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Preface: Real World Raw > Teach a Man to Fish

Teach a Man to Fish

The old saw goes, “Give a man a fish, and you give him a meal; teach a man to fish, and you give him a living.” By that reckoning, my goal is to make you, gentle reader, a marine biologist—teaching you not only how to fish, but also to understand fish, how they think, where they hang out, and how to predict their behavior.

Digital photography holds immense promise, but if you're on a deadline and suddenly find that all your raw images are mysteriously being processed at camera default settings rather than the carefully optimized ones you've applied, or your images insist on displaying in order of file name rather than the custom sort order you spent an hour constructing,you can easily be forgiven for contemplating a return to rush processing at your friendly local lab and sorting on a light table with a grease pencil.

My hope is that you'll turn to this book instead.

You Are the Lab

One of the best things about shooting raw is the freedom it confers in imposing your preferred interpretation on your images. The concomitant downside is that if you don't impose your preferred interpretation on the images, you'll have to settle for one imposed by some admittedly clever software that is nonetheless a glorified adding machine with no knowledge of tone and color, let alone composition, aesthetics, or emotion.

With raw capture, you have total control, and hence total responsibility. A great many photographers wind up converting all their raw images at default settings and then try to fix everything in Photoshop, because Photoshop is something they know and understand. You'd be hard pressed to find a bigger Photoshop fan than I am—I've been living and breathing Photoshop for over a dozen years—but the fact is that Camera Raw allows you to do things that simply cannot be replicated in Photoshop. If you don't use Camera Raw to optimize your exposure and color balance, you'll wind up doing a lot more work in Photoshop than you need to, and the quality of the results will almost certainly be less than you'd obtain by starting from an optimized raw conversion rather than a default one.

Drowning in Data

If you had to edit every single image by hand, whether in Photoshop or in Camera Raw, you'd quickly find that digital is neither faster nor cheaper than film. A day's shoot may produce six or seven gigabytes of image data, and it all has to get from the camera to the computer before you can even start making your initial selects. Building an efficient workflow is critical if you want to make the digital revolution survivable, let alone enjoyable. So just about every chapter in this book contains key advice on building a workflow that lets you work smarter rather than harder.

Making Images Smarter

We're already living science fiction, and the future arrived quite a while ago. One of the most-overlooked aspects of digital imaging is the opportunities offered by metadata. Your camera already embeds a great deal of potentially useful information in the image—the date and time of shooting, the ISO speed, the exposure and aperture settings, the focal length, and so on—but the File Browser makes it easy to enrich your images still further with keywords and other useful metadata and lets you protect your intellectual property by embedding copyright and rights management.

Metadata is a means of adding value to your images. Camera metadata provides unambiguous image provenance, while keywords make it much likelier that your images will be selected by clients you've yet to meet. An image with no metadata is simply a collection of pixels, while an image that has been enriched by metadata is a digital asset that can keep earning for a lifetime.

Starting Out Right

The reason for doing a lot of work in Camera Raw and the File Browser is simple. If you do the work correctly right at the start of the workflow, you never have to do it again later. When you attach your preferred Camera Raw setting to a raw image, those settings will be used every time you open that raw image, with no further work required on your part. And any metadata you apply to the raw image will automatically be embedded in every converted image you create from that raw image unless you take steps to remove it (and yes, I'll show you how to do that too). Not only do you only have to do the work once, you greatly reduce the likelihood that it will be undone later.

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