The trouble with digital

Options, the more we have the harder it gets. Digital post production can be fickle with too many options and opportunities to stuff it up. Can’t get the colour right? looks too digital? too sharp? over done? etc. I recently had a discussion with a fellow photographer about the tribulations of digital capture. Just because we have instant gratification doesn’t mean the job is any easier. In fact in some ways it gets a whole lot harder. Getting colour right is not just a matter of kicking up the saturation and playing about with the colour balance slider. You need to have knowledge of the subtleties of colour and some idea of the look and feel of where you are trying to get to. 

Peoples expectations of Photoshop as a quick fix can be a little high. A great image starts in camera but you are now the color lab and the printer and have to make the extra decisons to finish the job. You have to decide what looks right and what looks wrong. There’s a fine line between creating finished print that has subtle balanced “clean” colour and one that has been hit over the head with a hammer. Shooting Raw means you have to make all the decisions about saturation, levels,  removing casts and cleaning up colour palate in general. Less is more. 

I tend to use a combination of tools and like any tool it has to be mastered. Colour balance, saturation, selective colour, replace colour, Lab colour and RGB curves used in combination with a goal in mind will yield better results  every time. Don’t rely on one single sweep of the mouse. Over sharpening is another one of the biggest mistakes people make. It’s no wonder “some” photographers can’t stand the sight of a digital print when most of the work they view has been over done. There are no hard and fast rules to get the perfect sharpening result. It depends on the type of image , the print media ,size of the file and file format. It’s a Jungle out there in Photoshop land and you have to know your way around other wise you will get frustrated and disappointed with your results. The Digital darkroom is a powerful and creative tool and unlike the “wet darkroom” you don’t need to fumble about in the dark so take your time and hold back a bit. You will and can get fantastic results you just need to learn to take control of colour  and use it creatively and sharpen subtly. It can look as good as film if not better. 

I shoot two types of image digitally. One has a fair amount of creative post production applied and that is my intention. It’s not cheating or manipulation it’s a thought out creative process and my interpretation of a subject. The other is when the subject is best left alone and best represents the scene as it is with minimal post production. As close as it can get to being there. Both these processes are legitimate. In the words of Richard Avedon “all photographs are accurate, none of them is the truth”. I’ll leave it up to you to figure out which image is which. 

Liathach and Loch Clair, Torridon

The Abby, Isle of Iona

This isn’t about film vs digital (that argument for most is dead and buried) I love shooting both film and digital, and one is never in competition with the other, at the capture stage the mental process is pretty much the same it’s just the technology that differs.


One response to “The trouble with digital

  1. Hi Lightstalker,

    I am so glad someone sums up so nicely what I am trying to get right now that I have switched to RAW a few weeks and a camera ago. I am of the ‘dead an’ buried’ film and darkroom generation and have therefore more experience with black and white. But even that is not really obvious when you sit staring at all the controls… and a change of camera (both digital) is just starting all over again just when you think you start getting it right… No, it has surely not become easier. But it is fun to work on it in spite of all frustrated moments! Thanks for your lovely article…

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