I am a complete geek/ nerd when it comes to learning something be it driving, photography, lighting and also editing. When I did start shooting people, I also would spend hours and hours learning how to perfectly edit an image, using multiple post processing tools. I do not come from a photography background, so all my image editing was either driven by what I saw, or what my collaborators suggested / hinted. I self learnt, or took help from expert fellow editors and you tube, to learn ways of editing.
As I edited more and more, I also realised the importance of editing in way to keep the skin looking natural. I moved from basic, clarity sliders to using more sophisticated techniques like frequency separation and dodging and burning. I would fix my lights in LightRoom and the subject in Photoshop. I also learnt how to fix body shapes and imperfections. Each file would go from 40Mb to 1.5Gb and not to mention 2-3 hours spent on most images. But I feel, this entire exercise of learning post processing, helped me immensely to grow as a photographer. I spent so much time looking at these images up-close that I started to realise that almost 90% of the post process can be completely avoided if I took small steps at time of shoot itself.
Firstly checking my images more often to see if i need to make some small light corrections. Also small things like keeping surroundings clear of items that you don/t want in the frame, using windows to an advantage, using reflectors, light fills, barn doors to avoid masking, requesting make-up touches like lips etc to perfection instead of trying to fix them later. Ensuring clothes are worn properly to make better looking seams, also to direct the collaborators to address their body language, instead of fixing bad posture in post process. I realised that almost all of editing arises from un-kept surroundings, incorrect light exploitation, and bad body posture (note there is nothing like a bad body shape). Keeping these in mind helped me move more towards the un-edited zone.
What is an un-edited zone for me. Ideally it would mean no re-touch, no cropping, no light fixes. However, in a given environment, light is not something that can be fixed completely (especially for a single man photographer like me), so I do accept that some light fixes will be essential in post process, it is about 15% for me now. Also somethings like temporary acne, un-happy outbreaks on collaborators are things I am ok to fix. Also I try to fix give away marks sometimes to keep the anonymity. But I have moved away completely from skin edits, body shaping etc. My collaborators already know this, and are also made aware of this before the shoot. I am yet to lose a collaborator for this reason.
Also, if I realise during the discussion stage, that the collaborator will not respect my process after the shoot, I turn off the steam on the discussion, and let the discussion die a natural death. I do not want to force my vision on others, but more importantly I do not want to work with those who do not share my vision. It will end up with either or both of us un-happy or cheated. But I am happy that more and more people are willing and even excited to be a part of my process and circus, so there is really nothing to complain about.
I am very clear about the genre I want to create, and also what the post process would be for the images shot by me. These are conveyed to my collaborators at time of discussion itself. I am the creator here, and what I create of you is my vision. Ideas are of-course welcome from them but within the defined zones.
Countries have now laws that require declaring a re-touched image. We do not have one yet in our country, I hope it is here soon. But till then, each one must contribute to this small revolution of being happy in our own skin and celebrating the journey called LIFE.