Get it Right In the Camera

Man on the Chau Phraya

Man on the Chau Phraya

If you hang around on photography forums or blogs enough, you’re eventually going to hear someone say “Get it right in the camera”, “I never edit my photos” or “You shouldn’t need to tweak your photographs.” While I understand where these people are coming from (especially in the first one), I think these kinds of statements are extremely damaging to beginning photographers.

Here’s the thing: You should never feel scared to press the shutter button. While I appreciate (and agree with) the idea that a photographer should have full command of his/her equipment, the learning and creative process is far more important as you start out. Editing photos isn’t a crutch – it is a way to extract what you were looking for to begin with. There is nothing wrong with making adjustments after the fact – Ansel Adams made plenty of adjustments in the darkroom. Editing will help rescue images that didn’t come out quite right as you’re trying new things, too.

Also, the “get it right in the camera” crowd are getting tweaked whether they know it or not: The camera applies a certain amount of adjustment for saturation, contrast, sharpness, etc. for JPEGs by default, and most editing software like Lightroom does the same thing for RAW files as well (though of course in the case of RAW you can change/undo 100% of what the software applies).

At the end of the day, your goal as a photographer is to end up with the best composition and exposure possible. As a learning beginner, both of those things can be improved after the fact. Hopefully you wind up with an image that makes you happy and learn what to do next time that makes editing less necessary. As I’ve improved my photography, the kind of editing I do is different. It is probably fair to say it is a lot less and certainly I strive for an image that is as close to done as possible when I press the shutter button. That said, I’m a lot more interesting in having a photo I’m proud of, and if editing gets me there I have no issue with that at all.

So that’s it: Edit, learn from what you’re having to adjust and improve. And most importantly: have fun with your camera!