Remember the days before Photoshop? When the photographer used his skill and experience to capture an image even though the scene was far beyond the film’s dynamic range? When “post” (post capture processing) meant pushing or pulling during film development or dodging and burning during enlargement? When a graduated neutral density filter could span the four or five stop difference between the foreground and the sky? When the photographer spent hour after glorious hour behind the camera, trying out different color filters, different speed film stock and different exposure combinations in his or her quest for a decent image?
In some ways I miss those days and find myself now spending more and more time trying to get back to my photographic roots. No, I don’t miss the cost, mess and hassle of film development and darkroom work, but I do miss the time spent behind the camera working on various techniques to perfect my craft. These days I seem to spend four hours in Lightroom and Photoshop for every hour behind the camera. I’ll be the first to admit it. I love digital imagery but not the tedium of post capture processing. Sorting and keywording is obviously important but boring beyond belief. Processing RAW files into finished JPEGs is more interesting but after a while, even the allure of CS4 begins to fade.
Take this image for example. I could have spent hours using various Lightroom/Photoshop techniques creating an acceptable image from a RAW file where the dynamic range of the scene far exceeded my camera’s capabilities. Yes, I could have bracketed three to seven exposures and blended these into an HDR image in Photomatix. Or I could employ a simple 4-stop, soft, graduated neutral density filter to tame this scene’s dynamic range to show the incredible cloud cover over these rolling hills in central Texas on a hot July afternoon. It took me four or five exposures before I got the image I wanted “in camera”, but the resultant RAW file took only seconds to process in Lightroom before the scene looked as I remembered it.
Here’s the important part! I enjoyed creating this image “in camera” much more than I usually do with images I have to “fix” in Lightroom or Photoshop. It took longer to capture this image but far less time to post process and for me, the enjoyment of photography is being behind the camera looking through the viewfinder.