Modern digital cameras are amazing pieces of technology, capable of capturing amazing image in breathtaking detail. Their low light performance and dynamic range are incredibly advanced over cameras of just a few years ago.
The camera plays an essential part in the creation of photographic art, but capturing the image with a camera is only the first part of the process. You carefully compose the image in your mind, set the camera to capture the composition, finalize the camera settings, then open the shutter. Done, right?
Here is where there is a major divide between photographers. There are those of the “get it right in camera” camp, who believe that you should set up the composition and all camera settings so that once you click the shutter the image is complete. The image is “right” and ready to be printed or shared.
The other camp is the “post-processing is an essential part of the image-making process.” Those photographers are of the opinion that once they have made the exposure, they have the raw material for making an image, and now they apply their creativity to finalize the image.
Post-processing begins immediately after the shutter closes, within the camera. How much processing, and what type, depends on what
type of file you have told your camera to save. You have two choices: jpeg (or jpg) and raw (not RAW – it’s not an acronym.) If you are serious about your photographic art, you should be capturing raw files and post- processing them yourself.
When you have your camera capture jpeg (Joint Photographic Experts Group) images, your camera does the post-processing automatically, before it saves the file to the memory card. All the decisions about what to do with the image have been determined by the engineers and coders who designed and manufactured your camera, as selected by your camera settings. You have effectively given artistic control of your image over to others.
You can process jpeg images, of course, but you will have limited ability to change many
things. The camera will have thrown away many (maybe even the majority) of the pixels originally captured during the exposure, and you will have a much-reduced ability to make changes as if you had a raw file.
A raw file contains all the data that the sensor was able to capture during the exposure. The camera is a passionless observer, simply capturing the light you make available to it. It is incapable of artistic interpretation – that part of the photographic process is uniquely human. Editing the raw file to produce a finished image is necessary to develop the photographer’s artistic sense.
Colour and brightness are two of the factors that can draw the viewer’s eye in an image. If you want to be an artist, you need to be able to manipulate colour and brightness (along with other parts of the image) to determine the path the viewer’s eye will take on its journey through your image. The camera’s processing to render a jpeg image
has no idea about the content of the image, and is unable to do this. Only a human editor has this control over the finished product.
With the large number of pixels in an image, and the low cost of storage, there is really no economic argument to be made against capturing raw files. Inexpensive, or free, software for editing raw files, makes this available to everyone.