I'm sure than sooner or later upon showing your work to somebody else you are inevitably going to hear two questions/statements:
- You have a really nice camera!
- You use Photoshop, don't you?
After calming that killer instinct deep inside that provokes you to act against the person you have in front of you asking question one you concentrate in question two, that is not as nearly aggravating as question one. "Of course", you think as an answer. Post-proccesing is an essential part of photography, almost as much as technique, lightning, etc, and has been around in the craft since day one. Ansel Adams, one of the greatest landscapes photographers of all times, use to spend hours inside the darkroom for each image. Hours. That "Do you use Photoshop" question is like asking in the film era if you develop the pictures after finishing the film roll or you just keep the negatives inside the roll. It's true that digital cameras take .JPG files, but if we own a camera that gives us the option of taking images in .RAW, why would we let the camera give tweaks to our work negating our last input? A .JPG file contains only a fraction of the total information taken by the camera. In contrast, .RAW takes all the information possible from the scene, letting you play with those extra MB of information.
Style and Consistence.
Post-processing let us give that final touch of our own photographic "personality" to the image. Do we like cooler looking images or warmer? Contrasty or low contrast? Sharp, with high clarity or dreamlike? And once we get those settings up according to own preference, we do have to show consistency in the approach we have. If you don't control post-processing settings tightly (and even though we are technically consistent every step up to shooting the picture) our work is going to lack a distinctive signature in the aesthetic side. Ansel Adams could have been a master of composition, but if he lacked in consistency in the darkroom, he wouldn't have had that distinctive look that made him famous.
Let me show you a small example of the difference between letting the camera decide the final look of the image vs. giving our last final input in post-processing.:
I just shot the watch while writing this article. I know it is not artistic or the subject is not completing but I wanted to illustrate the differences. The .JPG lacks contrast, sharpening and colors are in the warmer side for my taste. The shape of the table is distracting, as well as the dust on top of it (I admit, I have to clean it up a lil' bit). Again, is my taste. You can like the .JPG more than the processed RAW. Art, after all, It is just a matter of taste.
The .RAW file has nothing fancy done: just pumped up the contrast, adjusted the white balance, increased clarity, sharpened and adjusted the curves. In order to reduce the distraction of the external hard drive in the right top corner, I added a slight vignette. Maybe your results while doing post processing can vary completely from mine, but it is just fine! There is no right or wrong in arts there are trends, and those are just that, trends.
If you do not use RAW, I strongly recommend you to do it: a whole new world opened up to me when I started doing it. It expands the boundaries of creativity to a level that I'm sure you have not experienced before. Name it Lightroom, Photoshop or any program (not Intstagram please!) that allows you to creatively extract all the power from .RAW files.
In future articles, I'll cover specifics about post-processing, techniques that I use and personal experiences.