Does It Really Matter Anymore?

Lately, I’ve come to the uncomfortable reality that perhaps my obsession with delivering clarity and definition in the digital photographs is much more important to me than it is to many in the Internet (and even print) publishing community. From the opinions I’ve heard recently, it would seem that people really just don’t care. Could that be true?

I recently decided to investigate high-end (1.5-14 million dollar) real estate listing photos to see how the Real Estate Master Salesmen represent their clients’ properties. What I discovered was a bit disturbing. While most of the multiple (sometimes up to twenty-five) scenes presented in these listings were very well captured by the photographer, the post production preparation; delivering what I think of as “The Big 3” imaging issues (tonality, color, and clarity) was glaringly absent.

Images are the visual vehicles that whisk viewers away on an emotional journey. If you want your viewer to take this ride, you must make your vehicle attractive and easy to enter. Look at the images below, and see if you get what I mean. The image on the left is the current listing image, the one on the right, my attempt to correct the screen capture of the Internet image. I only wish I’d had access to the original images!


My question (to anyone who would like to comment) is “if you were representing a client’s home and had a choice of how that image would be viewed by potential buyers, why would you not choose to optimize these image(s) before you listed them?” Question number two must follow: “don’t you not think that your prospects would benefit from the difference?”

DIM 2-B4Once again the image above is the current listing and my “fixed” version of the image.

DIM 2-AfterPut yourself in the place of a potential buyer. Would the optimized version of each scene not make it easier to picture yourself in that room? Would the level of visual appeal feed your prospect’s desire, or would this attention to detail make no difference at all?

To keep this issue in perspective, keep in mind that I spent the first seven years of my young career running very large and very noisy printing presses. I got worn out trying to make the color pictures look better by tweaking the controls on the press. Realizing that this was not the answer to great images in print, I refocused my career path back into the image preparation side of the shop. I apprenticed and learn the secret to producing great images on press was to prepare them properly before they made their way into the pressroom. I actually spent a three year stint shooting my own litho films, plating them myself, and then running the press that printed them. Wow, what a difference it made.

DIM 3-B4

DIM 3-AfterLike most journeys in life, I learned to begin with the end in mind. I knew the press’ appetite and I started feeding it what it could digest. That started a very long romance with producing stellar images, whether they are destined for the press or the Internet. Here’s a big hint… one image doesn’t satisfy all needs. Each output needs unique preparation. This is a generally ignored concept, but an absolutely true one.

DIM 5-B4

Now I find myself a member of a group of ex-photoengravers who know the secrets of image preparation but are somewhat disillusioned by the fact that visual quality might not mean that much anymore. What a shame. What a loss.


Many of these specialist fraternity members of DIM 5-Aftercolor separators and photoengravers were summarily dismissed by the desktop publishing revolution but still hold the keys to the kingdom.

Let me know what you think about this.

For those who want to produce the very best results from digital images, I suggest you learn about the key issues of color and light as it affects digital photography. A good place to start might be to watch my online Gotta-Know Video series. It will fill in a lot of the blanks and disclose many of the mysteries left by the departure of the color separators and photoengravers. Whether you learn this from me or from somewhere else, please learn how to shape your images before you unleash them on the public. You’ll see a difference.

Watch this free introduction to my video series on light and color.

See you next time,


About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook "Digital Color Photography: A Deeper Look" from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color Fundamentals video series at
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18 Responses to Does It Really Matter Anymore?

  1. Excellent article Herb. One worth sharing…and I have!

  2. John Daly says:


    All I can say is that I really care about clarity and focus. I do mainly landscape and some abstract.
    I use the best lens I can buy. Often a tripod, even if I don’t need it. Liveview, manual focus, Hoodman, etc. I shoot with a Canon 5D MII.

    I think a lot of the photographers who come out with photos not tack on, just don’t know enough about photography and have a camera they really don’t understand.


    • Herb Paynter says:

      I think you’re absolutely right John. It’s pretty easy to buy a camera with all the whiz-bang features and buttons, but it’s a bit more difficult to understand the real fundamentals of the camera AND my favorite topic, “Color and Light.” I can purchase an airplane without taking flight lessons and ground school but I’ll be in real trouble trying to fly it without learning the basics.

  3. rusanis says:

    Thanks for the comparisons and the video. Both are very interesting and informative. Many years ago, BD (before digital), I established an MLS system for the local realtors which included photographs along with the descriptions.

    One of the first questions from listing agents was how much was it going to cost to get the photographs made. Hint #’s 1,2,3 as to the do they care? Lots has changed since then, including the supplanting of video for stills, but the overriding issue is and will always be the cost, to the listing agent. Other considerations are: how long will the photos be displayed (ans: a short as possible); what will happen to them once the sale is made (ans: trashed); what will the photos be displayed on (ans: uncalibrated monitors, laptops, ipads, smart phones – no need for quality here); will great photos make a difference (ans: not likely, the buyer is only making a decision on whether or not to go see the place, general layout and such are important, great looking walls, etc. are cosmetic and irrelevant at this point) and how accurate are the photos (ans: the buyer assumes that the photos have been doctored to make the place look better so doesn’t believe them anyway and the realtor doesn’t want the photos to look too good because them the buyer won’t be delighted to see how much better the place really is than the photos – that is, if the buyer even remembers how the photos looked).

