Fabulous Fall Foliage or a Fallacious Photoshop Fabrication?

They say that the camera does not lie! Even back in the days of processed film, this was a dubious assertion but today, in our digital world, this is no longer even close to the truth. In the modern, increasingly complex, digital cameras of today, many significant decisions are made by either the photographer or the camera itself prior to the shutter release, each of which can and will significantly affect the end picture. And that’s only half the story. Once the picture is transferred to the computer, software like Photoshop can enhance, modify and morph the content to the point where it no longer even resembles what the original viewer or camera saw with the naked eye.
In some ways, I miss the old days when all I had to do was point and shoot my trusty old Kodak Brownie 128. I still have a few shots salted away somewhere in the archives that proved that even an inexperienced teenager could occasionally get a good picture every now and again. Today, since most of the time, even when I am using my so-called point-and-shoot  Panasonic FH20, I refuse to let the camera have total control over my finished product, I have a plethora of decisions to make before I press the shutter button.

And then, just when I was beginning to think that I had things under control, I started to learn about shooting in RAW format. I have had a camera with the capability to shoot in RAW, a Panasonic FZ50, for over 3 years but until recently, I had no idea why I would want to do so. Then, I was given a subscription to a Photographic Magazine as a birthday gift which shed substantial light on the subject (and many others beside). Although post-shot processing in Photoshop can achieve many things, sometimes, you need the raw camera data prior to the in-machine processing to get the end results that you need. When using the RAW data, you can even roll back or negate some of the camera settings you made if you are unhappy with the results.

Ever since I discovered the extra leeway that you have when shooting in RAW, I have switched both cameras that have this capability to shoot in that mode. Some cameras can shoot in RAW + jpg and this might be an option for some users but personally I find that it simply clogs archives with unnecessary files. I shoot in RAW and then convert to jpg. Finally, I move the original RAW file to an archive in case I need the unedited data again in the future.

What I did not truly appreciate until fairly recently is the fact that no camera, even the most expensive and sophisticated, can match the combination of eye and brain even though they seem to be coming closer with each new generation. Whether you like it or not, you will have to make some decisions and compromises about how you capture what you ‘see’. Even if you use your camera on fully automatic, that is, in fact, a decision that will have a far-reaching impact on your final picture and you will be totally at the mercy of your camera’s ‘brain’ to make most of the decisions for you.

All of the above is background to the gallery below. This last week-end, we decided to take a trip up into the Gatineau hills to see the fall colours. I took with me my Canon 500D (T1i) and a Sigma 18-200mm zoom lens. I am still very much a beginner with this equipment. Although I have most of the theory down pat, I am still learning how to put it all into practice. The one thing that I have learned is that there is just no short cut to experience. All the knowledge in the world will not replace the trial-and-error method of improving your skills. On the other hand, if you take enough shots, every now and then you will get lucky and pull off a rare gem. For me, one of the biggest problems is deleting the so-so shots. Once transferred to my computer and post-processed, they become like hatched chicks and just to difficult to send into digital oblivion!

Just to illustrate the difference between what the camera shot in RAW and the finished post-process result, we have added the following before and after examples:

Original RAW file converted to JPG without post-procesing

For the techinically minded, the original camera settings were: 1/100th, F/6.3, F.L. 18mm, ISO 100
Of course, personal preference has a lot to do with how one post-edits any particular shot. However, certain things are obvious in these two examples. Firstly, in the original shot, the sky is lacking in both colour and definition. Parts of the clouds are blown out. Also, since the object of the exercise was to shoot the fall colours, the browns and reds in the trees seem somewhat muted and washed out in the original. Also, the grass in the foreground barely seems to be green. Yes, I may have stretched reality a little with increased vibrance and saturation, but the end result is more satisfying to my eye at least.
Without further ado, here is the balance of how I interpreted and embellished what the camera saw that autumn day in the Gatineau hills.