The Truth About “Getting it Right in Camera”


Photoshop and other image manipulation software are wonderful things, they allow us to manipulate images in a way unimaginable in the days of film, yet it also can make us lazy. With photoshop we can crop our images, correct our exposure, add filters and change the color temperature all to improve the look of our image. Now whilst these are powerful and useful facilities, their overuse can lead to loss of photographic skills and an over reliance of   Photoshopping.

There is a very powerful argument for getting it right in the camera, not only to keep your photographic techniques in tip top condition but also, and ironically, because if your images coming from your camera are optimum, then any subsequent Photoshop manipulation will also be of the highest quality. Let's look at some of the things that you should get right in the camera.

Why Nailing Composition is a Key

Cropping is not a new thing, it has been around since the first photographic enlargers arrived on the scene and basically involved over projecting the image size compared to the print paper size. Of course the main issue with this is the reduction of image quality, and the very same holds true for digital cropping.

If you are constantly cropping your digital images to get the best composition you are effectively reducing that 24mp sensor to much less. Use your feet, move position, zoom in or out, think about your composition carefully before firing that shutter and you will find you are dramatically reducing the need for cropping in post production and hence will improve your image quality.
Even minor cropping reduces quality by Vanessa Pike-Russell, on Flickr

Getting Exposure Right

Really there should be no excuse for poor exposure in today’s modern cameras. Granted, the exposure meters, may get it wrong occasionally but you also have tools to aid you to get it right, the histogram and to a lesser extent the LCD screen. Even the correct metered exposure may not be the correct one for the look you are trying to achieve, you might want to under expose to retain the sky, or over expose to get a high key look but you still need to keep the exposure within the tolerances of the sensor.

Learning how to use the histogram will enable you to not only understand your sensor but also optimize your exposure. If you step outside the sensor’s “comfort zone” by not reading your exposure correctly, you will not be able to improve the image in Photoshop. A classic example of this is called clipping, this occurs when the images is over exposed beyond what the sensor can read, resulting in unrecoverable highlights, this is seen as the pure white points often seen in blown skies.

Getting exposure right in the camera allows you much more headroom for further post production.
Getting your exposure right by popitz, on Flickr

The Truth About Filters

The addition of filters in Photoshop can dramatically improve the look of images, however as with above, there will be some image degradation. Using filters on camera allows you a much greater range of control over the image for significantly less loss of image quality.

There are of course some filters that cannot be replicated in Photoshop, polarizers and neutral densities being the most obvious, and these should be considered important elements of your kit bag.
You will get a better result using these on camera by [martin], on Flickr

What About White Balance?

If you shoot RAW, then white balance is something that can be changed in post production, however, if you shoot JPG, an incorrect white balance can be devilishly difficult if not impossible to correct in post production.

As with exposure, the tools are there to aid you to get it right in camera. You have a both a series of preset white balances that will cover most bases and more often that not the option to create your own white balance preset. Even if you shoot RAW, it is best practice to think about white balance and set it correctly, if only to keep the technique fresh.

There will be a time when you need to shoot JPG and there is the possibility you may forget to look at the white balance setting.

As you can see, getting it right in camera, should be seen as a compliment to Photoshop, by getting the very best quality image from your camera you are allowing yourself a much wider latitude for manipulation in post production.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

There’s not much to discuss about this topic from my point of view.

Why spend hours with photoshop to make a mediocre photo acceptable when you could spend a few minutes of working out a proper exposure and composition and spend maybe half an hour with photoshop to cook some good RAW ingredients into something really great.

because using photoshop is not always about “making a mediocre photo acceptable”, it’s often about making a good/great image even better (and it doesn’t always take “hours” as you suggest). Why deny yourself of a useful tool based on some false generalization?

Note fahrertuer wasn’t saying that you should throw away any usage of Photoshop.
In fact, you are arguing for exactly the same thing that fahrertuer said: to use Photoshop and similar post-processing tools in moderation to make a good/great image even better.

Of course, to do that, we assume that there’s a good/great image at the base — i.e.: getting it right in camera.

Sad thing is that nowadays, many people don’t bother with their camera technique, since they reason that they can always correct it in post. I think that’s something we all agree can be improved.

Read my post again.
I’m not against the use of photoshop. (Although, personally, I use GIMP – but that’s just because Adobe is unwilling to release a version of photoshop that runs on Linux)
I’m just against the use of photoshop as a crutch for bad technique.
Do the exposure and the framing right, use some filters to tame the light and you’ll only have to do the fun part with PS and not the annoying parts

“… if your images coming from your camera are optimum, then any subsequent Photoshop manipulation will also be of the highest quality.”

This is gold for me.
Photoshop can save bad photos but it most probably will not make then over the top amazing.

For me, photoshop is there only to give a few small retouches.
Any more edition to photos I would not call that person a photographer but a graphic designer.

