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Photographers often aim to create a work that accurately depicts a subject, and/or is informed or inspired by the experience they had looking at it.

A significant part of the work of making a photo is often in post-processing on a computer, rather than in preparing and taking the photo with the a camera.

So I wonder whether there's any known practice of taking a computer to the subject (or vice versa) and creating the finished photograph while viewing both together. I'm sure that people have done this but my question is whether it's a practice that has a name and perhaps prominent photographers have talked about doing, or prominent photography commentators have discussed.

Of course for small product photography this is likely to happen incidentally, and for street photography it's usually impossible, so I'm thinking more about things like landscape, cityscape, and portraiture.

In the comments Kaz asked what the purpose of this would be. I'm looking for answers about people doing it for any purpose (or the negative answer to say no-one really does it), but a few purposes I can think of might be using a subjective impression of colours and brightness etc as a reference, preserving the option to take further photographs in case there are relevant details visible in the subject that it turns out during post processing weren't sufficiently captured, capturing a mood in a more abstract way, working in collaboration with a portrait subject, or just enjoying the environment while making a landscape image.

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  • Answers about analogue techniques are also very welcome, but I imagine getting a good look at your subject in a darkroom would be tricky.
    – bdsl
    Apr 5 at 12:54
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    Here is a question to answer inside your question: for what purpose(s) would you need the original subject, when you have the unretouched version of the image that you can A/B compare instantly with your edits, and presumably, when you also have some other images of the same subject?
    – Kaz
    Apr 5 at 22:03
  • @Kaz I answered.
    – bdsl
    Apr 6 at 13:33
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It's not exactly the term you are specifically looking for, but looking for information about tethering will get you in the right track. I'm not aware of any generally used term to describe tethering plus applying further post-processing during a shooting session, but some folks definitely do it.

Tethering is when the camera is hooked up to a computer or other device that displays the image as soon as it can be transferred from the camera to the host device immediately after it has been shot. Depending upon what application is being run on the host device, postprocessing steps not available in-camera can be applied to each image as it is imported by the host device and then applied to the image as it is displayed on the screen of the host device.

Tethering also allows controlling many functions of the camera using the host device. Things such as ISO, Tv, Av, etc. can be set form the application running on the host device. Of course if a specific lens requires manually turning an aperture ring on the lens that is not controllable by the camera, then one can't adjust aperture via the tethering application. Ditto for zooming a lens. If the only way to zoom a lens is to turn the ring on the lens, then one can't change the focal length using the tethering application (unless one also has an electromechanical device attached to the lens that can move the zoom ring and be controlled from the host device).

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    I do a lot of photography of (antique) paintings, and "tethering" is the workflow. Basically a special form of product photography where reasonably accurate color fidelity is important. Since the paintings need to be stored elsewhere, any color comparisons need to be done before the painting is removed to storage. Art museums do this with their collections as well.
    – Yorik
    Apr 6 at 20:06
  • @Yorik that looks like it might be expanded into a good answer.
    – bdsl
    Apr 7 at 9:01
  • Although the term tethering certainly doesn't always refer to doing post-production immediately after capturing the raw photo. I know lots of photographers shoot tethered and emphasise to clients / subjects that the images they see on screen are not the final product.
    – bdsl
    Apr 7 at 10:06
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Photographers are very concerned with accurate capture, and the art of photography deals with inherent limitations in 1) the difference of light perception between eye vs. camera, and 2) the nature of light in subject vs digital screen vs print. Strictly speaking, Polaroid-like photography is probably the only way that you can do live calibration, comparing the real vs captured, reflective light quality. Beyond this, the photographer is largely "blind", without additional tools to increase the reliability of their shoot. Below are some descriptions of how this is done.

The closest to what you're hinting at, to me, is various practices of monitoring and feedback. Many properties can be monitored and calibrated. Light metering, color-matching, white-balance; all of which, for extra accuracy are sampled multiple times, different parts of the subject and evaluated for 1) absolute values, 2) relative values (one heuristic for ideal contrast is 8:1 ratio of light exposure in your subject).

Then it depends on what the final medium is. Traditionally, this is a print. If so, and what you're after is to improve the accuracy of the photo, then both the camera LCD and the computer monitor may be too unreliable. The lighting and exposure of your subject is reflected light, unlike digital screens which are usually backlit. Therefore, screens are in turn are calibrated to a specific printer and its ink (professional printers will help with this).

To broaden the idea, lenses are also chosen as a function of degree of distortion magnification relative to the naked eye. Wide angle lenses "stretch" width, and zoom lenses can "compress" depth'. Naked eye magnification is somewhere close to 50mm (I think), depending on your sensor size. Finally, sensors and lenses contribute to more or less naturalistic contrast, and lighting and shadows will change the sense of a more 2- vs 3-D subject.

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For analog, instant film such as Polaroid. An example is William Wegman 24”x24” camera work.

For digital, straight to jpg using a camera’s built in features such as black and white, sepia tone, warm, etc. (the options tend to increase with each new generation of camera).

Personally, I find direct to jpg liberating because there is no more work to be done later...RAW always means there’s more work to do. And it is sitting at a computer not behind a lens. Mirrorless means I see what the jpg will look like.

For portraits and other static subjects, lighting techniques can produce exact results straight out of the the camera. And again, it’s not time at a computer.

It’s just photography.

And that’s what you can call it.

Anyone who tells you different is wrong. Just make pictures the way you want to make them.

Edit. A person can use one or more color filters in front of the lens to make fine adjustments to color balance. Some cameras such as some by Sony allow in camera adjustments on the blue-amber and green-magenta axes. https://support.d-imaging.sony.co.jp/support/tutorial/ilc/ilce-6400/en/06.php

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  • This is interesting, but with either Polaroid or creating final jpegs in camera you're doing all the post-processing decision making in advance, so that the actual post-processing can then be fully automated and immediate. That's slightly different to what I was thinking of, which is making the decisions after capturing the light while the subject is in view.
    – bdsl
    Apr 5 at 16:22
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    I'm not sure what "Anyone who tells you different is wrong" means. I don't see why anyone would tell me that the process you describe isn't photography.
    – bdsl
    Apr 5 at 16:23
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    @bdsl A popular opinion is “serious photographers shoot RAW”...it’s often been said when I mention going straight to jpg. YMMV. Apr 5 at 16:52
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    Post processing apps also allow finer control of many parameters than in-camera controls do. If I decide to use 4162K as my CT and add 7 mireds of magenta correction (because that's where my incident light meter measures the ambient light), the closest I can get in camera is using 4200K and +1M (which is a 5 mired correction). With my raw conversion app I can use 4160K and +1.4M (which is a 7 mired correction). It also allows using HSL tools that most cameras do not offer to push and pull certain colors in terms of hue, saturation, and luminance.
    – Michael C
    Apr 6 at 13:08
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    When I shoot at the local high school football stadium at night, I shoot raw not because I don't know what I want, but rather because I know precisely what I want and precisely what post processing steps I'm going to take, much of which aren't possible to dial in using the camera's controls, to make that happen.
    – Michael C
    Apr 6 at 13:10

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