What Is Digital Alchemy & How Can You Use It In Your Photography?

Written by Carmen DoCampo

Carmen Docampo is a writer with a passion for capturing the world through words. With a background in photography, marketing and design, she's a creative force to be reckoned with. When she's not typing away in her laptop, she spends the day exploring new projects like knitting scarves for her cat.

Published December 7, 2023

Being a photographer is about so much more than just pointing and shooting. Regardless of what type of photography you’re doing, the journey from creative conception to the final image requires a clear vision, attention to detail, and immense skill. Together, these traits, combined with technical skills, can result in stunning digital alchemy.

Digital alchemy is the transformative process a photo undergoes through being edited, refined, and fine-tuned to perfection.

To better understand how to do this, let’s explore what makes post-editing and processing so integral to image-making mastery and how you can become a digital alchemist as well as a photographer.

Digital Alchemy Defined

In the world of fine art, digital alchemy refers to the process of transferring printed images onto a variety of different surfaces or materials, such as stone, metal, wood, or fabric.

However, as technology and the merging of it with traditional art mediums has evolved, the term now takes on a much broader meaning. Digital alchemy can refer to any creative digital process in which an artist edits or enhances an image for the purpose of achieving a particular creative vision.

In photography, and in this case, we are focusing on digital alchemy as a method for post-processing images on a digital platform, such as Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Express, or Luminar.

Being a photographer is about so much more than just pointing and shooting. Regardless of what type of photography you’re doing, the journey from creative conception to the final image requires a clear vision, attention to detail, and immense skill. Together, these traits, combined with technical skills, can result in stunning digital alchemy. Digital alchemy is the transformative process a photo undergoes through being edited, refined, and fine-tuned to perfection.
Post-editing techniques used to enhance the natural look of the image.

Why Digital Alchemy (Post-Editing) is an Art

The digital editing process that follows a physical shoot plays a crucial role in the outcome of an image. It’s where the magic happens. Or, at the very least, becomes fully actualized. Adjusting the contrast, lighting, hue, shadow, and exposure of an image is where it reaches its true potential.

Without strong post-processing and editing skills, photographic talent becomes limited.

The variety of digital tools and resources we have access to today empowers photographers to take their image-making practices to a completely new level, thus pushing the boundaries of photography itself.

By developing comprehensive digital alchemy skills in the photographic field, you can create more compelling, engaging, and dynamic images for your audience to enjoy. Just as there is freedom in capturing images, so too is there freedom in refining and elevating them using technology.

Being a photographer is about so much more than just pointing and shooting. Regardless of what type of photography you’re doing, the journey from creative conception to the final image requires a clear vision, attention to detail, and immense skill. Together, these traits, combined with technical skills, can result in stunning digital alchemy. Digital alchemy is the transformative process a photo undergoes through being edited, refined, and fine-tuned to perfection.
Post-editing techniques used to colour balance and even skin tones.

How to Master the Art of Digital Alchemy to Enhance your Photography

When it comes to enhancing your photography through the prowess of digital alchemy, there are a couple of things everyone should know.

Similarly to how conceptualizing and executing a photo shoot requires serious skill and experience, so does the art of post-processing and post-editing. If you want to improve your digital alchemy skills, the only way is through consistent practice—and a little bit of creative experimentation.

Let’s take a look at a few different ways any photographer can enhance their work through the magic of digital alchemy.

1. Use the Right Digital Tools and Platform

First things first: get the right tools. Without a good digital platform to work from, your post-editing and visual alchemy processes will be woefully limited, which is unhelpful for both your image-making and professional skill development.

The digital tools you need to achieve the highest level of creative control possible will vary depending on what kind of photographer you are and what kind of creative flair you have. However, the highest-ranking photo editing and post-processing across the board include:

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Capture One
  • Luminar
  • Snapseed
  • Afterlight
  • Adobe Express

These apps all require monthly subscription fees, but what they offer in terms of technical and creative value is immeasurable. Plus, they enable you to evolve your photographic skill set, charge better rates, and access a wider client base.

2. Experiment

Another way to enhance your digital alchemy skills is to experiment with them. Visual alchemy, by nature, is a creative practice, and by allowing yourself to explore different ways of expressing it, you can not only learn a more diverse skill set but also discover new ways to make your photos stand out and tell a story.

Set aside time to play around with your post-editing or post-processing software with no particular goal in mind—just familiarizing and experimenting with the tools that are available.

By taking an inherently experimental stance on photo editing and development, you can become a more accomplished digital editor and hone in on a more unique creative style.

3. Learn the Lingo

Post-processing and editing photos are about much more than just cropping, exposure, and color adjustments. There are loads of different tools and terms you will need to learn if you want to fully harness the potential of digital alchemy, such as:

  • Frequency separation: the separation of colors into different layers for more exact editing
  • Gradients: slow fade effects
  • Composites: combining and layering multiple photo overlays
  • Dodge and burn: lighten or darken specific zones of an image

These are just a few examples of the tools and references you may encounter on a digital photo editing tool. The more you learn, the easier and more accomplished your digital alchemy skills will become.

4. Invite Commentary on your Work

Critical feedback, honest opinions, guidance, or support can all help you refine your skills and create beautifully edited photographs. There are plenty of online photography forums where you can ask for valuable input from others in the field.

Alternatively, if you’re not shooting people and don’t have any privacy or copyright concerns, you can create your own portfolio and ask for guidance from the online community, too. If you’re shooting people, ensure you have their permission before using their images in this manner, especially if you’re actively looking for advice and criticism. 

Being a photographer is about so much more than just pointing and shooting. Regardless of what type of photography you’re doing, the journey from creative conception to the final image requires a clear vision, attention to detail, and immense skill. Together, these traits, combined with technical skills, can result in stunning digital alchemy. Digital alchemy is the transformative process a photo undergoes through being edited, refined, and fine-tuned to perfection.
Post-editing used to enhance the sunrise and clean up the pavement in this image.

Conclusion

In the world of photography and digital image-making, developing strong editing and post-processing skills is essential. Without them, your photos run the risk of appearing flat or underwhelming, even if your subject is the opposite of that.

Digital alchemy invites the artist within the photographer to come out and experiment with different details and finishes, allowing for a more succinct and compelling visual result.

In its purest form, digital alchemy is both the ability to see an image’s untapped creative potential and having the skill to take it there. By learning more about the importance of post-processing and refining your digital alchemy skills, you can expedite your growth as a professional photographer.

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