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Thursday, August 06, 2009

"Perfect" from camera or "post-process"???

I recent read a post in one of the discussion forums over at DPReview (And if you are interested in digital photography and you aren't a member, sign up! Click on the title of this post to go to the site.)

In it, the poster raised the question whether it was better to 'create the perfect shot' in-camera or to take the best one could under the conditions and then 'post-process' (PP) it using GIMP, Photoshop or similar photo-editing software. There were plenty of people on both sides of this issue - and I'm sure that any time this question gets raised, responders will jump to defend their views.

My view on this issue is simple. If you're perfect, your lens is perfect, your camera is perfect, the lighting is perfect and the subject matter is perfect, then by all means, don't bother with post-processing. For the 99.999999% of us who can't match that standard, we'll continue to PP the heck out of our work.

Post-processing can salvage a so-so image well enough to make it suitable for personal scrapbooks, turn a decent image into one worthy of framing and sending out as gifts and take a great shot and make it mind-blowing wonderful! In the same discussion forum as the thread in question, another poster had re-visited an older photo for the purpose of examining whether the shot - a wide-angle scenic might show potential when re-processed in High-Dynamic-Range (HDR) mode as well as a black & white image. I must say, I *loved* the original image (he'd posted it as a 'reference'); it captured the sweeping horizon-to-horizon vista that he had seen. And from my point of view, it clearly made me feel as if I were there.

However, his rendition as an HDR image also worked. In that image, I was less concerned with the sweeping vista as I was with the way he made the HDR settings he chose bring out the subtle variations in the light, the way the clouds shaded from white to orange to pink (early evening shot) as well as lightening the shadows of the rocks while keeping the highlights from washing out. Again, I felt as if I had been transported to the scene.

In the third image, he chose a starker, harsher, black & white technique which made the slight cloudyness appear more 'threatening'. It brought out a sense of foreboding, of an impending storm.

Each image exposed a different theme, told a different story, yet all three images were created from the same original. That might well be impossible to do without post-processing.

One final reminder, Ansel Adams, one of our greatest photographers, routinely post-processed the heck out of his images. And he did this at a time when there were no computer post-processing applications. He used his hands, chemicals, film, paper and light to alter and form his mind-blowing works.

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