The explosion of digital photography, home computers, and reasonably priced software has brought the digital darkroom to a lot of photographers. To borrow from
Ansel Adams, the original camera file is the score and the optimized file is the performance.
Point and shoot digital cameras are designed to produce punchy
(colorful, high contrast) photos right out of the camera. This saves the average person from doing a lot of digital work on their computer. There is a cost: images that lose valuable photo information that shows
up in lost highlight and shadow detail. Pixelation, banding and other problems can show up in large prints. Fortunately, many of the better point and shoot cameras will allow you to tone down the in-camera image
processing if you want to work with the digital files yourself and maximum quality is important.
Professional digital cameras are designed to capture maximum data with minimal in-camera processing. The images may look
flat coming out of the camera, but more data has been saved so the skilled digital darkroom artist has the maximum potential for beautiful enlargements. Levels, Curves,
Hue-Saturation, Shadow-Highlight, Channel Mixer, Adjustment Layers, Gaussian Blur, Unsharp Mask, Layer Masks, Clone Stamp, and Healing Brush are just a few of the tools and options available to make the most of an
image. Just as in the old black and white darkroom, skill and experience are still important.
The online examples posted here are small digital files and only give a hint at what is possible with a properly optimized
image from a professional digital camera. The real proof is when you see the difference in an 8x10 or larger print.
Optimizing images is important in landscape as
well as portrait photography. I posted a basic illustration and story of this in my article on Fixing CAmera Files.
I usually spend about an hour
optimizing an important digital image. For me, it is time well spent to get the best possible image quality.