There is an argument coming from photo purists that “honest” photography must come straight out of the camera… with no post production. Post-production is looked at like a crutch. I’ve even heard the comment that “I capture the image in the camera and don’t rely on Photoshop to make it look good. I just get it right in the camera.”
For anyone who has their feet wet in both film and digital photography, this statement is well-intended but silly; and it seems to emanate from two camps: the new breed of digital photographers shooting with the latest technology, and seasoned professionals who have always enjoyed the luxury of movie sets, broadcast studios, photo studios, and other controlled lighting environments. The intent of the statement is well-meaning but idealistic and even a bit snobbish. The real truth is honest photography is developed outside of the camera. Very few times is the lighting perfectly balanced and the exposure ideally dialed-in to produce spot-on perfect images right out of the camera.
All of the great film photographers relied heavily on post-production for all of their prints. It was simply known as darkroom work. You see, simply exposing film with a camera doesn’t produce a viewable image. Only when that exposed film is developed (using one of a number of unique development solutions and varying times) does a tangible negative appear. And until that processed negative is put in an enlarger and exposed onto paper (using a variety of differing lens settings, filters, hand ballets and exposure times) and then bathed and rocked in developer (for an unspecified time) is the image even viewable. Even then, most initial prints are evaluated and then reprinted at least once. I personally have built and owned three professional darkrooms over fifteen years and know this to be true. Digital image post-processing is simply the digital darkroom.
Even in the digital world, where many “cameras” are like computers with lenses, do I rarely allow an image to be seen without tweaking the exposure (including the ones below). I’ve been studying how light affects photographic images for four decades and have finally concluded that light is rarely controlled, it must be coaxed and cajoled to replicate what we see with our imagination.
W. Eugene Smith considered darkroom work to be 90% of a photo’s creation process and Ansel Adams stated that “only half the photograph is produced in the camera, the other half is created in the darkroom.” I side with them.
That’s the way I sees it, let me know what you think.