    So my answer to your original question: Does It Really Matter Anymore? Not to realtors and many others who are only interested in cost and that the photos stand up for the short term. Note also that if the place doesn’t sell in 6 months, the realtor will probably get some new photos made from a different perspective.

    Having said that, I do think it matters to the fine art photographer and high end commercial users. You just picked a bad one to ask about. I hope you enjoyed manipulating the photos, they greatly improved the photos but if I were a buyer, I wouldn’t notice the difference, I’d want to see the real thing!

    • Herb Paynter says:

      Richard, thanks for giving me some straight answers to honest questions, but as you might imagine- I have some comments of my own. First off, I visited your web site- you have some very nice work. I too lived in Davie Florida- nice place if you like horses. My experience was back in the early seventies, so much has probably changed since then.

      Thots on your thots.
      Even an uncalibrated monitor will display a difference between a soft photo and one that is properly sharpened (note, I said “properly.” That same monitor, even if terribly out of whack, will show the difference between plugged-up shadow areas and ones that are delineated for reproduction.

      If the submitting photographer understands the imaging process, preparing the images correctly probably takes less than 60 seconds- each of the examples in the post took only that long, so there should be little or no difference. The issues is then selecting a photographer whose charges are reasonable and who understands tonality. I think I shown that even poorly toned Internet screen captures can be rescued easily.

      As to the ROI of the pictures, the agent can use the photos to produce open house invitations for that level of clientele. If the client is buying a multi-million dollar house, he’d probably enjoy moving/open house announcements made from the same photos. If I’m the agent on that sale, I’d be happy to absorb the minimal cost of these pieces out of my pretty healthy commission.

      All in all, your probably right about the value of post work, but you make my case for the astute photographer learning how to present well-behaved photos for the initial delivery.

      Thanks again for your comments.

      • rusanis says:

        I lived in Davie before many lived there, 1945-48, no horses, mostly swamp, but I have been back many times and it is vastly different even from when you were there.

        I agree with you that it doesn’t take much to make the changes and if some astute photographer presented well-behaved photos the realtor would be impressed and hire him/her if he/she presented reasonable facsimiles and was the cheapest. I’ve dealt with millionaires and billionaires and the reason most of them have money is they don’t spend any move than the have to, to get by in their business – on their personal side it’s a different thing. I wouldn’t advise a real estate photographer to do anything but the best, but do it at the house and avoid as much post as possible.

  4. Paul Baker says:

    Herb, I think the real estate example is an unfortunate one in supporting your view that “it might not matter anymore”. Yes, the agent could improve the image, but the examples you provided are more than sufficient to fuel the imagination of a hungry well-healed buyer. The agent knows it’s the site visit that counts, with their pursuasive charms at the ready to close the deal.

    In the right context, high quality well-executed images do matter, but not all contexts demand it. Real estate sales is an example of the latter in my opinion.

    • Herb Paynter says:

      Thank you for your observations. I too believe that the seduction must take place on the initial presentation on the Internet. A I mentioned to Richard, the astute photographer will learn how to present the very best visual product on the original submission. That photographer’s images will presented with the right tonality, optimized color, and careful sharpening for the Internet.

      It shouldn’t take any more time to do it right IF you understand the base issues to begin with. Photographers who learn the tonality ropes and good image optimization practices can supply their clients with great images with very little additional effort. In the high-end realty market, you attract quality customers by producing excellent work.

  5. Carl Kersey says:

    As always, I enjoy your articles tremendously Herb. Each one hits a nerve with me, because I feel your passion and the pride in the work that you do.

    Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there with digital cameras that instantly, somehow, makes them a photographer. Not to knock the talent, but the lack of knowledge of the profession and understanding it’s techniques is indeed disturbing. Their willingness and desire to learn the controls of RAW imagery and post processing requires more time and comprehension than most are willing to understand and use. Is it daunting? Yes. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely!

    I think one of the problems today is that our culture offers too much “instant gratification.” With all the high-end cell phone cameras and such, you have to ask yourself, has our acceptance quality diminished? Unfortunately, I think it has.

    For me typically, and I am sure for most everyone reading this, post production takes just as long, if not longer, than actual production time. It’s not that I take bad pictures. It’s that the camera doesn’t see everything I see. Exposure, tonal quality, contrast, saturation, and color balance all play a part in a great shot. Simply put, digital is not film. And a bad day for a pressman is just that. A bad day! That’s why YOU are here Herb, to make sense of it all.

