Our assignment from David DuChemin’s most excellent textbook ” The Visual Toolbox” is all about exposure – as in Shoot RAW. Hold it! It’s the middle of winter, just after the largest snowfall we’ve had in the Washington DC area in decades – and the assignment this week was to shoot RAW? Seriously? Yup…. Shoot RAW – not IN the raw… silly girl… and learn how to optimize your images with all of the information that the RAW format can give you to work with in those easy-to-learn post-processing programs like Photoshop. (cough, cough…inside joke for anyone who’s ever attempted to master Photoshop – which I call the least intuitive program I’ve ever used). For the next several weeks, follow along as my fellow pet ‘togs and I walk through this learning adventure together. The goal on LEARNING and working to master… and then adding these tools to our “visual toolbox” – cool, huh?!
If you’ve ever read the blog posts or online tutorials about photography – you’ll hear the debate about shooting in RAW versus shooting in JPG. My quick take on the issue: if you absolutely have to capture the image quickly, and turn it around on a dime, meaning very little if any time to post-process, and you are able to nail your settings right from the get-go – shoot in JPG. But if you have the luxury (and space on your hard drive) to take the time to cull through your batch of image files and pick out the best ones to enhance using any of the bazillion post-processing programs (like Photoshop)… you absolutely must have the advantage of shooting in RAW – which captures and gives you all the data that your camera can give – instead of compressing it into a much smaller file with far less detail.
Have you noticed the graph on the back of your camera after you take a photo – it looks like a series of mountains, or maybe one giant mountain? that’s called a histogram. It shows how much data was captured in the darkest shadows all the way through the brightest highlights. If the mountains are smashed up against the right side – that means you’ve “blown your highlights” – like the sun, or bright white clouds. You’ll see nothing but gorgeous grey blobs as there is no data recorded – it was beyond the reach of your camera’s ability to capture on the sensor. Same thing with the left side – if you have a blob smashed up against that side – it means you’ve “blocked your shadows”. Again – no data. Just a big black blob. So the idea is to stay happily between those two end points – depending on whether you care or not about the blown-out or blocked-up portions of your image. You may not… and that’s fine! You’ll hear people tell you to stay mostly to the right side of the middle line. And THAT’s the part that surprised me to learn – the vast majority of a RAW file’s available data sits on the right side of the histogram! Like over 20 times as much in the highlights sector as in the shadows sector. Meaning there’s a ton of detail in the lighter value levels in an image than in the darker value levels. DuChemin tells us: “My own choice is almost always to expose as far right as I can without letting important highlight details get lost, and let the shadows fall where they may.” So my goal this week was to “shoot to the right” – but not SO far to the right that I have those dreaded red blinkies showing up everywhere.
Blinkies? Another technical term? Indeed it is! Those little red blinkies show up on the back of the camera LCD screen letting you know where you blew out your highlights. And I’m religious about watching out for those annoying red blinkie guys. Except…. did you know that the image on the back of your LCD screen is your camera’s processed JPG version? and if you’re shooting in RAW format, that depending on how many blinkies you see or how many are clusters of blinkies – that the data from those areas may not be lost when you examine your RAW image file? Especially if you’re shooting with a relatively new camera with a more advanced sensor? Saints be praised… that was another learning giblet I latched onto this past month!
So let’s translate this into images – since that’s why you’re probably here anyway…. enough of this boring technical yabber-jabber.
No surprise that this week’s images had more snow – which is a great place to check out those dastardly blinkies. Here’s my exemplary SOOC (straight out of camera) image and it’s corresponding histogram – notice that I increased the sensitivity of my sensor by raising my ISO to 400, and closed down my aperture to get a deeper depth of field. Still wish Syd had been farther away from that lovely fence and BBQ in the background, (from the voice of her mentor echoing inside her head: “choose your backgrounds more carefully, darling”) – but wait until I have a chance to retouch the image:
and here with a bit of cropping, straightening, detail extraction, contrast adjustment, color enhancement, cloning, dodging, burning, Gaussian blurring to melt that background down… wait.. I’m not finished yet… oh yes – a bit of vibrance and saturation – and or course….sharpening for web… ta… DAH!!!!! … Now… in hindsight…the one thing that would have made this image SING was to have had a reflector or small flash just off to my right to bounce a tiny bit more light into those lovely dark brown eyes… OR…. to have had her facing the light from the setting sun, but then I would have missed that glorious rim light coming from the sun. There’s always sum-thin’!
Tune in next week for Triangle Time – or why you need to learn to “dance around the exposure triangle”! Fun stuff, folks! But now… for your weekly viewing pleasure, please take a trip to sunny New Zealand and see how Tara Sutherland, New Zealand Pet Photographer, Hamilton “optimised” her RAW images (sorry, Tara, I had to poke a wee bit of fun at the “proper” spelling of our word optimize). Then keep on clicking around the webring until you land back here with Sydney & MAC! See you next week! Cheerios!