Was Ansel Adams and Fred Archer GRAPHIC DESIGNERS? They invented the analog version of Photoshop and HDR. To that I respond with a prose I wrote roughly ten years ago.

You’re given a location and told there will be three people, two jets, two cars and a motorcycle. The wind is blowing, you cannot shoot outside, you have to shoot in everything in a hanger and you have three hours to set up and shoot. Do you deliver the following RAW image to your client? (This image appeared nowhere else, but on my desktop.)

or do you think there is a chance the client might like the following images better? All created from THE SINGLE IMAGE ABOVE. (This image appeared on 22′ wide bulletin boards in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles.)

You are NOT going to create THIS image IN CAMERA. I don’t care how much ESOTETICUSBULLSHITICUS you sling.

This reminds me of an amazing photographer I met on a shoot who was a wizard with film camera, infact pretty much any camera, I remember he reconfigured 3 totaly different film cameras to match, faster than it took me to set up my tripod. His prime directive as he put it, was to never use photoshop and upload his photos directly to his site, whether or not this is true im not sure because its hard to believe…

THANK YOU SOOOOOOO MUCH. I am a 60 black female who used to do the old school photography. It is quite refreshing that the basics are not forgoten. Always believed PHOTOGRAPHY was an art form. You have revived the art form. Now if only wr could process the old way too.

I’m also old school, but getting used to Digital.. But my old habits have followed me and I think for the better.. The fun is getting the shot the best you can in the camera. It requires knowing your equipment and understanding many other things such as light and composition.. When every picture counted and cost money as with film, it made me much more aware of all aspects of getting the good shot. I still do it that way.

Ditto for me Aywalker and Ajax! Old School here too, and agree wholeheartedly that getting it right in the camera is a solid axxiom, regardless the technology. Now, if there was only some way to see better in the viewfinder (bifocals 🙂

Who cares?
I understand it’s a point of pride for a photographer to say they don’t rely on editing software. But how many photographers would tell a buyer they did or didn’t use Photoshop etc.? I’d guess very few would clutter up a potential sale with that kind of information.
Does a buyer need or want to hear about the the technical aspects of how artwork is created. They don’t buy artwork based on whether the artist used a sable brush, pigs hair, Windsor & Newton or Grumbacher any more than they care whether the lens was a 50mm, 400mm, or a Gaussian blur set to overlay mode was used layer 2 to set a mood for the work. They buy works based on their criteria of what’s going to look good on a wall…
The tools are there to be used or not. It just depends.

Rich: I disagree with you wholeheartedly, when i see photos that are so amazing i think; wow cool, but when you hear that what your seeing is 100% real it makes you wonder the time, effort, skill, technology it must have taken and most importantly coincidences and history that must have occurred to get that photo, the life risked or the story behind it, only then does it become a real story, a place in human history and that is what one ponders on when looking at such a photo. Its like looking at an old rusty toy, you can see scratches and dents from where its been played with and you can see in your imagination the life of that child much like an artifact is to an archeologist.
Now the photographer that JasonCoby: rightfully mentioned is a monumental idea and does exactly that and in my eyes is what real photography is about otherwise all i imagine is a someone being artistic with a wacom tablet. That may be considered art or science fiction but not photography.
When you say “whats going to look good on a wall…” you are talking about artwork.
When a Photoshopped picture is passed on as real then it is fake history as National Geographic might say.

I have no problem with Photoshopped photos as long as it’s not passed as a real photo, how many photos on the internet can you say with 100% certainty, or any certainty for that matter are genuine? Only the ones labeled apparently, thats why all photo competition rules state that a RAW file image must be captured and must not be manipulated further than adjusting the exposure, for photographers like alienito and other untouched photography sites i consider their photos to hold more value for which you have to admire their skills.

“What is Alienito’s purpose?
More than anything to capture moods in a single frame or video, to show what the human eye cannot see
and invent new ways of using a camera.”

Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s like my wife once told me, “your potential sale is not going to be another photographer, they have their own pictures”. So however you get from point A to point B so be it. As long as your happy with the results.

Thanks for a generally well-balanced opinion on the matter.

I’m no fan of the `SooC’ mentality; it seems imbalanced to spend thousands on kit and then choose *not* to invest commeasurate time and effort to simply polish the job off in post.
Case in point: levelling horizons. You will almost *never* get it perfect in-camera, even with hotshoe bubble-levels and live-view orientation displays; yet a tiny fraction of a degree error makes all the difference between a work of art and a crappy-snap. So, prepare to do some fixing for this, at least.

“There will be a time when you need to shoot JPG and there is the possibility you may forget to look at the white balance setting.”

Curious when this time is that I’ll need to shoot JPG..

I shoot many different types of photography and have yet to find a situation that demands I shoot JPG.

I have had many motorsports photographers tell me that I have to shoot JPG to “get the shot”. I routinely shoot 3000 frames in a day at a motorcycle race and still shoot only RAW. I never even consider JPG as an option. I prefer to shoot raw all the time to keep my options open in post.

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