    A lot of us “old guys” grew up on the boards, in the darkroom, stripping, prepress and actually getting to work in a press shop. We are blessed to have experienced that golden age. We hold a wealth of knowledge that the younger crowd will never get to experience. Nor will they completely understand the dynamics that each step provided to produce a great printed piece. I think once our generation is gone, that will be the greater loss. That’s the sad part.

    That’s the end of my rant. Yes, it pays to know how to shape your images. I makes you look better! …and your photographs!

    • Herb Paynter says:

      Old Guys Rule! And, it takes one to be one.

      I think you’re right on the money saying that “instant” performance and delivery has painted a picture that gadgets and technology automatically deliver quality. How sad. To my old mind, good enough is never good enough. I share the sentiment of Michael Murphy’s music… “I’m swingin for the bleachers in the ninth inning.”

      But there is still yet hope… Once a camera owner gets a taste of preparing images that really look great, they will continue to strive for that goal. This was my purpose in producing my GottaKnow video series. I’m trying to pass along the nuggets of information that I learned from the craftsmen that I was blessed to have as mentors. But it has to start with a desire (and intent) to understand the elementary physics behind good imaging.

      Thanks again Carl for you observations and encouragement.

  6. Mike Todor says:

    The never ending belief that the magic is in the camera is the demise of quality photography. There is very little understanding that the creator of the image must have knowledge and understanding of what they are looking at. I had a local real estate agent stop by with new OM-D EM-5 pissed at her camera because it didn’t give her what she wanted right out of the box on auto. I think that this is the kind of performance people expect and if there is an image that can be seen… GOOD ENOUGH!
    And so goes the industry that many of us have given our lives to… if the image can be seen, well that is good enough. Kinda makes me queasy.

    • Herb Paynter says:

      In this sense, technology has dealt the gullible public a cruel illusion that “it” (hardware and software) will magically transform any person with enough money (and gullibility) into a professional photographer. Sort of like purchasing an airplane believing that the plane will fly itself. Both assumptions result in tragedy. Cameras don’t produce stellar results, professional photographers produce professional, stellar results.

      But we ourselves had to learn that harsh lesson for ourselves. Thankfully, most of us learned to invest time, treasure, and training into our trade. A process that takes many years, not a weekend Photoshop seminar.

      I think the best path to take is to 1) continue to pursue knowledge about controlling and shaping images, 2) develop a knockout portfolio both online and in print, and 3) let your work do the talking. The one thing that cannot be purchased with a new camera is experience. Experience, confidence, and ongoing refinement of our understanding of how to make things look (and print) better. Take heart, cream always rises to the top. It’s a law of physics. If you’re a pro, it will show.

  7. lighthouse75 says:

    I agree with what you’re saying here, Herb. The important word is “optimize,” which is what your versions are; you don’t overdo it to call attention to the postprocessing technique for their own sake. That would go too far in the other direction and would be, I think, just as ineffective as the underprocessed ones. Thanks for this thoughtful, informative post.

    • Herb Paynter says:

      Thanks Nancy for noticing the difference. I think you are absolutely right. The tools available to edit images don’t have a “gaudy warning” to tell folks when to stop. It’s too tempting to oversaturate and over-sharpen images. Restraint is a talent in-and-of itself.

  8. erbPIX says:

    Yes, it really does matter. Its just a question of to whom and at what $price$.

    As a former associate used to say, it is the way of the world. I have written several times about having a conversation with a professional photographer almost 40 years ago back in 1974 during which he stated that the average business client either couldnt tell the difference between an excellent photograph and snapshot or didnt care enough to pay for it. That conversation was a major factor in convincing me to remain an amateur.

    It is one thing to engage in ones own quest for excellence. It is quite another to convince someone else of its value. Once upon a time, not long ago in fact, I had delusions about doing some home office digital editing as a spinoff of what I was doing for myself anyway. I established a LinkedIn profile geared toward that end, and even did some of the same image adjustment experimentation to demonstrate my skills (see enclosed example). But then I came to my senses. What was I thinking? Why should I subject even a portion of my life-long enthusiasm for photography to the triteness of commerce?

    [image: Inline image 1]

    [image: Inline image 2]

    If clients had the opportunity to choose between before and after on the basis of visual impact alone, theres no doubt in my alleged mind what their choice would be, each and every time. But throw in the extra cost factor and see those votes change faster than you can say goodbye. Most people the vast majority want what they want, they want it now and they want it cheap. Thats why Walmart is now the biggest retailer in the world.

    Those Real Estate Master Salesmen you mentioned might be hard to convince since theyrewell, Master Salesmen already. But maybe, just maybe, some Wannebe Master Salespeople would invest some extra shekel to gain a visual edge on the competition and create a better client draw to generate more business, the proceeds from which they could pay the extra cost on the back end (out of closing costs) after the play had proven itself. Just a thought


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