It appears to me that even today, after a decade or more of digital photography, that post processing is perceived as “the digital stain” that alters photographs from what they “should” be. Hashtags and photo themes like #SOOC (for “straight out of camera”) try to establish a most nonsensical sense of purity. A purity that simply doesn’t exist in photography. It never has.
The camera catches a one-eyed glimpse at a scene for a more or less short period of time – and that 2D rendition is supposed to be an accurate rendition of reality? How? Color rendition depends on white balance, raw profiles, software and camera profiles – and that interpretation is an accurate rendition of reality, but deliberately shifting colors in post is not? Unless you’re using a color checker, you never know what the real color was, anyway. #SOOC is a myth*.
As I previously said, we need to embrace post processing as a natural part of the entire photographic process. It appears to me that “talent” these days cannot be limited to the moment it clicks alone – it has to extend into the realms of post processing as well. Especially since digital images coming “SOOC” tend to be flat, neutral and dull, lacking character; but also because the looks achieved in post processing have shifted the general perception of photos. Or how do you explain the success of mundane cellphone snapshots with an Instagram or Hipstamatic or whatever else retro filter slapped onto them?
And that’s where the quality of the data you’re able to capture (by utilizing techniques like ETTR, using 14 bit raw data instead of JPEG, etc.) might make a difference as well. Not between success and, well, not really failure, but staying below the full potential of the image. I recently compared images from Algodones Dunes that my wife made with the D700 with my D800 captures. Despite the fact that the D700 also captures 14 bit raw data, it was simply not possible to process the images in a similar fashion. The D800 data contains “more” and it goes beyond resolution. There’s a difference in dynamic range and color depth that nicely illustrates why the camera does matter.
Also, if we could value the artistic aspect of a photo alone, then the absence or presence of noise, camera shake, the accuracy of color rendition and all that wouldn’t matter. But that’s not the case. For example, critical sharpness often is an aspect that makes or breaks an image – and that simply is a technical aspect (of many), and not an artistic one.
I don’t think it’s possible to draw the line between the artistic and the technical values of a photograph. The two are overlapping, and depend upon each other. We are rarely presented with “ideal” conditions were everything in a frame is just right. Some people use neutral density filters to tone done a bright sky. Others do it in post. Film photographers used to and still do dodge & burn** to change the distribution of light and dark areas, bring down a sky that is too bright, and lift up the shadows, just like digital photographers employ digital techniques to achieve the same thing: bring out what really matters in an image.
Just like a composer might dream up the most magnificent piece of music, without being able to write down the notes and/or play an instrument, it is in vain. Post processing is a necessary skill for a photographer. All the talk about “getting it right in camera” will only get you so far.
*) camera-JPEGs are just raw files that are processed by the camera’s internal JPEG engine, in other words, they’re subject to the camera makers interpretation of colors, contrast, etc., within the parameters and modes that can be set in camera, like “Vivid”, “Portrait”, etc.
**) Additional reading: Ansel Adams and Photography before Photoshop – I rest my case!