How Long Should We Edit HDR Photos For?

As HDR photographers, editing our images is almost second nature to us. The majority of us feel that little tinge of excitement as we begin transferring the day’s images onto our hard drives. There’s usually a few photos of the many we may have taken that we can’t wait to run through the software.

There may also be a few images that we know we’ll have to put a bit of extra work into to get the most out of them. I was working through a shot the other day that I’d taken that morning. It wasn’t a particularly difficult shot to process. But no matter what I did I wasn’t satisfied with the final image.

The image in question.

It took me about an hour before I was happy enough to move onto the next photo. However, towards the later stages of processing the image I began to ask myself if it was worth spending more time editing it. I’ve spent longer editing photos but on this occasion I was slightly pressed for time. I had to prioritize my to-do list.

It got me to thinking about how long I’d be willing to sit and work on one particular shot. Ultimately I decided it would depend on the time I had available, what the image was for and whether the image had the potential to be a real stunner.

The longest I’ve ever spent on one image was around 4 hours. However, I personally know of two photographers who’ve spent around 2 weeks on a single shot.

Inevitably my passion for photography would dwindle if I had to spend that much time in front of the screen, but at the same time they may be producing higher quality images than mine.

A number of ‘purist’ photographers I know become irate at the very thought of post-processing. I can only imagine what they’s think of two weeks editing on one photo.

How much time do you spend processing? Would you put a limit on that time, after which you’d bin the image?

My name is Jimmy McIntyre and I’m the editor of HDR One magazine. I travel for a living, learn languages, take pictures, and generally strive to enjoy every minute of the waking day! You can visit my daily HDR travel blog or subscribe to my updates on facebook – Jimmy McIntyre
  • Lee

    Usually 30 mins to an hour. Never more than 2 hours. 2 weeks is crazy – a good editor, not a good photographer.

  • Andreas Heinrich

    ‎3 and a half hours was my longest so far

  • Miroslav Petrasko

    I usually spend around 30minuts to 2 hours on a single photo. But sometimes it can even be weeks, where I just randomly return to a photo and I return until I’m satisfied with it.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Yeah, I actually find I can do a lot more with an image if I leave it for a couple of weeks, Somehow I’m refreshed and ready to have another go at it.

  • Stephen Pattison

    ‎20 – 30 minutes

  • Matthias Weigel

    Totally depends on the subject and the lighting conditions of the scene. Sometimes I am done in 10 minutes. But there are images that require up to 3 hours of work. And if you talk about HDR panoramas, it’s two evenings (for me) and one night (for my machine).

  • Sussie Atchley

    No more than 30 min, I’m too AD/HD to be able to spend more than that on one photo.

  • Pat L Kiellor

    I think it’s going to be proportional to how ell you can use software. I am crap with the software so about 5mins for me :)

  • Dan McDevitt

    I usually spend between 1/2hr to an hr on a photo. After that I feel there is too much degradation of my thought process and figure it is much better to walk away and come back after grabbing a bite to eat or waiting a day or two to look at it with a fresh perspective.

  • Andrew Lowther

    One of the really great things about being a pure amateur is not having to think about such things. I really don’t care if it takes 10 mins or 10 hours as long as I am happy doing it.

    I totally agree with the comment below that coming back to a photo sometime later (days, weeks or months) gives and entirely different perspective.

    • ZubbuZ

      Haha, that is generally my attitude as well – since I’m newish to it all, and am still teaching myself as I go along, I will easily spend a long time adjusting this and that, working out exactly what I want etc. I love doing it, so the time goes by really fast anyway :)

  • Jay Parker

    Depends on the “look” I’m going for. My tendencies split between what could be termed “realistic” (though I abhor a good deal of the context attached to that term) and imaginative. For “realistic” I shoot more frames at 1ev and grab as full a range as I can. Post on these images is usually a matter of minutes. Mostly tightening the sharpness and adjustment of contrast. If I’m going for the more fantastic approach I’ll intentionally blend frames 2ev apart (generally underexposed) and then go to town on the tonemap for up to a few hours, often just flinging stuff at it to see what sticks. It’s a bit like sculpting clay. You push it, pull it and if you don’t like it you lump it back into a ball and start over.

    • Jimmy McIntyre

      Wow, Jay, you tone map for a couple of hours? That’s amazing. Even if I tone map the same image several times, or double tone map, I still wouldn’t top 45 minutes. I’d love to get a glimpse of your workflow :)

  • Mike Dooley

    Great question Jimmy! A real extreme for me would be about 4 hours, but the majority of images take about 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish. There are often images from a shoot that I want to process, but I know are going to be a lot of work. Those are usually saved for a rainy day, or a night that I just want to sit down, crank some music and get a bit creative.

  • Lois Bryan

    The expression “time flies when you’re having fun” pertains to me. If I have a lovely piece of music playing, I seem to go into a zone and the hours fly as do the ideas and the creative juices. I’ve often spent hours on an image … not been satisfied … but not enough to dump the image. Gone back to it later, when I have a few more new tricks up my sleeves, played some more … and finally … it’s a keeper. If the image has good “bones” … great composition or an interesting subject or a personal emotional connection … the time spent processing doesn’t matter. It is As Much all about the fun of the journey, for me, as it is the destination.

  • Yhunski Suarez

    I have no limit at all when it comes to how long i process my HDR. At times the shot comes out without needing much tweaking but there are times I need to do a lot more cleaning up to improve its quality, or simply because the image has multiple frames such as vertoramas or panoramas that needs longer time to sort out. It could take less than half an hour to an hour. In cases I am unsure of what I have done, or I feel like my creativity is ‘not there’, I leave the image aside for a break then come back to it a few hours/days or even weeks later.

  • Paul Mack

    Anywhere from an hour to an entire afternoon(maybe 6 hrs).I like to adjust parts of an image seperately with layers and brushes.This can be very time consuming, because I can spend a lot of time correcting steps that don’t always have the desired result.

  • Guest

    I was at an art show recently, and saw a big sign, prominently displayed in one photographer’s booth that said “NO Digital Photos. All photos taken with FILM.” Same thing. Then, of course, there is the “NO PHOTOSHOP” phase. Now it is HDR.

    I would worry more about the emotional content of the image, and less about how it gets there. I have seen HDR used to make a nice scene taken in boring light, look better. Better is often still flat. I have seen HDR flatten spectacular light that needed no help at all (if judged by traditional photographic standards). It’s a tool. Like Photoshop, like camera technology.