When photography was done with film cameras, there was no way to see the final result until the image was developed and printed. During the printing/enlargement process, the photographer would employ certain techniques in the darkroom to lighten (“dodge”) and/or darken (“burn”) certain parts of the image to bring out the details and colors. Nobody thought there was anything wrong with these darkroom techniques. More radical image processing techniques, such as solarization, were obviously in the realm of image manipulation, though perfectly acceptable as an art form.
With digital photography, the darkroom is replaced by an image editing software, such as Photoshop. Without getting your hands dirty or spilling foul chemicals all over your darkroom (bathroom for many of us), we are able to try various image editing techniques to obtain the results we’re after. For years, professional photographers have kept more or less mum about just how much post processing they do to their images. As is now more and more apparent, image post processing goes much further than mere lightening and darkening. It often even strays into what would be considered as digital image manipulation territory, with techniques such as removing unwanted elements, cloning areas, adding colors, adding sunlight, etc.
Take, for example, the beautiful “Stirling Ranges” picture by Peter Eastway. In this article at Luminous Landscape, he shows you how he took a beautifully composed photograph (though not quite with the Wow! factor — the kind that you take all the time, right?) and convert it into a masterpiece in Photoshop. By the way, that photograph was taken with a nearly US $44,000 medium-format Phase One IQ180 on a 645DF body that captures 80-megapixel photos measuring 10,328 by 7,760 pixels. So bigger and costlier and more megapixels do not necessarily guarantee better pictures.
Eastway enhanced the colors of the foreground hill and even added a light source to the right so that it looked like the hill were being lit by a sunbeam. The final effect after all the Photoshop editing is done is magical enough so that the edited image “has been accepted into the International Loupe Award’s Medium Format category. It will be printed to one metre in size and exhibited around Australia and Asia.” It is indeed a beautiful picture.
So, for those who are in a never-ending search for the “best digital camera,” perhaps it’s time to improve your image editing skills instead. Rarely is the light as “magical” as you wished it were, nor does your camera (however expensive it is) always capture the scene before your eyes in all its glory. I would be the first to agree that it’s better if you can capture the scene as is, but if not, post processing can turn a well-composed but bland-looking picture into something you will be proud to hang on your wall.
Unless you are submitting that edited (dare we say, manipulated) picture into a photography contest (where image manipulation may be disallowed), what and how much editing you do for your own personal image enjoyment is always perfectly OK.
But please, just admit, like Peter Eastway does in the article, that you (and your expensive professional DSLR) did not take that [final] picture. You photoshopped it. And it’s OK. [You want to avoid this kind of controversy.]
It’s probably just a matter of time before manufacturers add enhanced Art Filters as an exposure setting (after aperture, shutter speed, ISO and WB) that would apply curves adjustment, lightening, darkening, color saturation, etc. to allow you to select the effect(s) you’re after to either match the scene you’re looking at on the screen or to even enhance it. It would all be realistic-looking though (no dopey, aren’t we all tired of it by now, Instagram art filter effects), so that future photographers won’t even be aware that they are digitally manipulating the picture (unless they are aware of what is going on in the firmware and also save the image in RAW format).
That time may be coming sooner than you think.
Read the article and view the beautiful image at: Luminous Landscape.