What You See… Isn’t Always What You Get

As a graphic designer, I can usually tell when an image has been processed or altered. While some purist might disagree about using a processing software to enhance photos, personally, I think it would be very difficult to shoot a picture that is magazine quality without some kind of post-processing. Despite the fact that I try to compose a shot, as close to the final image that I want, and use correct settings — most of my photographs still require some post-processing regardless of how technically correct I might have been. With the digital camera, I noticed  more often than not — what you see isn’t always what you get. And some subjects are more difficult than others to get the correct exposure.

For me… one of the most difficult subjects to get a good straight out of the camera shot is sunset. The biggest challenge is getting the right exposure of the bright sky but also the rest of the landscape. If you choose the correct exposure for the sky, you lose landscape details and if you chose the landscape; you end up with overexposed sky. Also, the intense colors of the sunset often get lost in translation.

I know there are special filters and lens available to help with this problem but being the cheap cost-effective photographer, I try to get by with what basic tools I can afford. Seriously though, I think that by shooting with less; I become a better photographer because it forces me to think outside of the box. Of course having good darkroom software for processing is crucial.  It can help you change a mediocre picture into something more appealing and dramatic.

In Lightroom3, I adjusted the tone curve: highlights, lights, darks, and shadows to bring out the details of the grass and waves. I change the white balance to bring out more of the reddish-purple hues of the original sunset.This also intensify the clouds to give it more of the bright glow from the sun.

And sometimes… an image might look fine straight out of the camera…

But becomes more interesting when converted from its original state.


11 Comments on “What You See… Isn’t Always What You Get

  1. Great post Emily. Ansel Adams spent hours dodging & burning in the darkroom, “post-processing” is just that, part of the process of producing the final image.

  2. I appreciate what the purists do but that definitely is not me. Most of my outdoors shots require processing, especially things like panoramas. I want to give the viewer an experience of what the scene would look like if they were standing there and I can very rarely get that 100% right in camera. I also have fun with the processing software – I recently bought the Nik toolset and it has been a blast going back and re-discovering some of my older images as I see what the new software can do with them. Bottom line – it’s art. Do whatever you want to express yourself. That’s my $0.02. 🙂

  3. Well, I obviously don’t have an issue with post-processing of my photos. Post-processing is just part of the process I go through to achieve the image I want. As far as I’m concerned each and every artist uses the tools they need to create the art (or image) they visualize. If one artist likes creating their images purely in camera and eschews post-processing, that’s fine as long as they are achieving their vision and not just refusing to post-process purely on some sort of principles. The vision is the key. The means by which the vision is achieved is not important. Of course, some photography is about capturing the event and lack of processing is sometimes important.

  4. I tend to go the purist route myself. The only photos I take that get any work done to them at all are foliage shots taken with a Nikon D 50, only because it does such a poor job of reproducing those types of shots. I know that the photos I post to my blog aren’t perfect, but knowing that I won’t alter them after the fact makes me much more aware of what it takes to get shots as good as I do. That also makes me work harder to get the best shot I possibly can, and that is making me a better photographer. I think I would get too lazy if I altered my photos after the fact.

    I don’t have a problem with other people reworking their photos, I think you do an excellent job, of both photography and using software to get the results you do. But, I see many other photo blogs where the photographer takes poor shots, then relies on software to make up for their poor photographic skills

  5. I agree – most of my pictures have some degree of post-processing, even though I’m (generally) aiming for a natural result. What the camera captures in not what they eye sees, and sometime you need to compensate for that. I’ve found the trick with sunsets is to slightly underexpose, it seems to make the colours more vibrant.

  6. These images are beautiful and I admire those who can use their software to enhance their photos rather than try to create them from software. You show some great examples and surely know what you are doing with the tools you have! We certainly have more flexibility these days as a photographer and can have fun experimenting with what works for us. I admit that I’m not so great with software so I tend to rely more on hardware that I have, while I get up to speed on other tools. Thanks for sharing Emily! I wish we lived closer so I could hire you to teach things you know.

  7. I think photography is a form of artwork, and post processing can be a valuable in helping create your vision. I don’t have a problem at all with it, and in fact, use it a lot myself since I don’t have thousands to spend on fancy lenses, etc. Use what you got, and think outside the box! You are awesome at what you do, Emily! 🙂

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