures? When I went back over them with the star marker, what made me mark a photo as two-star, rather than four-star? What made me press that “Reject” button as soon as I saw a picture?

Later, digging into each photo that had “made the cut”, why was I cropping it like that? What was I choosing as the subject of the photo? Why? Why was I pushing the “highlights” slider that way, and the “blacks” slider the other? Did I really need to add sharpening there? What was that radial filter for? Why was I using it rather than the graduated one? Why was I ignoring this whole section of Lightroom’s “Develop” module?

I found this enlightening1. And difficult. It made me think a lot more about my processing, and in particular the reasons I had for every action I was taking—and whether, in some cases, I actually had a reason at all, other than blind habit.

Have you become set in your processing ways? Try “commentary processing”. Even if there’s nobody around to hear, it can be a great exercise for your photography brain, and might lead you somewhere you weren’t expecting.


  1. It reminded me of the “commentary driving” section of the Advanced Driving Test. You can try that the next time you’re driving—speaking aloud everything driving-related that’s going through your mind, as if explaining your actions to an examiner sitting beside you. It really makes you think. Here’s an example from a police driver, commentary driving a 999 call out. []
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