Do you post-process your images on the computer using an image-editing program? Or do you prefer to let your talent and creativity stand as the photo comes out of the camera? It’s a question that excites opinions on both sides of the fence, and one that we’ll try to get a balanced handle on this week.
The first thing to understand is that every image has been processed, it’s just a matter of to what degree. From a photographic perspective, there is no such thing as a ‘natural’ or ‘unaltered’ image – the moment you hit the shutter, different levels of, for example, contrast, saturation and sharpening are all applied in-camera according to factory presets or user defined parameters. Even film is processed of course, yielding different results depending on where and how it is processed, and it also has to be scanned – another form of processing leading to various outcomes – before being viewable online. Some photographers proudly proclaim that they never ‘process’ their images on the computer. We can now see that this is patent nonsense. Images do get processed, be it with the camera’s software, or using different chemicals and then via the scanning software. It’s a matter of how much processing has been done and how much control you have had over it.
Having said that, you should become familiar with your camera, exposure, light and color, depth of field, composition and how all these things interact and combine to produce an image. The goal should be to get that image out of your camera in the best possible shape. I know I always feel sense satisfaction when I have to do a minimum of post-camera processing to achieve the vision I have for a particular image. However, sometimes your vision for an image goes beyond what you can achieve in-camera, and sometimes a considerable amount of work in an image-editing program becomes necessary. A great example of this is low available light (very low light with no flash) photography. Noise (grain) can be removed and exposure and color saturation can be increased dramatically by using high quality image processing software, producing results that are otherwise unobtainable. Quality black and white images from digital shots are likewise only obtainable via post-processing.
I’ve touched on the idea of cropping several times in this column, and I’ll do so once again. The goal should be to get the perfect composition before you hit that shutter, but until we’ve achieved that zen-like status, a bit of cropping can’t hurt. Actually, cropping images in the computer to create better compositions is a great way to improve your ability to compose effectively through the viewfinder. You learn what to look for and how the elements in the frame interact by moving that frame around after the fact.
The point is that you absolutely cannot get an image you have captured with a camera in front of anyone without it being processed somewhere, somehow, along the line, so there is absolutely no shame at all in indulging in and admitting a bit of ‘photoshop’.
For some great pointers with regards to composition and processing from some of the best and most helpful expat photographers in Korea, check out the Seoul Photo Club on Flickr.
By Aaron Raisey