While we usually divide the process of making a photograph into shooting and then post production, the fact is you shouldn't think of these as two separate unrelated subjects. You should, in fact, always have post production in mind while you're shooting. This is not a practice that unique to digital shooting. Adams, Weston, Van Dyke, many of the master film photographers of old were not just great photographers; they were incredible technicians. They had in-depth understandings of chemistry, paper, film, and they very often devised and created their own chemistries and paper.
When shooting, they often made exposure decisions based on processing ideas that they knew they could execute later. They would expose one way with the idea that they would process and print their film using very specific techniques. In other words, they were only able to get successful images because they were thinking about the entire photographic process, shooting, and postproduction, at the same time. As a digital photographer, you need the same broad perspective, and for a number of reasons. Black and white is the most obvious case of the time when you need to pre-visualize post production.
For example, what had struck me in this image was the statue against a darker background; however, in the real world, the background wasn't very dark. I shot the image anyway, capturing as much contrast as I could, because I knew that I would be able to process the image into this. Here is another black-and-white example. I saw the shaft of light in a shady alley, and I knew that in black and white, it could be an interesting play of luminance. But I also knew that I needed a subject so I waited for someone to walk through, and then I took the shot.
After black-and-white conversion and a little adjustment, I had the play of light that I was thing of when I shot the image. Here I had missed the really spectacular part of this sunset, but when I finally found a spot I could pull my car over, I was struck by this field full of tire tracks, and I knew that in post production, I could play them up into something more interesting. There is something important to notice about all of these examples. I am not just thinking about post production so that I can shoot in a particular way. My post production ideas are actually helping me to recognize subject matter.
As you saw with the statue image, the image that I had in mind didn't really exist at the scene. What I recognized there was some raw material, the potential for an image, that I was only able to see because I knew what I could do in post and how much I could push my edits. That said, note that I don't have a perfect, finished visualization in my mind. A lot of people you are supposed to be able to see a black-and-white image in your head, or view the world with edits already in place. That's very difficult to do, even with lots of practice; instead, just work on recognizing when a scene presents raw material that can be worked into a finished image later.
In the sunset image, I recognized that the tire tracks would provide material that, with a contrast adjustment, might turn into something, even though I wasn't seeing a specific image in my head. Finally, there are times when you won't actually know ahead of time what you might want to do in your editor. In this shot, I was simply struck by this tree. It was out here in the middle of nowhere, there was nothing around, and somehow it had managed to grow quite large. It was the middle of the day. The light was dull, and I knew that a tree out in the middle of nowhere wasn't going to be an especially interesting picture. And sure enough, the actually shot is pretty boring.
But I took it on faith that I would be able to figure out something to do with that picture later. With some cropping, some vignetting, some contrast adjustment, and toning, I came up with this. Now obviously, this whole practice requires image-editing skills as well as shooting technique, but developing the skill begins when you are out shooting. As you work with your image editor and learn more about what it can do, start thinking about those edits and how they might affect the world around you as you are shooting.
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