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Preface: Real World Raw

Preface: Real World Raw

If you’re reading this book because you want to be told that digital really is better than film, look elsewhere. The term “digital photography” may still be in current use, but sooner rather than later, it will be replaced by the simple term “photography.” If you want to be told that shooting digital raw is better than shooting JPEG, you’ll have to read between the lines—what this book does is to explain how raw differs from JPEG, and how you can exploit those differences.

But if you’re looking for solid, tested, proven techniques for dealing with hundreds or thousands of raw images a day—moving them from the camera to the computer, making initial selects and sorts, optimizing the raw captures, enriching them with metadata, and processing them into deliverable form—this is the book for you. My entire reason for writing this book was to throw a lifebelt to all those photographers who find themselves drowning in gigabytes of data.

The combination of Photoshop CS2, Bridge, and the Camera Raw plug-in offers a fast, efficient, and extremely powerful workflow for dealing with raw digital captures, but the available information tends to be short on answers to questions such as the following.

  • What special considerations should I take into account when shooting digital raw rather than film or JPEG?

  • What edits should I make in Camera Raw?

  • How and where are my Camera Raw settings saved?

  • How can I fine-tune Camera Raw’s color performance to better match my camera’s behavior?

  • How can I set up Bridge to speed up making initial selects from a day’s shoot?

  • How can I make sure that every image I deliver contains copyright and rights management notices?

  • How do I make sure that all the work I do in Bridge, ranking or flagging images, entering keywords and other metadata, and sorting in a custom order, doesn’t suddenly disappear?

  • What are my alternatives to editing each individual image by hand?

  • How can I automate the conversion of raw images to deliverable files?

Raw shooters face these questions, and many others, every day. Unfortunately, the answers are hard to find in the gazillion Photoshop books out there—much less Photoshop’s own manuals—and when they’re addressed at all they tend to be downplayed in favor of whizzy filter effects. This book answers these questions, and the other daily workflow issues that arise, head-on, and focuses on everything you need to do before you get your images open in Photoshop.

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 capture is the future of photography, 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 filename 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 almost 15 years—but the fact is that Camera Raw lets you do things that you simply cannot do 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 Bridge 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 Bridge 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 have to do the work only once, you greatly reduce the likelihood that it will be undone later.

Understanding and Hubris

If it took somewhat less nerve for me to write the second edition of this book than it did the first, it’s partly because the first edition was greeted with an enthusiasm that surprised me, and partly because my friend and colleague Jeff Schewe has informed me that it’s time for me to relinquish the mantle of world’s worst photographer. But I’m free of delusions of adequacy when it comes to my photography, and it still takes a certain amount of hubris for me to advise photographers who are hugely more skilled than I am on how to ply their trade.

With a very few exceptions (which are noted on the pages on which they appear), all the images in the book are my own. One of the two mostcommon complaints about the first edition was that many of the images didn’t illustrate well the points I was trying to make. I’m much better at making problem images than are the great photographers whose work graced the pages of the first edition, and I was perhaps reluctant to take the kinds of liberties with their images that I cheerfully do with my own. The images are solely intended to illustrate the process—this is not a book about my photography!

I may still be among the world’s worst photographers, but I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a close and fruitful relationship with the wonderful group of people who have made Photoshop the incredibly powerful tool it has become, and in the process I’ve had the opportunity to look longer and deeper at its inner workings than most people who use it to earn their livelihood.

Some of those inner workings are probably what my friend and colleague Fred Bunting likes to term “more interesting than relevant,” but others—such as where and how your ranking or flagging information, your hand-tuned image settings, and your color-correct previews get stored—are pieces of vital information for anyone who entrusts their work to the tools discussed by this book. If conveying that information helps much better photographers than I to realize their vision, I consider the effort worthwhile.

How the Book Is Organized

A significant problem I faced in writing this book is that everything in the workflow affects everything else in the workflow, so some circularity is inherent. But the second most-common complaint about the first edition was that it had more redundancy than seemed necessary. I’ve tried to address that in this second edition.

The first two chapters look at the technical underpinnings of digital raw capture. Chapter 1, Digital Camera Raw, looks at the fundamental nature of raw images—what they are, and the advantages and pitfalls of shooting them. Chapter 2, How Camera Raw Works, looks at the specific advantages that Camera Raw offers over other raw converters.

