Sunday, October 11, 2015

More Raw File Examples

Indeed, Mr. Ken Rockwell might be right - if you know how to set up your DSLR or Mirrorless Camera well, you can get by with not using raw file processing, and shoot strictly JPG's. This is in support of his basic philosophy of "take more pictures... don't worry about fussing with them". But, for others who really like doing things with raw files, it's not "fussing", but rather, spending more time with your pictures, so that you will really discover things that are going on within a particular shot.

The following shows how with the raw file, I discovered the real underlying composition strength of one picture, and by spending time with it, found many different ways to enhance this particular composition. If all I had was the camera's JPG, I never would have discovered this, unless perhaps I had my camera set up for it ahead of time (which BTW would have been completely wrong when compared with my usual way of shooting). This was an extremely candid shot, taken through my car window as a big cement truck rolled by, so how could I possibly have known how to set my camera up ahead of time?

JPEG Straight Out of Camera (SOOC)
Not bad. For this shot, I used the camera's Auto Lighting Optimizer set to "Standard". I've never used this feature before now, because it's basically a Shadow Lifter, used in most Raw File Converters to reveal detail in shadows. It did a fair job - better than I expected. Along with other in-camera features, such as increased Sharpness and increased Saturation, it might indeed be possible to avoid shooting raw files.

But for this shot, I decided I wanted the opposite - don't care so much about the detail under the truck, but would rather emphasize the rear lights*, and have the rest of the picture darker. Keeping in mind the Auto Lighting optimizer only applies to the JPG output (not Raw), we're afforded the freedom to do as we please with lighting situations such as this in the super-wide latitude of the raw file.
* The red rear lights, along with the distant traffic light really make this composition - they happen to fall on, or very close to the grid lines. Placing emphasis on these lights while darkening the rest of the picture really gives the whole thing it's composition strength.
DxO Highlight Tone Priority
DxO Optics Pro gives many one-click exposure options, one of which is Highlight Tone Priority - 3 Levels of it in fact. I used it here^, so we notice the detail under the truck is lost in deep shadow (as it would be in the real world at sun-set). This is also available in-camera (Canon DSLR's), but it cannot be used at the same time as Auto Lighting Optimizer. In other words, in-camera, you cannot raise shadow detail and highlight detail at the same time... in fact, this would be High Dynamic Range (HDR) by definition, which CAN BE achieved in-camera JPG with one setting, which takes 3 shots in rapid succession, each at a different Exposure Value (EV) and combines them into one HDR image. It works very well if you're into that, but I always see HDR as a deviation from the real world so I tend to avoid it. See the HDR example below***: The above shot^ also reveals the excellent way in which DxO automatically optimizes the lens and camera - compare this shot with the SOOC JPG... it's subtle, but the absence of lens distortion makes anything processed with DxO software seem so much more relaxed, always with the feel that you can walk right into the scene. Remember, DxO Labs is the absolute master of this science.

Another nice trick in DxO Optics Pro is Camera Body simulation - the color profile for every camera body in the DxO database is available, so if you don't like the look of your own camera, you can make it look like you used another! The uber-expensive Leica M body is one of these, and it's known for having a deep, rich color profile, so by selecting it, I obtain a slightly darker picture, sacrificing enough shadow detail, while having the nice deep look of the Leica M camera, all the while strengthening the composition in the way I wanted to.

DxO Camera Body - Leica M
Photivo - Highlight Color Lift & Micro-Contrast
With Photivo, I darkened the shot down a bit, and lifted the highlight color values. But compared to the DxO processed shots, it's not quite enough for the red lights to add their strength to the composition. Secondly, Photivo does not do the DxO Lens Correction magic, so the truck doesn't pop out from the picture quite as nicely. This same "problem" exists with every raw file processor except DxO. Now, it's important to keep in mind that most raw developers do include lens correction ability - even Photoshop Elements and GIMP, which are not raw developers include "Lens Fun". But DxO has already done a vast number of modern lens / camera combo's under the most scientific conditions possible, and it's perfect. Unless you have the Optical Lab equipment like DxO has (which you don't) I don't see much sense in messing around with the optics in a picture, unless you want to deliberately create distortion, not eliminate it. To my eyes, this alone makes DxO superior to everything else, and equal to the automated lens correction now built into high-end cameras, such as Canon's EOS-xxD and xD series. But if you have DxO, you don't need this; you can go with a cheaper camera, like Canon's EOS Rebel series - even the oldest Digital Rebel body and kit lens from way back in 2002 are included in the DxO database.

Now, for the amazing Polarr software for Chromebook. It too includes manual lens correction (not the same as DxO per-packaged lens correction), along with everything else you'll need, and it's amazingly well thought out, and runs very quickly. To get it, you don't need to buy a Chromebook; you can simply use your existing computer (Windows, Mac or Linux), download the Google Chrome browser, set up a Google Account and download the Polarr App. Then if you do buy a Chromebook, everything you do within your Google Account will show up in your Chromebook, and vice-versa! Notice how I warmed the picture with Polarr by adjusting the White Balance below:

Chromebook Polarr - Warmer White Balance, Micro-Contrast & Reduced Exposure Value
DxO One Click HDR
This is not "proper" HDR made in-camera with the blending of 3 shots in rapid sequence at different exposures. In fact, as the truck was moving, I could not have done this. But with raw file processing, it can be simulated from a single shot: this is pretty close to what HDR looks like. Yes, all of the shadow detail is there, and if you look at the sky, you see clouds that were barely there in the brighter pictures. But this isn't real, folks! If this is the way your eyeballs see the world around you, then you're smoking something. I don't want to poop all over HDR because it has become a means of artistic expression through photography. But, for the realist photographer, or one who really wants to establish a mood, HDR is completely void of realism, magic and mood. It's just a mechanical thing (Hey... look what I did!). This picture when given the HDR treatment looses everything, especially the composition strength of the red tail-lights I had mentioned above.

Yes, I'm convinced that above all, photography is art, and to get better art that stands out from the mediocre, you have to learn how to "work it" in the "digital darkroom" - and that's raw file processing.

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