You should edit before and after editing.

 –Dwayne Fry


Maybe it’s because I watch a lot of home improvement programs. Or maybe it’s because I also watch a lot of cooking shows (even though I don’t cook). It’s a mixed bag. What I see in all of the above is the idea of taking something as it is and transforming it into something far better and much closer to something worthy of appreciation. This “better” and “worthy of appreciation” concept is subjective. Those who take houses or rooms that are in desperate need of a “re-do” have the ability to see the raw materials, envision the potential and possibilities, and then make them what they could be. These designers also have or learn the skills they need to make it happen. Whether the space needs a demo and complete reconstruction or a few coats of paint, vision is required for the transformation.

And, on those cooking shows, especially the competitions, the same concepts apply. The chefs or cooks or bakers are given random ingredients paired oddly with instructions to “make something” or to make one ingredient “the star” of the dish. The cooking challenges require quick thinking and risk taking, imagination and skills. The renovation competitions may have a bit more time and money, but the goal is the same. Make something work. Make something better, beautiful, functional, and/or delicious.

Scene from the bathroom renovation (extreme makeover) this past spring.

Partial view of the “After” from the spring bathroom remodel. (We did not do the work.)


How we work on our images holds similar concepts and goals. We’re given the raw ingredients – whether in a landscape, still life, flowers & gardens, portraits or any other subject. We’re given what we’re given, and it’s our “job” to make it work. For this post, I want to remove the element of competition. The transformations included here are about moving from the raw to finished product – an image that is pleasing to ourselves. I’ve said this before, we must first please ourselves, unless our work is for a client. We do not, and should not, be concerned with being judged or “winning.” That mindset influences our imagination and risk taking and keeps us from “playing dress-up” with our images.

The result of going with creative flow in the editing process until the image looked like the moment felt.


There’s a saying, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” I sometimes feel like a broken record, but that’s okay. In our image making, we need to spend time with our subjects, decide what our goals are, evaluate what it will take to make it happen, and then do it. We need to learn what we need to learn. We need to try new and different techniques without the expectation of being perfect in our early efforts.

Yes, we have amazing post-processing tools at our fingertips that can “fix” just about anything we didn’t or couldn’t do in the field. “I’ll crop it later, fix it in post, swap the sky, hide the defects with textures or some other method.” I hear these statements and more and continue to encourage (almost insist) that the best work be done in the field. The idea is simply to rely as little as possible on the “fixers” and work under the “refiners” perspective.

Are there times when we don’t have a wide enough or long enough lens? Yup. Are there times when much in a scene works, but there are elements out of our control? Of course. We either decide to make the image knowing what it will take to achieve our goal or we decide to appreciate the scene for what it is and walk away. Are there times when the light isn’t ideal? Of course. We work with what we are given and make whatever adjustments we need to, even if it means we don’t make the images we had expectations of making.

The images we make and get to choose to work with fall in several categories, including the ones requiring very little “make-up” through to those that need a “total makeover.” I prefer not to work with the latter.

Intentional spin movement along with Lensbaby Twist in spring gardens.

Simplifying the image in the field to isolate what stopped me. Leaves left where they were.


In light of the “before and after” challenges and concepts from home improvement and cooking shows, I thought it would be interesting to apply similar work to my own images – not to please anyone but myself, but to lift the hood and share thoughts from behind the scenes. I decided to “troll a hard drive” and choose three random images, and then document the work. Each image has a different degree of challenge. In the process of sharing the “raw” material, I talk about the image itself, what works and what might not work, goals in the field, and what I feel is needed to achieve the final result. I also share some of the “in-between” work.

The images I use vary in subject and degree of need for refinement, repair and reconstruction. I start with an image that simply needs a coat of paint. The next image is in need of what I would call mid-range work. The third image needed an “extreme makeover,” and I only use it to illustrate the higher level of work and much longer investment of time to achieve the result. Truth be told, I had no intention of ever processing it. Rather, I took the image to remind myself of the opportunity to revisit with better conditions.

I loved the framing of the tree and the lighting on the sunflowers. To get where I wanted to go with this image, I  worked with Topaz Studio 2 tools to create a more abstract look that felt right to me.


I loved having the opportunity to photograph peonies being harvested and loaded into bushel baskets to go to market. It was the first time I had seen this, and the light conditions were perfect. I was using the Lensbaby Velvet 56, which also worked well in creating a more ethereal effect. This image needed very little work for me to get to where I was happy and where I saw it going.

No cropping here. In Adobe Camera Raw, I made adjustments to shadows, texture and clarity and optics. For me, the image told the peony harvest