Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Q and A

I had a good time answering this question yesterday. I thought some of you might be interested in the topic, too.

If your images are shot in RAW, have [they] been adjusted for sharpness, density, saturation and the like?

My wife keeps telling me (she shoots jpegs on a G6) that my final images are not 'real' because they were 'done' in Photoshop.

I say they are very real because the finished image once it goes thru the RAW processor is what I saw in my mind's eye when I took the shot in the first place…

…Do you have an opinion on this?

We are on the cusp of sleeping in different bedrooms, sharing parts of the dog and so on.

- A

Adelaide, South Australia


So, let's start by looking at this analytically.

What is the difference between a JPG and a RAW file? In order to create a raw file, the following steps take place in your camera:

1. Photons reach the pixels on the sensor
2. An electrical charge is created on each pixel
3. The charge is converted to voltage
4. The voltage is amplified
5. The Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) measures the volts and assigns discrete values
6. The ADC converts this information into binary

That's it. That's a RAW file. Now... to create a JPG file, the camera does all that too... and then it does the following:

7. Uses a Bayer Interpolation to create color information (remember - your camera can't see... so it is using a mathematical equation to make a decent guess at the correct colors. Sometimes it is correct - but not always. In fact, not often.)
8. White balance adjustments are made (again - the camera is blind, so it uses a complicated mathematical equation to guess at a neutral tone)
9. Makes a series of tonal adjustments including contrast enhancements, etc... in fact... all those things you can do for yourself in the RAW converter are just done automatically in a JPG file
10. Sharpens the image (another algorithm... sharpening is applied indiscriminately across the entire image. Whether it needs it or not.)
11. And last... but certainly not least. The camera compresses the data. Which means it throws away any data it didn't use. If it guessed wrong about the correct color balance - that's too bad. The correct data has been thrown out. If the contrast is too high, or the sharpening is too extreme... you are out of luck. The data is gone and it cannot be recovered. Ever.


If you shoot RAW, those last five steps are up to you. Luckily, you aren't blind. (At least, I’m assuming you aren't.) You know how the scene looked in reality. So, rather than relying on a series of blind mathematical equations, you can rely on your own vision. Is it perfect? Will you get it right every time? Nope. But it's a whole heck of a lot more reliable than the camera.

How does processing a raw file compare to developing an image in a darkroom? Well - Photoshop (or whatever software you use) is your digital darkroom. You use it the way a film photographer would use a darkroom... to brighten or darken areas of the image, to adjust contrast and luminosity in specific areas of the image, to adjust color and so on. Developing an image in a darkroom is completely different from processing an image in Photoshop... but it accomplishes the same purpose. Would you say that a photographer who shoots film and develops his own film in the darkroom isn't a photographer? And would you say that a film photographer who takes his film from the camera and sends it off to have the developing and printing done by someone else is superior to the one who does it himself? It's a strange argument, really. In the past, a photographer who didn't do his own development was considered "less than". Not a "real" photographer. But now, with the advent of digital photography and Photoshop, the photographer who actually goes beyond the release of the shutter to handle the processing of the image himself is in question. :)

And finally - does it really matter? It's art. Photoshop is a tool. Just as a brush is a tool for a painter, and the kiln is a tool for a potter. So in the end, does it really matter? Just enjoy photography for what it is. Art and pleasure. An expression of what you love and who you are. Love it. Don't fight it. ;)

So yes. My photographs are shot in RAW and adjusted in the Adobe RAW converter and Photoshop. The colors are as close to the reality of the scene as I can make them (most of the time). I'm not perfect - but I do try. :)

Have a great day. And my best regards to your wife.
Please don't try dividing the dog. I hear that gets messy.


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Anonymous Ryan S. said...

Varina's post hits the nail on the head. What I would remind your wife of is that the camera is not a seeing device, it takes physical properties (of light) and turns it into an electrical signal. Whether you manipulate that signal in Photoshop or let the camera do it, it's still only an electrical signal.

Also remember, even before digital people were "Photoshoping" their images in the dark room. Burning, dodging, even color casting could be performed; and regularly were. I've heard it said that Ansel Adams true gift was in his painstaking efforts in the darkroom.

I leave it up to the reader to determine where the "pure" line goes. Some may argue cloning would be over the line. But again, I think that goes back to the comment in the post about making the image look how it was rendered in your mind. Did you notice the piece of trash invading the landscape when you took the picture? You could have moved it if you had; so is moving it digitally any different?

In the end we all photograph for a purpose, be it professional or personal. Whatever you choose, edit or not, you should ask yourself if it helps you achieve your goal and let that influence your decision.


August 18, 2009 at 2:04 PM  
Blogger Varina Patel said...

Well said, Ryan. :) Thanks for the comment! It's much easier to appreciate the art of others if we refrain from judging it... good or bad, right or wrong. It's art. Pure and simple. Let it be just that, and you will be able to appreciate it all the more.

August 18, 2009 at 2:18 PM  

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