We all know that a photo never lies. Well that used to be the case (or did it?), but now you’d have to be pretty naiive to think that all you get with a photo is a faithful reproduction of the light bouncing back of a subject onto your sensor (or film).
Our eyes are much better at recording and processing light than cameras probably ever will be and that often leaves us frustrated when we see the results of our labours on screen. Those beautiful beach on holiday photos with the blue sky, aquamarine sea and golden sands just look flat and overexposed when we get back home.
So what to do about it? Consign the snaps to the bottom of your digital drawer? Learn to take better pictures? (Not a bad idea). Or work with what you’ve got (remembering to try and make it better next time) and see if you can salvage anything. This of course pre-supposes that you are only doing post processing to “Save” a poor image. This ‘last chance saloon’ method of rescue reason for post processing misses the point that many photographers use the original captured image as a foundation for their later work. They KNOW that they’ll be changing the over exposed sky later as they wanted to capture some detail in the shadows when they originally took the photograph.
My take on this (for what it’s worth) is that Photography IS an art form, it’s subjective. Move the position you stand when you click – you’re making a subjective decision about what you want to show, slow the exposure setting to blur that waterfall – you’re making a subjective decision about what you want to show and so on, ad nauseum. “Yes, but you should perfect the image in camera” trill the ‘purists’. Sure, it’s great to get a pin sharp image and no amount of sharpening in Post Processing is going to make a blurry mess pop out of the screen. Sure, it’s great to get the exposure as near as you can without losing detail in the highlights or shadows, but shoot in RAW and you’ve got a little leeway (actually at least a couple of stops normally) to rescue detail lost in an average exposure. Get home, pull the image into Lightroom and you’ve got the opportunity to create a more interesting image than you originally captured. You can try and make it more like the scene you saw with your eyes that the camera misinterpreted, or you can stylise what you saw to make an artistic statement. Or not. You could keep a flat washed out image with a composition that was weighted all wrong and so on.
And don’t think the old timers didn’t do their own post processing. Iconic American Landscape Photographer is quoted with saying;
My Brother James Finch (a hobbyist photographer of greater consistency and much longer standing than myself) once related to me a story about he and a friend debating Musicians and Bands, neither was liking the other’s choices and were defending their own tastes. The friend then said something along the lines of, “You know Baskin Robbins? They make all kinds of ice cream flavours…”. This viewpoint has stuck with me and I often reel it out when a discussion develops about something subjective to which there are as many views as people in the discussion.
The original photo in the body of this post (1) was taken in the late afternoon on a cold winter’s day. It looked much better in real life than the photo came out. I just happened to be there with my camera, no tripod or filters so what I saw was (not) what I got. Out of interest for the purposes of this post, I did a few tweaks in Lightroom (2) to make it a little more noticeable. I added some changes to the colour, some sharpening and a little tilt shift. Finally I went overboard (3) and added a horrible (IMHO) HDR effect. Are any of these right? Well that’s your call.
So purists, you can slurp your vanilla photos straight out of the box (1). Me? I’m going for the Pecan Nut and Honey Crunch (2). Just make sure I don’t have to speak to the garish Raspberry & Mars Bar Swirl with optional Caramel Mint Swirled Orange flavoured Bubblegum chews aficionados (3). Irony intentional.
And if you don’t agree with anything I’ve written or don’t like my images, just remember Baskin Robins and make one of your own that makes you happy. Who knows, I may just like your new flavour!
Thanks James’ mate.