Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting it Right in the Camera

When I used to look at photography forums more than I do now I can remember seeing a lot of people talking about how they don't use programs like Photoshop because, "they get it right in the camera".  I suppose the implication is that only photographers who lack the skill to "get it right in the camera" need the help of a program like Photoshop.  And at the extreme there seem to be those who feel it is some kind of virtue to never let your image be touched by a program like Photoshop. Post-processing of images seems to have gotten a bad name. My own belief is that this viewpoint may be a product of the digital age where some may be unaware of how much post-processing goes on in the camera and think that what they are getting is some kind of pure image.

A camera either using a digital sensor or film is just recording information.  That information requires interpretation to make an image. Back in the film days when many photographers had the experience of developing and printing their own film the need for interpretation was more easily seen.  Especially when it came to printing images there were decisions to be made that could result in dramatically different images from the same negative.  Making a successful print often depended as much on your skill in the darkroom as it did on your skill with a camera.  In a lot of ways the relationship of darkroom to camera was similar to that of camera to Photoshop today.  And many of the tools in Photoshop have parallels to skills that are needed in the darkroom.

With digital if you use a output format like jpeg you may get an acceptable image, but be unaware of how much your camera has done to the image to make it look that way.  First if your camera is capable of also putting out raw files at greater than 8 bits then your camera has made a decision to throw out a lot of the information it recorded.  Your camera also has made decisions for you about things like sharpening and color saturation.  While this process may end in a satisfactory image it would be wrong to believe that the image received no post-processing. Actually it probably has undergone an amount of processing similar to what it would were it a raw file processed in Photoshop.  The only difference is that the decisions about what the final output will be is left up to the camera instead of the photographer. For me I would prefer to make these decisions myself even if that means a little extra work in Photoshop. Even if your camera doesn't allow for raw files it may be possible to change its settings so that it does as little in camera processing as possible.  The images may not look as good to you out of the camera, however you will have more flexibility to shape the image the way you want it to appear.

I use jpeg as an example because I tend to doubt that anyone who has used the raw file format would be unaware of the need and even the advantages of making your own interpretation of your images. And to me photography is about having the ability to make my images look the way I want them to. I think the philosophy of "getting it right in the camera" if that means just accepting whatever interpretation the camera decides to make of the image is a limitation and not a virtue.

Well, I suppose this is my first rant post.  I don't really have a problem with taking the pictures you get from a digital camera and being happy with them the way they are.  It is more the sometimes smug attitude I see in some who talk about how their images are Photohop free.

Not related to the post, however I had to add an image.  Taken using an Imperial Reflex 620 with Fujicolor.


  1. I loved your "Rant" post. It's fun to rant. I rant on FB sometimes. It takes my edge off.

    The film vs. digital. I never really understood why people get so up in arms. I was out shooting my Mamiya RB67 at Christmas, and there was a gentleman ice carving a statue, and I was taking my time framing the scene. Focus, distance, focal ratio, measuring the light with my handheld 1970's Selenium L398, and this guy watching me commented. "you know, they make digital cameras for this now".
    The first time I heard this I wanted to get mad, because it's like someone is calling you stupid. But, now I just look at it as an opportunity to show them the camera.
    I love the film thing personally because it makes me slow down and thin about what I am doing. But it's also fun to go out and shoot with the Nikon D90, so I can tweak the ever loving heck out of the HDR photos I shoot. As much as I shoot with the digital, I do believe the big difference in quality is really in the lenses. You like me, like older cameras. The old lenses on the old cameras were just better than the kit lenses on these Dslr's. My 40 year old film rangefinders put out a crisper photo. For me I love the aspect of digital, but I also love taking my time with film. Digital, is like take 150 pictures and process. Film is like a lazy day hanging out at the Wharf, drinking latte's and waiting for the photo to find the camera rather than for me to take a million photos and post process finding the one that looks ok. It like the difference between finger painting on my iPad or dipping my fingers in little cups of paint and getting dirty making a picture. I just like getting all mucked up with paint all's just "funner".

    1. Well said. I have had some of the same feelings. I do like the way film makes me slow down and think about what I am doing. Especially when I am using a lot of different cameras which operate in different ways. I think that returning to film has also improved my digital photography. It is so easy with digital to just take a lot of pictures and hope something turns out. Now I find that I take a lot fewer pictures and get better results.