The Advantage of Camera RAW

RAW gives the photographer the tool for very fine interpretation of the image in the contemplative atmosphere of the digital darkroom. It bypasses the camera's programming, putting the unprocessed output of the sensor completely under the photographer's control.

This was shot with a Nikon CP8400 in the Desert Passage of the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. the image above was opened in Photoshop CS2 unaltered. It represents a perfect exposure and looks exactly as I had pre-visualized. The camera was set to automatic white balance, all sharpening was turned off, saturation was on the second to lowest setting and the exposure was set to hold maximum highlight detail, with no regard to shadow detail. It looks dark, soft and muddy - an ideal RAW shot.

This allowed me to bring up the shadow detail to precisely the level I wanted by repeatedly opening the file, each time at a higher exposure level, and layering it over the darker exposures where the highlight detail resided. By clicking on the brightest highlights with the magic wand tool, inverting the selection after some feathering of the edge, a click on the layer mask icon in the layer window provided a perfect layer mask that allowed the highlight detail through while preserving the mid-tones and shadow detail.

The Camera RAW loader gave me total control of the colour balance in order to preserve the character of the neon, but still obtain a pleasing overall balance. Starting with a low saturation image, I was able to set the saturation for exactly the feeling I wished to achieve. In Lab mode, I did a small amount of sharpening on a sub-pixel level, so the image does not look "sharpened".

All this work was done in a 48-bit workspace on the 12-bits per pixel RAW image, allowing very subtle interpretation without degrading the quality of the image.

Ansel Adams, also a fine musician once said (in musical terms) "The exposure is the score, but the print is the performance". RAW provides a very rich score for the artist to interpret.

©2005 Larry N.Bolch