The intent of this post is in the context of the CIC aim of being a learning forum. The aim is to provide ONE point of view on digital photography. It's neither right nor wrong, it is just a demonstration of one path to the desired end result of quality imagery. Other people do things differently and produce as good or better results. The point is that each of us has to develop an understanding of digital photography and a process from field to end result that works for the specific individual and/or for a specific need.
Some years ago when I was early into digital I followed the advice of one of the popular on-line photography "gurus". The person touted straight out of camera as the only way to go and due to that made a solid argument for shooting jpeg. Since I was recently converted from film and still in my "purist" phase at the time it made sense. Now these years later I curse his advice and my stupidity because I have some shots taken during that time period with awesome content but unrecoverable exposure problems. All part of the learning process.
Anyway, now I shoot almost exclusively RAW(aka NEF for Nikon shooters), and always do so when shooting something critical. The argument for RAW is that the file contains more information and therefore more can be done with the image in post processing. With that in mind I've migrated so far as to consider the camera as a data collection device with no expectation of spitting usable images out as shot. On the other hand, that doesn't necessarily mean hours spent on the computer to convert the data into usable images. Like any workflow, once one understands what is required, it can become efficient. In fact, I am able to process many images using only the rudimentary editor found in ViewNX2 and indeed frequently batch process multiple images at the same time. (still haven't taken the plunge with LR )
So to demonstrate this concept, I came up with an example of how dramatically different an image can look SooC compared to the final processed version. This is a fairly dramatic example chosen purposely for demonstration purposes. Most times the pre/post processed images look a lot more similar than this.
Camera settings: NEF lossless compressed, Nikon picture control set to neutral and customized to zero saturation, zero sharpening. NOTE: my reason for setting the camera up in this manner is so that the RGB histogram in camera best represents the quality of the RAW capture (IOW how good the collected data is).
Manual exposure mode. Matrix metering used to sample ambient lighting by taking several shots in the area, checking histograms, then using judgment to set exposure for highlights just pushing right side of histogram.
Here is a SooC version of an eagle BIF. Chimping the image as shot looks pretty bad set up this way but the RGB histogram was as desired, the bird was in focus, and the content was good. So with the understanding of how RAW images can be converted, in the field I was pretty content that I had something useful. I was shooting with the camera mounted on a shoulder stock and if I recall correctly the serious out of level horizon was due to having to lean around an obstruction and shoot off balance.
Processing as follows using CaptureNX2 on the NEF and PSE6 thereafter:
- straighten/rough crop
- adjust WB
- increase saturation
- export as TIFF
- no NR was necessary on this image but this is where I would normally do it with either NeatImage or Topaz (Nikon NR stinks)
- layer mask of bird and adjust shadows/highlights to bring out details and protect highlights
- overall lighting adjustment
- overall saturation adjustment
- mask bird and adjust lighting on BG (darken)
- final crop/resize
And the final result:
For comparison, below is the best I was able to do in-camera editing/jpeg conversion.