For Steve: the Forward from Raw Pipeline

March 15, 2008


This whole thing really started when I sat down to play with an image I shot on the way to work. It was one of those images that I really thought I had no idea how I wanted to print. I shot it at dawn, and it had all the rich magenta, blue, yellow and peach hues, and a fairly large contrast range. In truth, the vision was there… as it always has been, I just was not used to the tools yet.

I did a quick conversion from RAW and played around. After a series of test prints, I finally got a print that I was happy with but when I looked at the many adjustment layers I had made to get there I realized I had hacked up the file pretty severely. I reprocessed the RAW, this time very deliberately for the values and tones I saw in my final test print file, and when I printed that file, a little light flipped on in my head. The print was remarkably richer and deeper. There were colors and transitions that simply had been missing. The first reprocessed print looked as I had visualized it when I shot it.

The entire process started coming together: The implications of the RAW file, Adobe’s release of Camera RAW, a 16 bit Layered workflow, Adjustment Layers, Image Layers and Masking, linking the Histogram display on the camera to printing the Step Wedge…

On reading my chapter on the Histogram and the Step Wedge, a friend said that, for the first time since he started working with Photoshop, he realized we still needed Ansel Adams and the Zone System.

I couldn’t have put it better.


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