Thursday, May 29, 2014

Why Postprocess Images?

Some have asked what is the point of postprocessing images. Here is an example of why I shoot in RAW and postprocess afterwards. This image was taken in RAW+JPEG mode so that I had a RAW and a JPEG image to work with. The image on the left is a camera-created JPEG, with no postprocessing (the famous SOOC). The image on the right is a RAW image after minor postprocessing.
Click picture for larger view
(Shooting specs: Nikon D800, AF-S Nikkor 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR lens at 34mm, 0.3 sec at f/14, ISO 50, on tripod, with Hoya HD circular polarizer, SD Picture Control).

Notice how my interpretation is quite different from the camera's? That's the point!

Camera-created images will rarely have the snap of a postprocessed image. Notice how I have pulled a bit more detail out of the water, where the camera burned it out. RAW images simply have more "headroom," or the ability to access a larger amount of highlight and dark image data. At the same time, I selectively raised the brightness, increased contrast, and added a small amount of extra saturation to the colors. If you had done the brightness and contrast increase as a global operation on a JPEG, the background would have improved, but any detail in the water would have been obliterated.

Years ago, I didn't like using flash. I told everyone that I just liked natural light photography. Secretly, flash was never one of my strong points in photography. Later, I learned how to use flash and suddenly, I found I really enjoyed flash photography. I honestly feel that shooting RAW and then postprocessing is similar. Many photographers don't have the tools or know how to do serious postprocessing, other than global adjustments. Therefore they don't "like" post processing. Later, they aquire some good software tools, learn some techniques, and finally understand the limitations of SOOC.

The camera's built-in software can rarely give you an ultimate picture, for the simple reason that the camera is an averaging device. It wants to make things as average as possible. Unless a person seriously tweaks their Picture Controls, or uses full manual, the SOOC image is created according to the standards of the software programmers at Nikon.

The human eye can probably see twice as much dynamic range as even the best of production cameras. Therefore, no JPEG image can even come close to capturing the full range of what the human eye can see. There must be a way to add to that dynamic range to make it closer to what a human can perceive. The RAW image, with its greater "headroom," contains significantly more detail to call upon. When converted to JPEG, the image can contain a better representation of what the human eye initially saw.

Therefore, in reality, a postprocessed image is more accurate than any JPEG image can possibly be. I know these are fighting words to some, however, other than photojournalists who have no time to postprocess images, the majority of fine artists postprocess their images for a serious reason. To capture reality more closely to what they perceived with their own eyes.

This is why many photographers—especially landscape artists—shoot in RAW and postprocess the image. You have more detail to work with and the final JPEG image can look better after postprocessing.

Keep on capturing time...
Darrell Young
Dancing clouds on Blue Ridge Parkway
Darrell Young is an active member of the Nikonians User Community, Nikon Professional Services (NPS), Professional Photographers of America (PPA), North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), and the author of 15 photography books from NikoniansPress through Rocky Nook, including Beyond Point-and-ShootMastering the Nikon D610Mastering the Nikon D800Mastering the Nikon D7100, and the upcoming Mastering the Olympus OM-D E-M1, to name a few. He’s been an avid photographer since 1968 when his mother gave him a Brownie Hawkeye camera.
His website,, was created to support the readers of his educational books, photography students, and clients. Visitors to his website will find articles and reviews designed to inform, teach, and help you enjoy your photographic journey.
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