It’s remarkable what you can do in post-processing. Compare my original conversion from the RAW of my Yosemite Dreams (far below) with a more recent version (immediately below) I created in Photoshop for a special project. (There’s actually no comparison to either version with the far duller look of the original RAW file that appeared when I first looked at it with default settings in Adobe Bridge.)
These file versions go a long way to confirm my contention that digital photography is an entirely new medium, one part photography and one part digital manipulation. Photographers who ignore the “digital painting” aspect of this new medium do so at their own peril, as do digital technicians who ignore the need to take great photos in the first place. Those who critique the new medium based on the aesthetic of the inviolate unmanipulated negative are truly lost in this brave new world.
For a long time I resisted the metaphor from silver halide photography that “the RAW file is the negative” and the final version is the print. A reason for my resistance is that the metaphor doesn’t completely work: a post-processed photo is not a print, it is a file that (theoretically) many literal, physical prints can be made from.
But there’s a significant kernel of truth in the metaphor: using the power of the “digital painting” it’s possible to make many different end-result images starting from a single RAW capture.