Forget about it.
I hear it, read about it, and it is one of dumbest and misleading phrases around; “Get it right in Camera.” Usually this saying comes from ‘wanna be’ professionals, students, and camera sales types, but I also hear it from some professionals too. It’s nonsense or pure BS and so is the phrase ‘straight out of the camera,” or SOOC, which in the traditional film days meant that you handed a roll of film to the client and they took it from there. Today it means that either you or the software in your camera has captured and or created the perfect in-camera image.
Historically, “Get it right in the camera,” has its roots in the traditional darkroom wherein we worked hard to deliver excellent negatives with full tonal range. Clipping black and whites occurred when we made the print if we felt it was aesthetically important to do so. The zone exposure system helped us create negatives that positioned the tonal range to achieve pre-visualized print aesthetics. Books on the subject of exposure are too numerous to count and of course the latest editions address digital exposure.
However, today’s photographers use this phrase to imply that the image in the camera is perfect and requires no further help.
Many photographers use either or both of these phrases to mean that they do not have to do any post-production work because of their excellent camera skills, or the camera’s on board software to produce perfect images (usually jpegs) is…. perfect. Why learn Lightroom or Photoshop if you can get the camera to deliver killer results and thus the insinuation is that you only need post-production help when you screw up and have to ‘fix’ images. No doubt, software can make a bad image useable and sometimes there are no other options. Moreover, many on board camera programs also provide strong results.
A perfect in camera image may well be perfect if the image meets your pre-vision expectations. However, for many the perfect image is often a surprise, not an exercise in camera knowledge, photographic skills, or artistic intent. Further, “Get it right in camera,” is often an excuse that I don’t want to learn other skills.
For example, I often capture landscape compositions and patiently wait for and choose the right light for the excellent moment. As part of that process, I frequently shoot exposures for the sky, midtones, and one for the shadows. If you look at the three examples from a very simple shot in front of our school, you can see that I did not get any of them ‘right in the camera.’ One is overexposed, one has a good balance for the mid tones but we still lose the sky, and the other is too dark with no detail in the blacks. None of these provided what I was seeing which was a rich golden fall morning with the sun blasting yellow highlights all around. No single image tells the viewer what I felt. To the uninformed or unskilled in post-production all three images are less than perfect and not worth much straight out of the camera.
However, in Lightroom and Photoshop, I have the tools that will allow me to combine the images in a manner to produce my own perfect or imperfect reality. In this case, I could have used an HDR program but I don’t like that method in many cases. Instead, I launched all three as layers from Lightroom into the Photoshop’s Merge to Pro HDR module, converted them to 32 bit, and saved them as a .tiff file in Lightroom. Note: Lightroom does not support 32-bit Photoshop files, only .tiff. I did no work HDR Pro or Photoshop proper. I toned the image in Lightroom and produced to portray what I felt, not what the camera captured, but the camera played its role by capturing the visual data that I needed for a perfect post-processing exercise. Yes, I also capture images that are exactly what I want in camera, but that is not a matter of getting it right in the camera, that is a matter of getting it right for a chosen purpose.
Get it right in your head and heart first and then learn to use the camera, Lightroom, and or Photoshop for that “I got it right visual story.”