Process Versus Results: Which Is More Important to You?

Some photographers love the meditative process of film photography: it's tactile, immersive, and for some, evocative. However, there are those among us who put this traditional practice on a pedestal, claiming that it is the only true form of photography. But as long you get the image that you want, does the process really matter?

Coming to you from Pye Jirsa of SLR Lounge is this video, which discusses some of the more dogmatic views that are held within the photography community. Broadly speaking, some photographers put more weight on how an image is made rather than what the final product looks like. Pye is coming from the perspective of a professional photographer, and his argument is based on what the client wants and cares about, using four examples to illustrate his point. His first example relates to film photography and the experiences of friends who chose to adapt and adopt new technologies during the digital revolution. As he says, those who chose to accept the new technologies, seeing them purely as tools to get the final result continued to prosper, while many of those who shunned DSLRs ended up bankrupt.

I would hazard a guess that most clients don't care about how you take a photo or how it is processed. I've never heard a client say: "Oh, I would prefer that you edit this in Adobe Photoshop as opposed to Affinity Photo." Yes, certain types of photography, like the Collodion process, produce uniquely evocative images that can't really be replicated on a computer, so there will always be a niche for such a specialization.

Have any of our readers ran into such entrenched views? Do you have clients who prefer that you shoot with film? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Mike O'Leary's picture

Mike is a landscape and commercial photographer from, Co. Kerry, Ireland. In his photographic work, Mike tries to avoid conveying his sense of existential dread, while at the same time writing about his sense of existential dread. The last time he was in New York he was mugged, and he insists on telling that to every person he meets.

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My creative education is in design, not photography. Our senior instructor was a huge proponent of results over process. He didn't care what materials or processes we used as long as the sketches and renderings we produced described the form, color, materials, etc well enough that anyone could see what it was supposed to be. I totally agree and pursue photography in the same way. There are certain things I prefer to do in camera but at the end of the day what comes out of the camera is often just the beginning. It is raw material (No pun intended) to be shaped and molded into whatever vision I have for that particular project or series, using whatever tools I feel necessary to achieve that objective.

There is a great quote from that senior instructor that I keep in mind always. During a critique, if the quality of a student's work didn't match their verbal descriptions about goals, process, etc. the senior instructor would simple say, "My eyes don't hear you." While it obviously means that you can't talk your way out of a bad grade for a bad sketch, that results speak for themselves, I think it also infers that fetishizing process over results is foolish if results are the ultimate judge of what is most important. It doesn't mean that process is unimportant. It just means that you shouldn't be a slave to it if you aren't getting good results. Desired results.

I think your teacher would care if you drew on green paper all the time. But you probably would choose something more pleasing before starting which is a process, just like you would use the right pens or paint to aim at his satisfaction and get a good grade. He didn’t care how you would get to your final work, yes, that’s your problem, but he probably would judge you on the process of selections you decided on before starting, because it would affect the result no matter how great your sketch would be.

Jeez, I'll never watch a video with this guy again. Takes more than 10 minutes to tell us what exactly? That the final photograph is the most important thing of the whole process? Yes, exactly! Who had thought so? - But maybe I got it wrong and is all about waving your hands all the time in front of you. This must be the secret message! I'll try to decode it.


I think i disagree with what u say about getting it right in camera because the more you try to get right in camera the less work you have in post processing

Not only that but you don't make the optimum use of the sensor which detract from the point of paying for higher end equipment.

Since I'm still learning/growing in post processing, I stay away from presets. Once I understand the vast majority of controls and sliders in LR and PS, then I think I can invest in presets for the sake time efficiency. Now, I've created some actions in PS because there were a number of steps that took up time. Since I understand what each step does, the action is merely a time saver. And, yes, I think I'm one of those old codgers that believe you should try, as much as possible, to get it done in camera: composition, exposure, color, etc. Sometimes you see something that works after the fact and you can use a crop or some such to "correct" things. But, post should an extension of the camera and your vision. After all, the camera can't do it all and neither should post.

I completely aggree (btw, im 13 yrs)

For me the process is AS important as the final result because they're interrelated.
I would rather choose a process that I love doing because in my case it will look better.
As I'm looking to have fun with what I'm doing I will always choose the most enjoyable process.
Same goes with the food, eating just for the sake of feeding myself is boring and depressing, I need to enjoy what I'm eating.

Correct me if im wrong, but i think we are talking about the process in the context of what the world cares about, the world only cares about the end product, and hence the process is immaterial to the WORLD, but for u and me the process maybe important, and the process being important to u and me is perfectly fine

Except for you (and maybe your mom) NO ONE CARES how you created an image...they ONLY care what it looks like!! This applies to film vs. digital, 'natural light' vs. strobe, medium format versus iPhone etc... The only line I draw is over-manipulation in post processing IF you are creating an image that is supposed to be 'real'/news/documentary...

Excellent post. As a 30 year veteran of this crazy business, I have learned that photography is not an exception to the laws of business. Things change constantly. You either grow and change or you get left behind.
Paying clients don't really care how you got there, they just want the "there".