Thursday, January 30, 2014

REVIEW: Zen of Postproduction by Mark Fitzgerald

The book, Zen of Postproduction: Stress-Free Photography Workflow and Editing, with its attractive cover is a book that just begs you to pick it up and read it. It conjures up thoughts of the stress free photo workflow that helps you to get through those terabytes of photos sitting on your hard drive that are begging for the attention that you never seem to find time to give them.

If only there was some magical change to your workflow that could help you get through that pile and find all of those diamonds in the ruff that are just begging to be discovered for our outdated portfolio web site. Alas, what if there was a way that you could finally find that awesome photo that pulls you away from the job that you hate and lets you live the dream of being the full-time photographer that you wish you could be.

Alas, all of this is what I think many people will imagine when they see this book and I honestly believe that is the hope of the author, Mark Fitzgerald, as he effectively shares his digital workflow from Lightroom to Photoshop and ending with various output types. Could this be the perfect complement to Bryan Peterson's Understanding Composition Field Guide: How to See and Photograph Images with Impact which focus on the capture portion, and this book picks up where it leaves off?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but sadly like many things in life there aren’t any shortcuts. While this book is full of reasonable suggestions and one mans digital workflow using Lightroom, there are other such books that cover the subject both in more depth (The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers) and in a more user-friendly “follow along” way (The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers). It also covers a Photoshop workflow but again, not in a way that is suitable for basics (like Teach Yourself VISUALLY Photoshop CC), or as effectively as Scott Kelby's 7 Point System, nor as comprehensively as The Adobe Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers.

So where does that leave us? It leaves us with yet another good book on the subject of photo editing and another photographers perspective on what works well for them. For those who have read many of the books I’ve mentioned individually and still are wondering how to tie things all together, this might be just the book to give them that “ah ha” moment. Of course it might also leave the more analytical types scratching their head and saying “but hey, that’s different from what <insert your favorite photographer or book here> told me, and they’d be right.

I have nothing against this book. It’s well thought out and written. It offers numerous helpful suggestions and shares the experience of what works for Mark Fitzgerald. However, it’s like getting someone’s recipe for Thanksgiving Dinner. What is great and wonderful for one person might be missing the most important thing for another, and it might be too complex for another. After all, if you don’t know how to cook then you probably don’t want a Thanksgiving Dinner book that says prepare the turkey and cook until brown. You want more details. If you know the details, then you probably want a book to give you tips on how to make the whole meal with half the effort and cleanup time, and the title of this book seems to suggest that is what it will do for your photo editing. However, what I read is your basic Photo Editing 101 overview with high level suggestions for those who already know how to use Lightroom and Photoshop, but there in lies a challenge – if you already know Lightroom and Photoshop then you probably already have a workflow that is some variant of what is suggested.

My fundamental issue with this book is that the stressful part of photography for most people that read this blog is that they have a full time job that doesn’t involve photography and very often a family that demands their attention. This results in taking photos when out with the family and barely getting time to dump them on the computer before it’s back to family duties. This results in backlogs of photos that don’t get the attention they deserve. Very often when the average person finally gets to their photo backlog there’s little time to invest in wading through the mountain of photos and giving them sufficient editing time. This is a simple hours in the day problem that is either solved by not sleeping (like me), jumping off the cliff to become a full time photographer or winning the lottery so you have time to triage and edit your photos. There’ no Zen involved – simply more time is needed where none exists.

In the end, Mark does offer his strategies for how he gets through triaging his photos as he offloads him off his memory cards. Personally I liked Scott Kelby’s workflow in his Lightroom book for triaging photos better than the one suggested by Mark, but fundamentally both accomplish something similar. This is like the Thanksgiving debate on stuffing that comes from being cooked inside the turkey or made separately – they are both good, so it’s just a personal preference as to which you like better. Ultimately this is how I felt about a lot of things in the book – it’s valid, but it’s not the way I like to do it. Perhaps, that my fault for being too set in my ways, and perhaps an amateur might find themselves appreciating the advice if this is the first time they read it. However, if that amateur was my student I’d probably have them read other books first to give them a better foundation of Lightroom and Photoshop.


I’ve written two best-selling books and a third book that wasn’t published through traditional means so it can’t garner the title of “best-selling”, but it’s earned more money than both of my best-selling books combined. I know very well the energy and effort that goes into writing a book, so as a fellow author my heart wants to always give a glowing review of books. However, I read a lot of books and I’ve tried hard to boil things down to what I think will give my readers the most bang for both their buck and limited time. This is why I wrote my Which Books Should I Read? and What Photoshop Books Should I Read? articles as one of the first articles when I started this blog. While like my Thanksgiving Dinner analogy, my recipe for success might differ from others, I’ve got a long list of readers who have been very grateful for my suggestions which gave them the info they need quickly and efficiently.

I still stick to those recommendations.

Zen of Postproduction: Stress-Free Photography Workflow and Editing is a very well written and organized book filled with helpful suggestions that have worked well for Mark Fitzgerald. I have no doubt that people who haven’t yet established their own workflow will find his recommendations to be very helpful and enlightening. However, I kept hoping I’d get to the “Zen” part that had the magic bullet that I might be missing, but I never got there. Instead, I was treated to a good book that seemed very familiar but lacked the depth of the collective of books I’ve already recommended on this blog.

I recommend this book for those who are seeking an alternative viewpoint on the digital workflow already offered in Scott Kelby’s Lightroom (The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Book for Digital Photographers) & Photoshop books (7 Point System + The Adobe Photoshop Book for Digital Photographers).

Where to order

Click here to learn more or order either the print or Kindle version of this book.

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