How much Photoshop work is too much?

I was happily processing my images from a recent trip to Athens when I came across this one:

This was taken in the area between the Plaka district and the Acropolis in a lovely neighborhood called Anafiotika. Tiny paths separate the colorful (although a bit worn) houses and the ancient Acropolis overshadows it all. Something about this image attracted me – not just for stock, but perhaps for wall art as well. But all those cables and shadows of cables and metal poles! And, of course, it is slightly skewed because it is taken uphill and so the window on the right leans away from the edge. When I used the Transform tool in Lightroom to straighten it, the window moved to the edge of the frame which didn’t look quite right. So off into Photoshop to see what I could do with all this mess. After around 90 minutes, I ended up with this:

Clean, tidy (not very representative of the original perhaps) and a much more pleasing image. The area around the light was particularly difficult and I had to invent part of the light that was obscured by cables and boxes. A new flag on the Acropolis completes it.

Now – was it worth the time and effort? In sales on the stock agencies, perhaps not – but I enjoyed it! What do you think – anything else I should change?

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22 Responses

  1. I often do the same thing. I’m processing for stock, quick and easy, and then, an image will grab me and I’m off to the toolbox and working on it. It’s almost definitely not worth the effort as far as stock is concerned, but that’s a trap I’ve been trying to get out of for years. In the early days, I would come home from a trip and not have a single image that wasn’t stock. And that meant I was missing out on a ton. Now I shoot everything I like and extract the stock from that.
    Good job on the image.

    • Steven Heap says:

      That’s an excellent approach. I think I do the same in reality – let my eye wander and look for the artistic interesting shots as well as the ones I think might sell. It is always helpful thinking about what might sell on Fine Art America as well – those are different sorts of image. What is surprising me in this latest edit is how many shots are going to work for stock – I must be developing an eye for an image that might sell!

  2. Andy R says:

    Interesting comments, my mind’s eye has looked for stock for decades. It is always catching glimpses of other things. It’s our nature, that’s who we are.

    Sometimes the Photoshop work pays off. I am often surprised at photos that have become my frequent sellers.

    As an aside: I have found your book fascinating and very helpful both the first edition and the most recent. Having grown up in the era of traditional stock agencies, the transition to online RF digital stock has been a slow and sometimes painful tedious process.

    Thanks for all that you have done and shared.

    • Steven Heap says:

      Thanks, Andy, for your kind comments. It sounds like you have been doing stock for a long time (from the days when it was profitable!). I am still amazed at which images become best sellers – and it varies from site to site as well. Just luck sometimes!

  3. Antwon M says:

    Very nice edit! I can imagine this image being used for all sorts of things. Great storyboard image.

  4. Jason Finn says:

    Great job on that edit! I think I can help you reframe spending your time this way. If you think of it as sharpening your skills, then it is always good to get extra practice here and there.

    Next time you need a quick edit, you will have the skills to complete the task! Diving in deep is not a waste of time.

  5. PaulHardy says:

    I once had an image that took me a year to complete from conception to final upload, (I didn’t work on it continuously! I kept going back to it!) It eventually went on to become one on Corbis top 100 highest grossing images of all time!

  6. Hi Steve,

    I’ve been enjoying your wonderful blog for some time now and have really benefited from all the practical advice you give on this blog. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this great resource!

    You did a great job on this image and I would be tempted to do the same thing. It really cleans up the image nicely and I could see someone wanting to put this on their wall. My question is, in terms of stock only (not art), how would you mark this image for sale on the micros, editorial or commercial? Or, would you stick to Alamy RM only or something else? Since the cables etc. have been removed, it can’t really be editorial and since it shows property, it can’t really be commercial. At least that’s how I understand it. Or, would you upload the clean version for sale as art and the original version as editorial stock?

    • Steven Heap says:

      I would put it as commercial on all sites (including print on demand ones). I think RM is pretty much dead now and has not gained higher prices for some time. I also think that few buyers on Alamy go elsewhere and so I don’t think I lose much (if anything) by giving it a chance on all the micros. I think you are probably being too hard on yourself with the editorial marking. We are not photo journalists where editing a shot is a definite no-no. We are trying to create nice looking shots for travel magazines and similar blogs and papers – so a bit of judicious editing is fine as far as I am concerned. I remove people, remove aerial and antennas and here, I removed wires. It didn’t really change the scene that much. As for them being private buildings – yes, they are, but they are not really identifiable to the general public (which I think is the main criteria). They are also relatively generic – no architect is going to claim the design. So I don’t believe there is any risk in making them commercial. I’ll let you know if they are rejected when I have uploaded them!
      And thanks for the kind comments!

      • You’re welcome and thank you so much for your informative reply Steve! It will help in moving forward with some of my next submissions. Agreed on not being photojournalists, I’m just not always sure where to draw the line sometimes with editorial work and have been very cautious in not over-editing, although in many cases the aesthetics of the images would improved with some judicious cloning. I think if I just go with the idea of not changing the “truth” of the image, I’m sure that’s a reasonably practical approach for editorial work. That said, if one takes the time the remove things it seems more worthwhile to get the image to a point where it can be sold as commercial.


        • Steven Heap says:

          Hi Suzanne
          I think I mentioned somewhere that all my images were accepted. I agree that you shouldn’t totally change a place, otherwise people visiting would be very annoyed if the photo that enticed them there was nothing like the reality. But some improvements to the scene are fine, in my mind. Wire, aerials, that sort of thing. Remove a rubbish bin perhaps. But not remove a big TV tower that dominates a scene. And, yes, people are probably more likely to buy a commercial license (and also that sells on Adobe) even though their usage might not have required it. So going the extra way to remove people and street names etc. makes sense.

  7. I thought the work on the light (which I didn’t catch at first on my iPad til I clicked on the pic to enlarge) was exceptional & the flag was super. I hesitate to suggest any changes because I know what it’s like to make decisions I like for my pics, lol! If any one thing, I’d add a smidge of a dodge spot on both the lamp and flag to draw the eye — but it certainly is needed 🙂

  8. Sue Gresham says:

    I like it, well worth the time and effort and imagination! Please keep on posting. I have bought the Edelkrone dolly and extras yet, as I have broken my femur and have been out of action for a while. New office arrangements in place yesterday and when I arrange the purchase I will of course, acknowledge your advice and recommendation.

    • Steven Heap says:

      Sorry to hear about the accident! I don’t know if you can use my link to Edelkrone on the main page of my blog – I do recall issues with shipping it to your home!

  9. AlessandraRC says:

    I also waste a lot of time doing these things. Then I post the final image on instagram for likes and I don’t even sell for .35 c. Just came back from Germany with a ton of useless pictures. Stairways, pillars, paths in the forest, and of course beer glasses cafes. Then I add light rays, clone out undesired elements, it looks good in the end and I made nothing. It’s a lost cause.

  10. nick says:

    There is no such thing as too much pp. You pp to express your vision. Some will love your vision others will not. You cannot control this. Nor should you. This much said, punchy sells (at stock agencies). So either make punchy images or add punch in pp. Why so few people ever discuss pp to make an image dull is a secret though. For dull sells just well (e.g. in fine art galleries). So pp or pp, there is no try (borrowed).

I'm always interested in what you think - please let me know!