To Develop vs. To Process

Andrew Raynor

forest floor fall leaf pile

Forest Floor Fall Leaves, Sturgeon River Wilderness, Michigan

A frequent question I am often asked by my wife when returning from a trip is “Did you get any good pictures?”  My frequent answer – “Maybe…”   Often my answer comes just from thinking about the things I may have witnessed, but whether I have any good photographs depends on when and how I develop them.   I have taken favor to using the term “develop” as opposed to “processing (or post-processing).” In most cases because I think it more accurately describes the creative process (ahem! :-) ) I am going through post-capture.    Being an original film guy, it reflects back into that era as well.   I have used them interchangeably in the past, wrongly thinking of them as synonyms.  I am more disciplined in their use now.

This particular focus on a single word isn’t meant to be coy about the steps I go through in completing any particular photograph, but to communicate how I truly believe many, not all, photographs aren’t finished until they are developed.   I have received some confused looks when answering people that I haven’t developed my pictures yet (when they know they are all digital).  Much of the non-photographer public considers the camera as the final step.    I even get bothered a little by the comment “Nice capture” from other photographers because maybe I was just there as the trigger man.   I know it isn’t meant that way, but it is a particular aspect of language that doesn’t consider creativity and vision beyond the algorithms and pixels on the sensor.

red bud leaf pile

Red Bud Leaf pile, Sterling Heights, Michigan

Using the word “process” implies that you need to go through a set of predefined steps to reach a particular objective.   However, more often than not, that objective may not be clear for me, nor are the steps to get there.  My creative process could be defined as a combination of capture + developing.  That basically remains the same.   Using “processing” to define the later step falls short.  A definition of the word develop fits appropriately:  grow or cause to grow and become more mature, advanced, or elaborate.   That maturity may come over years, maybe over days, maybe over an hour.   It is really hard to nail down and varies photo to photo for me.

A case in point are the leaf photographs in this post.   I actually took 2 different approaches to my post-capture activity on them.   The first approach I could probably call processing.  I went through standard tweaks on contrast, clarity, etc that don’t vary much image to image.   The end result didn’t feel complete to me, I wanted something more from them.  So I started over from scratch and started playing around with layers, blending them, luminosity masks, and some tonal filters with no real objective in mind.  I just wanted something that looked interesting to me.   During this play time, I started developing a unique look that I became quite enamored with.   It became as big a part of the final look than the actual capture itself.

dawn redwood cones in leaf pile

Dawn redwood cones in leaf pile, Sterling Heights, Michigan

While this may seem pedantic to some, it is a small detail of language in describing our work that I believe is important.     If you find yourself just going through the motions and processing your work, maybe it is time to go off trail a little bit and see what develops.  😉

Andrew Raynor Dover New Hampshire

Andrew Raynor Dover NH

Andrew Raynor


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