Strange how I feel the need to defend myself every time I go to post a highly processed image. This is because it was drilled into me very early in my photographic career that a photographer's job was to get it right in camera. Processing was for sissies, wusses and incompetents who didn't know which end of the camera to shoot out of. Yet the best photographers, including the true greats such Ansel Adams always insisted that darkroom skills were every bit as important as camera skills. I won't try to second guess what Adams meant when he said "You don't take a photograph, you make it," but I suspect he was at least in part referring to the importance of post processing in the art form.
Yes, it's great to try to get it right in camera, but sometimes that just isn't going to get you a good result. While some photographers might be inclined to give up and go home when conditions aren't perfect, I prefer to approach my photography in the field with an understanding of what colors and details can be coaxed out of a photograph with patience and the right software.
Take, for example, the image below. I took this photo while sitting on a rock with my legs spread out wide to keep out of frame. I was holding the camera right in front of me, inches from the ground, thinking about how so many Youtube photographers insist that you can't take good landscape pictures without a tripod.
I liked the placement of the rocks, the flow of the water around them, the reflection of the setting sun, the scattering of the clouds and the tonal gradient of the sky. But I hated the total lack of detail in the foreground owing to the fading light and the direction of the sun rays. I was also dealing with the relatively limited dynamic range of the camera sensor, much less forgiving on a Canon than a Nikon or a Sony, and the need to under-expose in order not to white out the sky. My only option was to expose for the sun and the clouds and try to bring up the foreground in post processing. I knew I could squeeze a few stops out of the rocks and the water in Adobe Lightroom, so I framed up as best as I could (shooting on live view it is very hard to see the orientation of the horizon) and pulled the trigger,
Not exactly an award-winning effort. But after about half an our in Lightroom, it was looking a lot better. I started by correcting for lens distortion using presets (I was using the kit lens on my Canon 100D, so it was an easy automatic fix. Next I leveled the horizon and cropped. After that, I brought up the shadows and crushed the highlights in order to compress the dynamic range. I chose an appropriate while balance for the image as a whole, applied a gradient to the sky, selectively painted spot white balance adjustments with brushes on the ocean and rocks and tweaked all the colors. The result was worth the effort.
The differences are subtle and the image doesn't look as highly processed as it is, which was my goal. That said, there's no way could have achieved this result in the camera, no matter how much I played with the settings.
The takeaway point is that processing is, without a doubt, at least 50% of the art form. Rather than walking away from a photograph that didn't quite make it in camera, I chose to see what could be done in post processing, and I'm glad I did. I'd hang this in my house. Would you?
Thanks for reading.
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.