When I was running the photo workshop days, often the part that had the most impact was at then end of the day.
After spending the day shooting at different locations, we would return to the gallery where I would process my RAW files on a computer and show everyone what could be done at that stage. Having seen the actual scene, then the before and after versions, this was a revelation to most photographers. The idea was we all had similar shots, so my students for the day could go home and do the same to their pictures.
Isn’t that cheating?
The is an assumption that what you shoot on a camera is in someway the faithful representation of what you saw. This is simply wrong even on a basic technical level. Their camera internally processes your picture and has a guess at how it should look before saving this for you.
Phones do much more of this, sometimes taking multiple exposures in rapid succession, processing internally (uploading to the manufacturer for further AI based processing if it can) then showing you the result. They're enhanced using AI. In reality, you're partially getting the final image from the lens and sensor of your phone, but increasingly from the manufacturers processing engine.
If you shoot a RAW file and do the processing, the choices are yours rather than manufacturer’s assumptions, built into their presets.
Way back in the days of film, when I was shooting jobs and the budget allowed, I would often use professional printers to make darkroom prints of my negatives. These were people who had spent entire careers in the dark making great prints. This is now possible to do digitally in software and we should make the most of it. It allows you to guide the eye and the attention around the picture in a way that was never accessible to most non-printer photographers.
This is a casual shot made from 4 frames stitched while on a walk in Ashford’s King’s Wood. It was handheld on my Fuji XE3 using a 16mm f2.8 lens. The light was really tricky, a well lit foreground, a tree-covered dark mid distance with patches of bright sunlight, and a brightly back-lit distance through beyond the trees. I used auto exposure but dialled it back to under expose slightly to try to preserve the highlight pools of sunlight. So the final RAW file pre-processing looks totally unlike the scene as I saw it, but allowed selective lightening and darkening of different areas to make the finished print on the below. This is now much closer to how I saw it.
It is currently hanging in the gallery as a 120cm wide print looking pretty good.
RAW file out of camera with 'auto' settings and white balance done in Adobe Lightroom.
RAW file fully worked in lightroom, the finished file that i have printed for the gallery.