Friday, May 4, 2007

RAW: Revisited

I’ve just returned from Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California for a week of ‘fun in the sun’ rock-climbing. I brought my trusty 350D along for the ride. While I normally shoot JPEG, I know that pro outdoor sports photographers like Michael Clark and Seb Rogers, whose work I like and admire, are strong advocates of shooting RAW. I decided to give RAW another look.

All is not well though. The biggest frustrations are the long loading times for each and the increased amount of storage
memory used. The main benefits for me shooting RAW are the flexibility to manage white balance and the increased latitude in controlling exposure of high-contrast images in post-processing. I’d like to continue to experiment with RAW for a while. The details of my RAW workflow are below and if somebody can offer any comments on how to improve it or any tips and advice, I’d appreciate it.

My RAW workflow starts by downloading all the images from my camera into iPhoto 6. Trash all the non-keepers. Then I get to work on the keepers. I transfer each image to Photoshop CS2, mostly using the default settings with Adobe Camera RAW except for white balance. Then, I open the image in Photoshop CS2. I crop and straighten the image, adjust the black and white levels, use the Shadows/Highlights tool if it needs it, apply curves, saturation, sharpen, convert to sRGB and, lastly, save as a JPEG file.

Let me know if you have any other ideas.

Photos:
Top: Early One Morning in J-Tree... this low contrast image was captured in RAW and required very little post processing. Taken with a Canon 350D, 10-22mm
Middle: Trad Rack and Friend. This high contrast imaged captured in JPEG required some post processing to tone down the harsh highlights and bring out the dog lying in the shadow of the boulder. Taken with a Canon Ixus 850 IS.

4 comments:

Seb Rogers said...

Hi Ken,

I think most people's early experiences of raw tend to be frustrating. For me, aside from the obvious white balance and contrast control issues, raw allows me to tweak every single image to suit the 'look' that I'm aiming for (which, broadly translated, is a punchy Velvia 100-like appearance, although probably with a bit more shadow detail). But to be able to do that I had to find a software package that was fast enough to enable individual adjustments to be made quickly to large batches of raw files.

This is where individual preferences vary. I've settled on Bibble Pro because it's very quick, keenly priced, has superb support and gives very good output quality. Others have their own preferences, and many swear by CS2.

But I think the key thing is to experiment and settle on a workflow that makes the most of raw quality without impacting too much on your time. That's why speed - of rendering as well as final output - is so important to me, for example.

It strikes me that your workflow is designed around the tweaking of individual images. Nothing wrong with that, but afaik (it's been a while since I tried it) CS2 allows you to apply the same settings to a selection of raw files before you output them (I'm afraid I can't remember exactly how you do it, but iirc it's pretty simple). Most of the changes you're currently making post-raw export could be done within the Camera Raw stage, which might save time - particularly if you have several images that need the same adjustments applied.

I hope this helps. Raw does give you infinitely more control over the final output - the key is to make sure that it's you (and not the software) that has that control.

Good luck!

Kenneth Koh said...

Hi Seb,

Thanks for your input. At this time, I'm pretty much intimidated by my CS2 software. At my stage, I need good instruction. So I'll be looking for a good book that can take me through what I need to do step-by-step, from where and how I download the Raw images to the final saved JPEG image.

The book I'm using now: Outdoor Photographer's Landscape and Nature with Photoshop CS2, has great detail on tweaking individual images with CS2, but is a bit lacking in using Camera Raw and doesn't mention batch processing.

I think I need a good book on the workflow process. Any suggestions on where to start?

Thanks Seb, Its always good to hear your input.
Ken

Kenneth Koh said...

It seems I may not be using the best program for my needs. What I need is a more powerful version of Apple's iPhoto, an integrated photo manager and photo editor. The Adobe Camera Raw/Photoshop CS2 combo is just not integrated very well.

For my Mac, I'm now looking at either Bibble Pro (as Seb suggested) or Adobe Lightroom. Thankfully, both have downloadable trial versions. I'll report back once I have more info.

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