What settings make for the "best" photos with the least manipulation afterwards?
January 27, 2004 9:55 AM   Subscribe

Digital cameras do tons of photo manipulation in-camera, before you ever upload it. Knowing this, I'd like to configure my camera to do as much in-camera as possible, so that I don't have to spend as much time photoshopping (contrast, sharpening, etc.) afterward. Any recommendations on settings I could use, or resources that would help me determine what settings make for the "best" photos? (I have a Nikon CP4500, if it helps.)
posted by oissubke to Technology (7 answers total)
In all honesty, if you want the "best" photos you should go in the opposite direction, with the camera doing as little postprocessing (and compression) as possible. The camera's postprocessing is pretty much always going to be inferior to careful work in Photoshop.

If you want to simply reduce the amount of postprocessing work, and quality really is secondary to reducing your workload, go with the automatic settings. Nikon's automatic stuff is, while hardly perfect, good enough.
posted by majick at 10:17 AM on January 27, 2004

Response by poster: I fully understand the ideal, and I'm very pleased with the results I'm able to get with PS. The only problem is that I only have very little time to dedicate to this hobby of mine, so I'm trying to get as much bang-per-hour as I can. I'd obviously rather spend more time outside taking photos than I would sitting in front of a computer (which I do for umpteen hours a day already).

My initial plan was to leave the photos untouched and go back someday to clean up the really good ones, but I got frustrated when posting photos to various photo boards and never getting any feedback except "needs photoshopping."
posted by oissubke at 11:00 AM on January 27, 2004

The problem with this is that unless you take pictures of the same subject over and over your post-processing needs are going to vary. For example, if your taking photos outdoors in the snow it may make sense to underexpose a couple of stops but clearly this isn't going to work well indoors. Sharpening is a very common step in Photoshop and at first it may seem sensible to have the camera do it -- at least until you want a softer portrait.

In the long term in may be more efficient to craft a few actions that you frequently use to save time in Photoshop while preserving each images uniqueness. Keep in mind that if you manipulate the photo in the camera getting rid of the effect later is much more difficult than dragging a PS layer to the trash. To me it makes more sense to develop a good workflow in PS since the odds are for printing or web use your going to be opening the photos in the beastie anyway.

That said, while I'm not familiar with the Nikons, most digitals offer some sort or programmed mode (landscape, macro, portrait, etc.) that does what you want in a limited way. You may be able to adjust these in the firmware to allow more flexibility without forcing you into an across the board semi-permanent solution.
posted by cedar at 11:20 AM on January 27, 2004

While Majick makes a good point, that the digital camera is a poor image editor, I take a similar approach to how I use film. The better your original, well, the better. How I do this (with a Canon G3) is shoot many variations of the same scene and then select from that best to show. I then might edit further in Photoshop when I have time (although, I too have my limits).

My variations come from setting each shooting mode with subtle or less-subtle variations. Some examples:

Full auto is set to flash.
Apeture priority is set to no flash.
Shutter priority is set with no flash and higher saturation.
Manual is, well manual and I will shoot liberally with it and sometimes not even pause to look at the result.
The G3 has two user program modes, anbd those are set to bracket automatically and one has higher sautration; each is set with a different priority.

I am not certain how this translates to your camera but you get the idea. Another pitfall is the viewing/priting of the image -- there are a lot of variables in those processes.

Caveat: I once considered myself a decent amateur photographer but I've come to learn that I've taken only a handful of good photos (maybe even one great one) over the course of 20 years of shooting.
posted by Dick Paris at 1:36 PM on January 27, 2004

Along these lines - when you shoot with a digital camera in B/W mode, does it do anything to somehow optimize the quality, or will you get the identical result if you shoot color, and then make it black and white on your computer?
posted by badstone at 2:00 PM on January 27, 2004

badstone: Your far better off converting the image in an editor. Rather than go into details I'll just self-link to a weblog entry on this with a few suggestions.
posted by cedar at 2:45 PM on January 27, 2004

If you have photoshop, but don't have time to do the photoshop, you can set up a pretty good action droplet. Actions are basically recorded steps, so you take one photo, and you adjust resolution, perform auto levels (maybe add in a user control to fade the autolevels if you want some control over it), do a slight unsharp mask, maybe add a little or take away a little saturation depending on your preferences, if you have the drive space, save it someplace else at some fixed compression setting so that you have the processed and unprocessed files should you ever want to go back.

Then, all you have to do is drag a folder full of originals onto the droplet, and it will do all that stuff for you automagically.

I know the answer everybody is giving you is the opposite of what you were hoping for. It is the best advice for you though.
posted by willnot at 4:31 PM on January 27, 2004

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