Chapter 3, Raw System Overview, provides a road map for the remainder of the book by showing the roles of the three major components in the system, Photoshop, Bridge, and the Camera Raw plug-in.

Chapter 4, Camera Raw Controls, describes the many features offered by the Camera Raw plug-in, which has grown to the point where it’s almost an application in its own right. Chapter 5, Hands-On Camera Raw, explores how to use these features quickly and effectively to evaluate and edit raw captures.

Chapter 6, Adobe Bridge, looks at the features in Bridge that are particularly relevant to a raw workflow—Bridge is a surprisingly deep application that serves the entire Adobe Creative Suite, not just Photoshop. Chapter 7, It’s All About the Workflow, doesn’t evangelize a specific workflow, because my needs may be very different from yours. Instead, it introduces some basic workflow principles, then looks at the various ways in which you can use Bridge to perform common tasks, so that you can build the workflow that works for you.

Chapter 8, Mastering Metadata, looks at the inner workings of the various metadata schemes used by Camera Raw and Bridge, and shows you how to make them work for you. Finally, Chapter 9, Exploiting Automation, show you how to leverage the work done in Camera Raw and Bridge to produce converted images that require minimal work in Photoshop and contain the metadata you want them to.

A Word to Windows Users

This book applies to both Windows and Macintosh. But I’ve been using Macs for over 20 years, so all the dialog boxes, menus, and palettes are illustrated using screen shots from the Macintosh version. Similarly, when discussing the many keyboard shortcuts in the program, I cite the Macintosh versions. In almost every case, the Command key translates to the Ctrl key and the Option key translates to the Alt key. In the relatively few exceptions to this rule, I’ve spelled out both the Macintosh and the Windows versions explicitly. I apologize to all you Windows users for the small inconvenience, but because Photoshop is so close to being identical on both platforms, I picked the one I know and ran with it.

The Pace of Innovation

I received the first beta version of Camera Raw 3.1 long after Chapters 4 and 5 had already been through copyedit and indexing. In addition to support for some interesting new cameras, Camera Raw 3.1 adds significant enhancements to a DNG-based workflow. Camera Raw 3.1 doesn’t ship with Photoshop CS2, but it will probably be available for download by the time you read this, so if you download it and are puzzled by the discrepancies between its preferences and the ones shown in Chapters 4 and 5, look at the sidebar “Working with DNG” on pages 206207.


For those of you who may find such an exercise helpful, I’ve made the raw files of the images that I evaluated and processed in Chapter 5, Hands-On Camera Raw, available for download should you wish to go through the steps yourself. You can find them at www.realworldcameraraw.com. The login is RWCR2, and the password, in tribute to Mel Brooks, is swordfish.

Thank You!

I owe thanks to the many people who made this book possible. First, Thomas Knoll, both for creating Photoshop and Camera Raw, and for taking the time to review chapters while they were under construction and correcting a number of egregious errors. Jeff Schewe made many useful suggestions, and called me on explanations that made no sense. Thanks also to the inimitable Russell Preston Brown, who convinced Peachpit Press that this book was needed and that I was the person to write it. Any errors or inadequacies that remain in the book are despite their best efforts and are solely my responsibility.

I couldn’t have done this without the Peachpit Dream Team. Rebecca Gulick, my editor extraordinaire, somehow just makes things happen when and how they need to while appearing absolutely unflappable; production virtuoso Lisa Brazieal turned my virtual creation into a manufactured reality; Liz Welch painstakingly combed the manuscript for typos and inconsistencies, and patiently helped me translate my native language into American English. Steve Rath provided the comprehensive index to make sure that everyone can find the information they need.

Stephen Johnson, Michael Kieran, and Larry Baca contributed to this book in entirely mysterious ways, mostly by being great human beings and even better friends. Thanks to my partners in Pixel Genius LLC—Martin Evening, Seth Resnick, Andrew Rodney, Jeff Schewe, and Mike Skurski—for forging a brotherhood that does business in a way that makes MBAs blanch but keeps our customers happy, and for being the finest bunch of people with whom it has ever been my pleasure and privilege to work. Thanks also to the Pixel Mafia—you know who you are!

Last but by no stretch of the imagination least, I thank my lovely wife, Angela, for putting up with the stresses and strains that go with an author’s life, for being my best friend and partner, and for making my life such a very happy one.

Bruce Fraser

San Francisco, April 2005

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