Alias: 'Disco Dude'

Uncompromised Quality Photography
By Photographer Dan Harris

A home-studio photography business in Jacksonville, FL
1124 Riviera St.  Jacksonville, FL  32207 (904) 398-7668

Professional Digital Cameras and Post-Processing

By Jacksonville Florida Photographer Dan Harris

Since much of my website is read by new photographers worldwide seeking competitive information I thought it would be good to give my two cents about digital capture and processing of professional images. Hopefully this information will help the future photographer to advance in their professional career.

The first assumption I make here is I am talking about professional digital camera capture and post-capture processing. Consumer digital cameras have totally different design objectives, quality and architecture. Attempting to take 'professional' photographs with a consumer 'think-for-you' camera will ultimately lead to great frustration and disappointment because the camera will always try to 'out-think' you so you will never get consistent results especially in tricky situations and even when you think you are overriding the presets the basic design of the camera will only let you make minor adjustments but will never give you full control.

The higher-priced, better-quality professional digital cameras not only give you better quality image files but offer much more user control of the settings and processes within the camera. They are much faster and are better built to withstand rough conditions (heat/cold, humidity, abuse, etc.)

A professional digital camera set to "P" (program mode) only offers a limited amount of advantages over a consumer/amature camera and will eventually create a high level of frustration to the true professional because it won't always do what you want it to. Camera manufacture's, to some extent, have done a disservice to the professional industry by incorporating lots and lots of 'consumer' bells & whistles into their 'professional' digital cameras.

In the old days a Medium to Large-Format professional camera came with minimal 'bells & whistles' everything was manual. To begin to create any type of image with such a professional camera you had to have some level of training, instruction or proficiency before you could even operate the camera. In the old days someone that owned and used such a camera got immediate respect as a professional because not anyone could pick-up such a camera and produce a picture. Today's professional cameras have lots of automated features which can be convenient to the operator but have lost their prestige because anyone with a large chunk of money can own one and without any professional training be able to use it as a very expensive 'point and shoot'.

Professional photographers proficient in film photography often have a difficult time making the transition to digital. It takes lots of time, energy, expense, experimentation, etc. to finally get it right. A digital photographer ultimately becomes their own processor and lab whereas a film photographer would send the film off to a lab who all the 'post-processing'.

The first biggest obstacle is digital sees light differently than film. Good thing the digital camera has that 'experimentation' display on the back so you can shoot, erase, shoot, erase, shoot, etc. Many film photographers did minimal post-capture processing of their images the lab had total control of the image after the exposure was made. Today two-thirds of the quality of a printed digital image is determined by the post-capture process. So now the new digital photographer who hasn't yet figured out how to initially capture the image correctly, because they are shooting like they did with film, sends it to the lab to 'correct' and print the image and the lab (who also may be new to digital processing) has a difficult time getting a quality print due to the inferior quality of the original image file. It's a catch 22!

Then to make bad matters worse there are a lot of 'experts' teaching how-to classes on digital and they really are only sharing their very narrow, egotistical, one-sided view (kind of like this article here) then there are manufacturers taking advantage of all this confusion by getting paid 'experts' to peddle their wares with great confidence and expertise to the masses who have the word succor written across their foreheads.

My first word of advice... don't believe the hype! My second word of advice, take it slow and don't take shortcuts. Learn digital the same way you learned film, start with the basics and begin in MANUAL mode! Too often the new professional digital camera owner gets all excited about the 'bells & whistles' and throws out all their years of past training. It takes longer to truly learn how the 'programmed' processes of the camera work and how and when to use them and when best to override them. Many of today's digital cameras have been patterned after the automated 35 mm cameras thus reducing that learning curve for anyone proficient in modern 35mm SLR technology.

Once you can shoot quality images that are completely processed by a proficient lab then you can take the next step into learning some about your own processing. I think too many people jumped into digital photography100% and about killed themselves because they not only had to re-learn how to take pictures but then they had to learn how to become a processing lab. The ones who jumped in first were the blind leading the blind! Because digital capabilities are endless the learning curve is also endless.

I think it is best to decide exactly what you want to accomplish digitally and then properly learn how to do each 'baby-step' along the way. As you experiment and try different things you will eventually determine what really appeals to you and what you don't want to do. I know a lot of digital photographers who enjoyed their film photography days of being out taking pictures but now resent the fact that they spend all day behind a computer and have invested too much in their 'new' digital process to be able to turn back.

RAW vs JPEG? The battle rages on! Don't go by everything you are told, don't get distracted from the goal, go with your gut. Start with the end product in mind then take the best path to achieving the best quality product that will accomplish the need. Any path to success is met with lots of decisions and lots of compromises in the end the best choices create the winning combination. Technically and scientifically RAW captures more information... what you do with that information is key!

Just as in politics and religion there will always be someone there to make you feel guilty or inferior because you don't do it their way, be different, learn and try their way then come up with your own! Photoshop has proven there are hundreds of ways to do the same thing. Both my children and my accountant remind me that my time is valuable, make the most of what little you've got.

As a rule-of-thumb I decide how much post-processing I plan on doing on my images BEFORE I shoot them. If it's an internet catalog shoot with hundreds of items and no budget for re-touching I shoot them all JPEG with my in-camera settings geared toward the final output, i.e. small file, higher sharpening, in-camera contrast enhancing, etc. If I am shooting a family portrait with the final outcome to be a very large printed image for the wall then I will shoot RAW with no in-camera processing because I know eventually I will want to do lots of re-touching prior to creating the final output size, prior to applying the final sharpening and will want to keep the original raw 'negative' for future manipulations.

Some photographers are promoting top-quality JPEG settings with minimal in-camera sharpening and then post-processing from there. Based on my workflow, I find the RAW conversion step to not take much more processing time especially for the added image quality benefits and I have enough digital cards/computer capacity to not worry about the storage differences, so if I plan to post-process it's RAW otherwise it's JPEG.

See also: Frequently Asked Questions

*Click on logo to download Kodak's booklet about photographic print longevity.


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