The Performance and the Score

This afternoon, I was thinking about something my sister said a couple of years back in connection with last night’s post. She’d been remarking on something my brother Tom had said. It was something to the effect that yes, my pictures were good, but of course, I adjusted them all after the fact. There was the implication that it was sort of cheating.

Poppycock. As Ansel Adams once said, “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.”  It’s what you do with the negative that counts, and the same goes for the relationship between the camera’s RAW file and the final result. What you shoot in the camera is the starting point. It needn’t be the end point.

For me, the goal is generally to get an image that pleases me. I like it to have good tonal range, straight horizon lines, be sharp (unless I’m trying to be intentionally blurry), and as a matter of personal preference, generally prefer bright saturated colors, and I’m quite willing to make adjustments to the image to get it to where it’s where I want it to be. If that means correcting exposure, adjusting contrast or color or straightening the image, so be it.  Generally speaking, I prefer to crop in the camera where I can, but I’m willing to crop after the fact if I have to. I am even willing, if the image is exceptional, to retouch it, removing things like trash cans, or a hand in the corner of the picture.

There are exceptions, of course. If you’re documenting something, you need to stick to what you shot, (and frame the picture in such a way as to preserve the truth of what you’re shooting). But if you’re shooting with artistic intent, there’s no reason to stick with whatever your camera hands you.

Yesterday’s pictures were a case in point. The lighting was softish, and because brown/red was the dominant color, the RAW processor tended to overcorrect the color, leaving the picture cooler than it should have been:

Fall foliage in Medway – original version
Fall foliage in Medway – original version

And here’s what it looks like after adjusting the white balance, adjusting the exposure, adding a touch of vibrance, sharpening, adding definition and increasing the contrast:

More foliage
More foliage

Which would you prefer?