Shooting for Post-Processing
The popularity of High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques, focus stacking and other post-processing strategies to go beyond the traditional limitations of single-capture photography is on the rise. If you're not shooting with post-processing in mind, you should be.
All sorts of things are possible in this age of digital photography. One wonders at what past photographers such as Edward Weston and Minor White would have made of applications like Photoshop and Lightroom. Of course, post-processing has always been important. Even in the days of film and the chemical darkroom, photographers modified the how their film was developed and printed to achieve results difficult or even impossible to achieve otherwise. Push and pull processing, dodging and burning gave photographers a way to detail with the limited exposure latitude of film, color correction and other filters provided a way to remove or alter tint and tone. And then there were the folks who played with double exposure and even more exotic techniques in pursuit of their creative vision.
No, post-processing is not new to the digital era. It's just that digital makes this sort of thing easier and more powerful. I find it interesting that, at the same time that the number of people calling the mobile phone in their camera of choice is climbing, the interest in use of more significant cameras seems also to be on the rise. I think at least part of this is due to the widespread popularity of social media such as Facebook and other online photo sharing sites. But I also think part of it is due to the nearly as widespread popularity of photo editing programs. Not everyone feels justified in licensing professional but expensive software from Adobe, but cheaper alternatives (and even free ones) are everywhere. Clearly part of the interest in photo editing and optimization stems from seeing everyone else's killer images on Facebook, but I think there's more than that. This sort of tools let you make your images look the way you thought they did when you shot them. In your mind's eye, that's what you though you saw. Or what you wish you had seen. And for just a few bucks (or even free) you can try your hand at making that happen even if they didn't come out of your camera the way you thought they did.
Early digital darkroom techniques sought to mimic traditional chemical darkroom processes, but I feel we're now in a new era where software companies are using computer code to build tools previously only dreamed of. If even.
Some may view Photoshop, Lightroom and other tools of the digital darkroom as being necessary evils to be avoided when possible. But others of us view them as a means to finally create the images we which we could. The way we saw them in our minds eye. The digital darkroom should be and can be more than just "fix it later in Photoshop."
Many of these newer digital techniques involve shooting a number of images related by varying a single parameter such as exposure or focus distance, and then combining the series to create a composite rendering not possible in any other way. Facing a scene with an extremely wide range of brightness and darkness? Easy. Just take a range of shots varying the shutter speed (don't do this with aperture as it affects depth of field too significantly) and then blend them (or "tone map" them, if you prefer) to create an image that covers everything without burning out the highlights or losing any more shadow detail than you want to. Speaking of depth of field, if you need more than your camera optics can provide, this too is now easy. Just shoot a series of images with the exact same exposure settings but with varying focal distances, and then merge them to keep the parts from each with the sharpest focus. You get the idea.
But the bottom line here is that many of these post-processing techniques benefit from foresight and pre-planning. Post-processing doesn't mean you can wait until later to think about how to shoot the images you will be using.
HDR, focus stacking and similar techniques may be fairly easy now with the right software, but not unless you first plan out your series of shots, and then execute on your plan.