Earlier this year, the judges of Denmark’s Picture of The Year contest examined the RAW file of a submitted entry by photojournalist Klavs Bo Kristensen and decided to reject the entry for too much photo editing, especially in relation to the too surreal colors.
A view of the before (i.e. JPEG straight from the RAW) and after (processed submitted entry) images shows the tremendous exposure latitude that photographying in RAW provides you. Landscape pros love to use RAW and will tell you this is the only way to be able to recapture what they saw with their eyes, and then some.
The strength of RAW is that no [or minimal] modification is applied to the file, leaving you in complete control in post processing to eke out all the quality the camera captured. But did the photographer captured that? The question the judges faced was to determine whether applying the necessary exposure modifications in-camera at the time you take the picture is equivalent to applying the same modifications in software. Apparently, they judged it was not?
Interestingly, some DSLRs now provide some limited RAW editing in-camera. Which means that a photographer could take a picture in RAW, then wait until he or she arrived home to edit the picture in-camera, then generate the JPEG. Would the Danish judges have agreed to this? They would have been none the wiser and would have accepted this entry.
Which leaves us with the following question: are cameras becoming such a sophisticated tool that, as a photographer, we don’t have to make any decision on scene anymore? Just shoot RAW and adjust any which way you want for the most striking picture in post processing? Whether it reflects reality or not.
Or, are we still saying, “It’s not the camera, it’s the photographer” meaning that the decisions the photographer makes on location is what distinguishes him or her from another photographer? Who is taking the photograph? The camera or the photographer?
Just how much post processing constitutes “too much”? The Danish judges have basically told all landscape photographers that the exquisitely beautiful images they take (regaling all of us that “it’s all about the light“) are in their opinion not a real representation of the scene they viewed but a clever post processing of the RAW files they took. How many landscape photographers (amateur and pros alike) would admit to that? Because I suspect there’s some truth to it.
The moral? Capture the best photo you can using your camera. If you shoot RAW, then shoot RAW+JPEG. And it would help if pro landscape photographers admit that yes, those incredible pictures they take are at times more beautiful than reality because they photoshopped them — sometimes a lot.