Hard Rock Cafe Neon Sign And Post Processing Musings

During our time visiting Great Smoky Mountains NP we stayed in Gatlinburg, TN which is right outside the border of the park. Needless to say, it is a VERY "touristy" town with all kinds of stores, shops, etc. to entice people to separate themselves from their money. Towns like this are a like/dislike thing for me. I like them because of all the things there are to photograph, especially neon signs, which are quickly becoming a favorite subject of mine. I dislike them for pretty much the same reason, all the shops,signs, and over-the-top stuff. I guess I'll just have to learn to balance things out (and bring my camera) whenever I visit these types of towns. Speaking of neon signs, here's an image I shot of the Hard Rock Cafe's neon sign while walking back to the hotel after dinner and a few tasty craft beers:

Hard Rock Cafe Neon Guitar SignAs you can see, it's a big Guitar, or as they say down here, "GEEEE-TAR". I took this just after sunset, right in the sweet spot of the famous "blue hour". The result was a very nice deep, dark, blue background for the sign. I tried to give some perspective to the sign by including the side of the building in the image. The only thing I wish wasn't there (in a perfect world) is that light sticking out from the sign, but I guess I could clone it out if I wanted to.

On second thought, I probably won't do that,....WARNING!: POST-PROCESSING PHILOSOPHY MUSINGS START HERE.... since I'm finding that I enjoy keeping the images as close to what I actually saw with my eyes. And since I saw that light when I made the decision to compose the image the way I did, I can't very well clone it out and say "that's the sign I saw while walking back to the hotel from the brewpub after a few tasty craft beers!", which is exactly what happened.

Good thing the camera had image stabilization then, I guess :-)

That's not to say that I do zero processing on my images. Far from it. I'm finding that my "prime directive" when it comes to post-processing images is to try and get the image to match what I actually saw with my eyes. I think I'm sort of in line with Trey Ratcliff's philosophy of photography (though not 100% completely on everything) which is basically that your eye and brain see far more than the camera can capture. So, in order to really communicate what you saw, you need to make adjustments to the image. In many cases that means that I must adjust the color, contrast, sharpness, etc. in order to get the image to match to what I saw before I pressed the shutter button. Oftentimes that means that I use "image enhancing" software like HDR Efex Pro, Topaz Adjust, Lightroom or any number of other apps, in order to get the final image to match what my eyes saw.

What it doesn't mean (at least to me at this point) is that I can't just fire up editing software and delete/clone-out, severely crop out, any object I find objectionable in the image. The way my thought process goes is that it's my job as photographer to get the best composition I can, given the circumstances, before I press the shutter. Do I do this stuff (crop/clone out objects) some of the time? You bet I do but I try not to as much as possible. I think that sticking to my self-made rule will help make me a better photographer in the long run.

What do you guys think? Do you substantially alter an image (remove objects, severely crop, ect.) or do you tend to keep things basically the same (outside of adjusting color, contrast, sharpness). You can enter your comments below and/or record your answer in the "Photography Poll" on the right sidebar. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers, it's just photographic opinion.

I'm really interested to see what y'all think!