All digital images need post production. [...] All digital images need some sharpening to bring out their best, also levels adjustments and white balance.Here is my situation where post production was not the answer:
Earlier today I shot into a hydrangea bloom with the TS-E 90mm f/2.8. Since I have mostly given up using the tilt at the closest focus distance, I tried some different focus settings for sharpness and to have a good range to pick out later (much better than spending yet more time with Live View than necessary).
Some pictures showed the stigma (female parts, fluffy looking from a distance, spiky covering in macro) and others showed the stamens or anthers (male parts, clumpy, look like yellow caviar clumps), which was a slightly closer focus setting. As it turned out, the best picture of the group was one in which the focus point was really set to neither, but somewhat inbetween, focused on a short section of petal with a water droplet on it. The spiky parts of the stigma, while natural and correct, might not be pleasing to everybody as they resemble thorns. On the other hand, focusing closer to get the anthers in focus would throw the focus too far off the stigma. A bit like a human portrait where some softness can often be desired, and achieved by the lens itself.
Aside from some quibbles with my composition and focus selection, my main problem with the image is that I unthinkingly kept ISO at 400 - which is still pleasantly smooth but I had more than enough light for a ISO 100 or 200 setting (shutter speed at f/2.8 was over 1600th of a second).
The bottom line is that image composition succeeded or failed because of the background blur, the focus point selection, and not by the addition of artificial sharpening routines. The relatively high ISO setting didn't appreciably damage it, and sharpening wouldn't have helped.
I will have to white balance the other pictures I took, for the most part, because I had the camera set to incandescent, instead of cloudy. I set the WB in-camera correctly for the other shots. All that remains for this photo is to simply run it through DPP.
TBH ISO 400 really shouldn't matter, most modern cameras exceed in quality up to about ISO 600 and are extremely useable. If you had shot at 1000+ then yes you may have had an issue. But 400 in my opinion is pretty average, 400 would be the average ISO you would use in film cameras if the day was overcast, so I would say that isnt an issue unless you are using a pre 20D camera like a 10D where your image quality will suffer through older technology. In fact ISO is so good these day that it is hard to tell the difference between 200 and 400 unless you zoom into 400%. Also if you shot raw and are using the a newest raw processing update like 6.4.1 (or anything in the CS5, lightroom 3 etc) the noise reducing tools are extremely powerful, when ever I use an ISO over 200 i usually add 5+ on the Luminance slider and it creates a fantastic effect. Not too much, but enough to sort out the minor problems. Obviously it works much better at high ISO's because like I said at 400 there shouldn't be a problem.
Also if you are shooting with a TS-E 90mm, at 1:1 or larger magnification you really need to be shooting at a smaller F stop, 2.8 is far too open at these distances you will be lucky if you got 3% of the image in focus, I would say the minimum F number I would use is F5.6 which will give a nicer effect and still keep a pleasing bokeh. you can get some nice effects with 2.8 if you are going to use the images to paint or other uses, but from a visual standpoint there isnt enough of the image in focus to keep the viewer interested in the image. A lot of people do this, there are hundreds of pics on the forums of bees (or other macro items) that there is only one leg in focus because the depth of field isnt large enough. It is extremely difficult at that magnification to get a full depth of field, even at F22. But just because a lens is a 2.8 doesnt mean it is technically right to use it wide open.
With macro photography you shouldn't use an overall sharpening technique. There is no point in sharpening areas which are out of focus (or bokeh) because it will degrade the image and add unnecessary noise. Your much better off using a selective sharpening technique using a mask to paint in your sharpening. This will not only excentuate the part of the image you want the viewer to concentrate on it will also add more depth and clarity and increase the overall visual effect.
There are a number of ways of doing this, A. within your Raw processing - using the mask slider (works ok but for better effects use a custom one. (Also sharpening should be added in the last stage of image processing)
B. In my opinion the best way to selectively sharpen. Use the high pass filter and paint it in manualy.
Open your image, then duplicate your image in the layers panel (copy), on the layer above your original (copy) go to filter - other - high pass. When the dialogue box comes up dial in a number that makes the image look embossed (dont worry about over doing it because you will reduce the overall effect later, in fact you should over-do so you have more control) then click ok. Next step is crucial, desaturate the image (because when you use a blend mode it will do some weird things with the colours left)
Now the image should look very grey, next thing to do is go to your layers panel and add a blend mode, soft light or overlay works best. I usually find overlay works best but depends on your image. Now you should see you image very bold and too sharp. Now comes the interesting bit. Go to the bottom of your layers panel and add a layer mask, nothing should happen because the mask is visible (white) to make it invisible and allow you to paint the effect into specific areas you must invert the mask. Make sure you have the mask selected on your copy layer and press image - adjustments - invert or Command I on a mac. Then the mask should turn black and the effect should disappear from your image.
Now we can paint the effect into the image. Select your brush tool and make sure the paint colours are set to the original black and white and the brush must be a soft edged brush. Select white as the foreground colour and use 100% opacity and fill. Then just paint over the areas of the image that need sharpening, if you paint an area that doesn't need sharpening (a mistake) you can switch your paint colour to black then paint over the mistake to paint away the effect.
When you have finished you will see that the areas are very sharp, too sharp. But because we have used the layers panel we can dial back the effect using the opacity slider in the layers panel, dial it back to what ever you feel, i usually find around 70% gives a good natural looking effect, and wallah a perfect selective sharpening effect which is editable by painting the effect in and out and changing the overall effect through the layer opacity slider.
Hope this helps.