Ansel Adams often said “The negative is similar to a musician’s score, and the print to the performance of that score.” Over a period of years he would take the same negative and print it in several different ways, giving the negative a new and different performance.
Today we can do the same thing in the digital darkroom. The original RAW file out of the camera becomes the digital negative. The way we process the file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and alter it in Photoshop becomes the new performance.
When I created the original file in the camera, the “score” (on the left), the only light was coming from a window to the left. It looked good to my eyes but I knew the version out of the camera would be higher in contrast. That is what cameras do. When I opened the RAW file in ACR I reduced the contrast which brings out more of her hair, the shaded side of her face, and the background. This gave me an image closer to what my eyes saw when I clicked the shutter. I also altered the color balance of the image in ACR. Then I sent the processed file to Photoshop to do some retouching and ended up with the final image, the “performance” (on the right).
This is larger version of the final image after processing in ACR and Photoshop.
But that is just one of several possible performances of this score. I could have gone with the high contrast look of the out of the camera file and just tweaked the color. Or kept the color of the original and tweaked the contrast. Or done something very different.
This version was tone mapped with Photomatix software. It is also at the top of this article
I also decided to go with a black and white interpretation using a Black and White Adjustment Layer in Photoshop.
If you want to come as close as you can to a realistic version of what your eyes saw, go ahead and do it. Just remember that no camera can give you what your eyes saw when you clicked the shutter. If you want what your eyes saw you must make changes to the original file in ACR and/or Photoshop.
On the other hand if you want to do something different and creative, go for it!
You can take your images and interpret them any way you want to. They are, after all, your images.
Photo Data: Canon 5D Mark III. Canon EF 24-105mm lens at 35mm. f/8, 1/20 sec., ISO 1600.
This article is part of the Ansel Adams series. See the links below.