The Power of Post-Processing
14 June 2013
As they say, Ansel Adams was only able to produce his incredible images because he was a master of dodging and burning his photographs. He would probably have a field day with today’s tools, such as Photoshop or Lightroom or any of the countless plugins like the Topaz or Nik filters. At the same time, it’s interesting that post-processing images is sometimes frowned upon. I’m not talking about the often bizarre beauty retouching where the person in the photograph loses 30 pounds, every wrinkle and excess skin, and miraculously looks 20 years younger. I’m referring to producing a more interesting photograph by using the various options to selectively change colors, contrast, luminance, and so on. In other words, taking the photograph is only the first stage of a longer production process. This is particularly true when shooting in raw format, which produces rarely, if ever, an image that you would want on your living room wall. Raw images are typically looking rather flat, lacking contrast, definition, and sharpness. Take this photograph of Emerald Bay, for example.
When I went up in the early hours to the overlook across Lake Tahoe (to find another dozen or so fellow photographers there), the assumption was that the sunrise would be spectacular, particularly because there was a nice cloud cover, which was supposed to be lit up from the bottom when the sun would come up on the horizon. And it worked, kinda. Just nowhere near as beautiful as everybody hoped for, but just enough to get a few clouds tinted a little bit orange. That is typically enough to fix the rest in post. So after opening up some of the dark shadows, applying sharpening and most importantly, adding the missing colors to the raw file, the result is much more an image that could end up in a frame on the wall.
The big question is this: Does it still look believable? Would have anybody even expected that this image did not entirely reflect reality? And if so, would anybody even care?