What To Do With All Those Images

There's no doubt that digital allows you to blithely shoot away without concern for film and processing expense and to record every possible angle and compositional permutation, with bracketing to boot. In that, it has freed the image from the implied cost of every snap of the shutter--not to worry, you paid for most of that up front. Now what you get to spend is time in downloading and processing those images, and hopefully editing to your best along the way. With everything else digital has done it has certainly given us all the potential to be custom processors and printers, something that only a select few mastered, and many people paid for, in the past.

Think on how you would increase sensitivity of the recording material in the past. You might swap out for a higher speed film, or even "push" the film, with the concomitant increase in contrast and grain, using lengthened developing times, a trick limited to certain limits of speed and the exclusion of color negative film. Now you simply find the ISO setting on the Menu and turn the command dial to increase speed, still with an increase in contrast and noise, albeit heavily processed out in the image processor or later.

What happens after exposure is even more impressive. As regular readers know we are proponents of shooting in raw file format, even with its bothersome proprietary nature. This gives you the most image information and levels of brightness, as well as a seemingly infinite set of options for a whole host of image characteristics when you "convert" it to a more universal format such as JPEG or TIFF. That's where the processing steps begin, and how "far" you take it is up to you and your need to manipulate or correct each image.

In my book there are two primary directions in image processing--corrective and creative. The corrective part is where you make up for the problems you might have had with exposure or with the settings you or the "default" camera setup provided. This can include the basic four steps every image needs--exposure, contrast, color, and sharpening. From there you get into the creative aspects--the fine-tuning of burning and dodging, the retouching, and even the subtle color and toning changes that differentiate a recording from an expressive image.

The point is that digital images, be they from a digital camera or scanned from film, give us all the potential of being our own custom processor and printer. In fact, it might even yield too many choices, something that you have to limit if you wish to spend some free time in your life away from the monitor and mouse or stylus and tablet. The variations you can attain are unheard of in the history of the visual arts, in both the emulation of other forms and the exploration of new ways of re-creating or completely changing what you photographed.

To me, processing and printing my own work is the way I complete the circle I started to inscribe when I first pressed the shutter release, or saw something before me that I thought would be worth my while photographing. There is a great deal of satisfaction in engaging in the post-exposure part of the craft, not to mention the memories and thoughts it engenders as you revisit the moments you took the time to record.