here is my tuppence worth which is partly tinged with my professional work as a radiologist. This has been affected by the digital era and the quality of images provided for reporting has declined due to the increased exposure latitude. Radiographs are often poorly "framed" and badly exposed but we can obtain a diagnostic image by on screen manipulation. However this is a poor substitute for a well taken film in the first place.
several aspects to this
firstly quality of the initial image: there are metaphors which help such as you cannot make a silk purse out of a sows ear or in audiophile terms garbage in garbage out. If you start of with a poor image you may improve it but it is unlikely ever to become great. In other words the effort put into a shot usually pays its dividend in the final result
Film tended to make me think about the shot as I only had 36 exposures but I had stopped improving as I would have one dive trip a year and would have to wait for my slides to be processed. Digital has been a liberation and allowed me to progress because I can see the results immediately and make adjustments and take more images until I achieve something I like.
My pictures may not win prizes but I enjoy taking them and others seem to enjoy looking at them even if they are only being polite
secondly why do we take pictures anyway - there are probably as many answers as there are photographers, some want a memory, some want to take a truly stunning and individual image and enjoy the process of striving for this (maybe I will one day?) others want a snapshot to show their friends and family. Each is a perfectly valid reason and everyone should should be free to get on with what they want.
thirdly post processing has as others say always existed and for me part of the fun of photography was the time in the darkroom spent on the image. Slide photography (and old fashioned X rays) is the only time this does not apply.
fourthly what is art - surely it is more than the original image it is a combination of the effect it has on the viewer visually and emotionally. If post processing alters that impact then what is the problem?
My perspective is that as long as no one is passing things off as fakes then what harm is there? Lets enjoy ourselves and be as expressive as possible using the tools at our disposal. If you start with a good photograph (or X-ray) it will always show in the finished product. No doubt folk will come up with quirky effects using lytro etc but if the point and shoot attitude espoused is widely taken up there will be many more rejects than successes. Embrace the technology but striving to take the right image to work with will always be best in the end.
Are we really ready to cut the apron strings to the slide film era?
The Lytro camera goes on sale today - and for me it represents a line in the sand on our thinking about what is a photograph. It is a change in philosophy that I struggle to come to terms with, but feel that it is one I probably should take on board. The issue is: with changes in camera technology, should we still strive for the finished image in camera, or not?
This is all a hang up from the slide film era. A time when many current underwater photographers started out - and it dominates how we think of images. Even for those who have only shot digital pictures underwater. But as Peter Scoones has pointed out to me (on more than one occasion) the purity of a slide is just a hang up from when you started underwater photography. It was never the originator underwater - seeing it as such is just a relict view from a certain period in the history of underwater imaging (read more here). It is predated by black and white print film photography, which involved as much post processing as we now routinely do with digital. It some ways the slide era is the exception, not the rule underwater.
Yet, I find myself, still stuck with most of the hangups of the 35mm slide. I still strive to create images bang on in camera and always value less images that have required lots of cropping or adjustment. The point of this thread is to ask, should I?
The Lytro technology is perhaps the most obvious example of this, with its ability to refocus the image after shooting. But the reality is that we have been living with multiple examples for many years. HDR is an obvious one - that most people will have tried - where the post processing makes an image not possible in camera. Nikon's new cameras now offer in-camera HDR for JPG shooting - where this is all done in camera as you shoot (I have tried this on the D800 and it works). This is an underwater HDR, assembled from 5 shots to open up the shadows in a wreck (shot with D700):
Perhaps a more pertinent area is that of super-macro. Creating a tack-sharp super macro photo can be a real challenge. With razor thin depth of field and the challenges of aiming and losses in optical quality with some solutions. This picture was taken with my reversed lens combo and is the highest magnification shot I have done underwater. These blennies are very small - one of the smallest blenny species - hard to tell from this photo (for those not familiar with Caribbean critters):
It is not the best example, because I know people don't appreciate how small this guy is. I should go and shoot pygmies with this setup - everyone is more familiar with them. So, it is probably easier to show the magnification of this setup with these test shots I made when working on the system - with a comparison between a straight 105mm (top), a 105mm and Subsee +10 (middle, a very high magnification setup - that many are familiar with) and my reversed lens setup (bottom, which is another level on again):
All very impressive. But should I be bothering. Why don't I just crop back to the eyeball - the shot would be 100 times easier to take and I would have more depth of field too. Don't laugh, with Nikon's D800 now having 36 megapixels and I am sure that Canon's 5D Mk3 (which I heard was to be announced very soon) likely to have something similar - we can crop away and have plenty of resolution for reproduction - especially in an increasingly online media. I had a discussion on Facebook recently - and opinions were very varied - plenty of supporters in both camps.
These are just a couple of examples. There are plenty more.
In conclusion, I guess my question is what do others feel? Slide thinking (getting everything perfect in camera) certainly dominates my shooting philosophy. But I am not sure it is the best thing for my photography in this day and age? Should I be freeing my mind and accepting that technology should be changing how I feel about what is a photo? And should contests etc - be changing too. Should more extensive cropping be allowed - many now allow HDR and focus stacking? Are fotosub style - JPGs in camera a relict?
I am not mentally ready for all these changes - so I am hoping for some convincing!
p.s. Please don't hijack this into a Lytro discussion. We all can see in its current form it is limited - but it is fun, fascinating and thought provoking technology. I remember the first digital I tried underwater (almost 15 years ago now - wow, time flies) and we all thought it was fun, but not serious technology and went back to our slides. And now Kodak has filed for bankruptcy.