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.