How many times have you heard a photographer who is working with digital say they don’t believe in altering the image and want to show exactly what the camera recorded? I’ve heard this saying a lot and I totally and completely disagree with this statement. My hard drive full of camera raw files is much the same as my paint box full of tubes of paint. It is nothing more than the raw materials for creating an image. Hands on manipulation is needed to create a work of art.
When you take a photograph with a digital camera, depending on the camera and what mode you are shooting in, you are capturing a digital negative. Although it is a real photograph and can be printed and used as it is, you are missing so much of the possibilities for showing the depth of details and range of light tones that the camera is capable of recording. To simply turn a few knobs and press a button does not make one an artist. A monkey could do that. The artistry occurs with what happens after you press that button.
When we shoot with film, we are producing a negative (or positive in the case of slide film) that requires processing. How the film is processed, to a large degree, determines the quality and depth of the resulting image. In both digital and film, you then have to go on to produce a print. Both mediums offer more opportunity to process the image to enhance the qualities of that negative. So when I hear a photographer say they prefer to show the true image, straight from the camera, I equate that to the professional photographer who takes their film to the local 1 hour lab for processing. They are missing the true potential for producing a finely crafted image.
In film, darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning were often used to increase the range of light. These same techniques can (and should, imho) be used with a digital negative. Perhaps one of the biggest differences between processing a film or digital image is that with film the processing is a two step affair. 1. Process the film. 2. Process the print. With digital the processing of the negative and processing to print are often done at the same time, but not always.
How an image is processed will determine the mood and overall feeling of the image. With both film and digital it is easy to go too far with the processing. With film that often meant a ruined set of negatives, or a ruined print. With digital, as long as you are working with a copy the only thing lost is time. Even basic adjustments can have a large impact on the image. Those early adjustments to tone, contrast, saturation, and sharpness can affect the mood of your image too.
Digital imaging should not be a dirty word. The skill required to process an image digitally to good effect is just as much an art as it is to produce a hand crafted print from film. The options for how to processed are varied, and the choices made will determine the overall mood of the image.
I think where digital photography, and especially digital processing images, starts to get a bad rap is with over processed images. Although what constitutes an over processed image is largely a matter of taste. I dislike the plasticy look of many HDR or tone mapped images. Although to say, I hate HDR is completely false, because there are some photographers who use the technique to increase the range of light and tones in their images to create a completely natural looking image with terrific vibrancy and life.
The image above may be closer to how our eyes could view the details of a scene by being able to adjust our focus instantly, but to me it’s an awful representation of the place. It doesn’t represent how the scene felt – it lacks mood and emotional impact. For my tastes and my style, it’s gone too far with processing and has completely missed the point of the image. Although the image at the top is one I enjoy, it too really doesn’t represent the emotion I wanted to portray. For that I found the black and white version below was able to represent my voice best.[SinglePic not found]
That is the real beauty of post processing though. One photograph can tell a dozen stories all based on how the image is processed. It is the voice of the artist which dictates the story, not the mechanical actions of the camera. So why don’t you do a little experiment today? Take one image and see if you can tell 4 or 5 (or more if you are ambitious) stories through different processing options. Send me a link if you post or blog about your experiment.
*A few processing notes
For basic camera raw processing I increased exposure, shadows, vibrance and saturation. I decreased contrast, highlights, whites, blacks and clarity. I also adjusted the tone curve, applied sharpening and noise reduction in Adobe Camera Raw. The same adjustments can be made in Lightroom. All other images were based on this raw adjusted photograph.
For the top image, Prairie Inn, I used Radlab to create a bright summer scene. I then used the Atelier Texture “William Turner” blend mode Soft Light, with slightly reduced opacity.
For the B&W version, I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex to do my black and white conversion; and again used the same William Turner texture as above, but this time I completely reduced saturation to stop any color cast.
These adjustments, and many more can be achieved through a combination of ACR and Photoshop processing. Never be afraid to experiment.