I am often asked for examples of what I mean when I say "corrected for color and exposure" versus "full retouching".
While I discuss the complete process in my article on The Digital Darkroom, I thought some more specific examples might be helpful.
The first photo here is what comes out of the camera.
But first a word on why "professional" pictures look so bad without any processing. After all, an iPhone takes amazing photos!
Many professional photographers (like me) don't want the camera doing the thinking. We shoot in "RAW", which captures all of the information the camera's sensor picks up. This is different from a point and shoot camera, or shooting in "JPEG", where the camera processes the data, makes decisions as to how to present it, then discards 20-30 percent of the information. The problem is that the extra information is quite often useful. Processing by hand in a program like Adobe Lightroom gives much more flexibility.
Again, this is what came out of the camera. It's underexposed and it's tinted blue.
Now, I deliberately underexposed this shot, because I knew the white area of the scarf would blow out the highlights, and that's bad. I also knew that I could correct that in the post-process.
Here's the photo after I ran it through Lightroom, with a few gradients on either side. I normally wouldn't make the gradients that obvious, but I wanted to demonstrate that it's possible. These can be helpful when flash is used, or when a sky is overpowering a much darker foreground.
Note that I corrected the color so it no longer looks blue. I also brightened up the image while maintaining detail in the scarf. If you were to see this enlarged, you'd also see that I added some sharpening to the mascot.
Processed for color and exposure
Here is the photo after I've had some time with it in Photoshop.
Photoshop lets me control everything about the photo, including special effects. In this case, I removed some distracting elements, like the string on the canopy, a stake in the ground, and some of the missing patches of the lawn. I punched up the sharpness of the mascot, and I didn't think his index finger was visible enough, so I lengthened it. In the dark area of the Lion's mouth, that's where the poor fellow inside can get a view of the outside world. Trouble is, if you looked closely at the previous photos, you could see inside. In this version, I darkened that. I also found that I didn't like the color of the grass, so I made is more green, and I removed some of the vignetting caused by the gradient I applied in Lightroom. Sure, I could have changed that in Lighroom, but I was already there, so to speak. A few other minor things I did were to balance the color a bit more, and I blurred the background just a bit. I didn't like the way the flag looked with the natural bokeh (background blur) of this particular lens.
So, all in all, this picture looks similar to the one above, but just a little better...in my humble opinion :-)
With a portrait, of course, there are also skin blemishes, sweat and other sundry things to improve, and I'll present that in another article.