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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.
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.
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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.
[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.