Friday, August 6, 2010

Raw Images Suck, Until They're Developed

If you routinely shoot in Raw, no matter what camera you use, the file, straight out of the camera looks terrible. Flat, soft, kind of lifeless would be good terms to describe a typical RAW image. If you’re new to shooting Raw, or just exploring the Raw versus JPG debate you might go running for the hills the first time you download a camera full of RAW images. If they’re so bad, what’s all the fuss about. Well, the fuss is due to the fact that they have more information in the file, they have a wider tonal range and they don’t have the camera manufacturer’s bias put on them. This can be directly related back to the film days. With film you got a basic image. Hopefully each lab you used to have your film developed did it using standard practices. Those set up by the film manufacturer. So, you “should have” gotten back a baseline negative (or positive) image. It was up to you to put you “signature” on the finished print. That’s what’s needed with a RAW image. It needs your “signature”. I could have given a copy of today’s RAW image to a half dozen photographers (or finishers) and I would have ended up with a half dozen interpretations of the same scene. Today’s image was shot almost a year ago (October 2009). I took a couple of the better shots from the trip to Maine and they’ve been featured here at the gallery. This one was pasted over several times since the initial selection process, but I couldn’t bring myself to chuck it altogether. There was “something” there. I just had to let it marinate for a while until the inspiration struck me. Well, today was the day. A couple of features of Adobe Photoshop CS4 and CS5 made it possible to “develop” the image. To find out what features were used in today’s image, hit the “read more”.
The first thing to say is that today’s image is basically full frame. I doubt if we lost more than a couple hundred pixels due to straightening. It doesn’t look like any digital camera format that I’ve ever seen, so how can it be full frame? Here’s where a feature, introduced in CS4, comes in. The big rage today is the Content Aware Fill feature in CS5. Well, in CS4 adobe put in Content Aware Scaling. It’s one of the least used features you’ll find. The big reason is that it’s a little confusing to use. Here’s the way it was used in today’s image. The Quick Selection Tool (W) was used, and anything other than the sky was quickly selected. Right clicking on the selection brought up a dialog box and about half way (loosely) down the options “Save Selection” was clicked. Save Selection produces a new Alpha Channel (look in the Channels panel) that I named “shore”. The selection was then deselected (CRTL D) and the entire image selected (CTRL A). Under the Edit Menu we find “Content Aware Scaling”. Once that’s picked you’ll see a dropdown in the options bar titled “Protect”. Clicking the dropdown shows the option to Protect the “shore” selection. You’ve, pretty much, put yourself into the Free Transform Tool. Grab the center top handle and drag downward. This compresses the sky area with changing anything from the horizon down. Compressing the sky area produced some additional drama in the sky.

The other thing that made today’s image possible was CS5’s Content Aware Fill. One of the big gotchas in today’s image was several poles sticking up from the bottom of the image. Because of the limit on what was shot, they came out of random spots and had no anchor points on the pier or shore. They just looked dumb. I figured I give CAF a shot. I outlined the first pole using the Lasso Tool (L). Hit Shift F5 to bring up the Fill dialog box, selected Content Aware and hit Enter. The computer did it’s magic on Adobe’s algorithm and in popped a completely clean fill. I didn’t have to do a thing to it. I was stunned. The next pole went right through the numbers found on the boat at the bottom center of the image. Bam, another good fill, including adding in a sequence of numbers. The number were a copy of the numbers that were already there, but they were on the right angle and fully formed. Wow! A third went through the lifeboat on the same boat. No problem.

With the tools we have available today anyone can change the content of an image. What used to be a skill had by an expensive few is now a simple click. Pretty amazing.


Unknown said...

I don't understand all that you are saying here but I know that I love the light in the picture.