Joys of digital

(NOTE: I got lightbox working.  Click on one of the photos in this post to check it out.)

One of the interesting aspects of digital photography for me is the way that suddenly the camera make a much bigger difference in the photo than it did previously. This is of course because the camera now also does the job of the film. With film cameras it was relatively simple to swap rolls of film to get increased speed ratings or different color balances and response curves giving wildly different results for the same “photo”. Yes, much of that can be mimicked through processing and at the hands of a skilled artist can be quite convincing. But there are still physical limits that could be changed or pushed with film that are fixed and solid with digital. This was even worse when all cameras created JPG’s or TIF’s so you were stuck with the artifacts of each cameras own software shortcomings.

Thankfully RAW files bring back a lot of the flexibility of film that was missing. And in many ways give even more flexibility since now you can choose your “film” after you shoot instead of before, not to mention being able to change your mind on the fly.

Which tasty Challa would you rather have:

Challa as JPG from 7D

Challas as Picassa RAW conversion

Challas hand tweaked

Read on for the differences

The first shot is a JPG from my Minolta 7D with no modifications at all. This is the starting point if you’re not shooting RAW.

The second is a JPG made by Picassa doing a default RAW conversion on the same image. It’s quite a difference. The RAW image is much more neutral and they colors and contrast aren’t as exaggerated. You can get the same image as the camera delivered in the first sample by processing this – or something completely different. But it’s a much better starting place for any modifications.

The third is a JPG I made by doing a custom RAW conversion in Photoshop and saving. No manipulation, just a RAW import. Very similar to Picasas guess but a little more refined to give some more detail in the shadows and just a bit more punch to the colors. I usually would throw in a bit of sharpening here but I’m really just trying to make a point on tonality right now.

Overall the 2nd image is probably the most “natural” and closest to how the scene appeared. The third is closest to what I visualized when shooting. And the first is barely useful as a proof. That isn’t to say the 3rd is what I’d consider a finished “print” level image. I would still want to add a curves or levels layer, do some sharpening, and possibly a little dodging or burning. All things I used to do with any negative that wound up in my enlarger. Not that this particular image would ever make it to my enlarger…the plane of focus didn’t fall quite where I thought it was and even cropped this image isn’t quite what I was going for. It was a good example of the tonality changes I wanted to show though so I ran with it.

Even so the JPG’s are quicker and in some conditions they’re very nice images. Plus Picassas default export has it’s own flaws. It’s better than the firmware in most cameras … but it’s still not as good as a human. This is where many of the skills that most pros who shot film would trust their lab to deal with come into play. And there are still many pros who work the same way, passing their digital files off to a lab to be processed into final images. Software is getting better – but until we have AI there’s always going to be photos that can only be done justice with some help from an experienced photographer with lab experience – even though it’s now possible to get that experience without using any chemicals, paper, or film.

I still want to setup a chemical darkroom here at my new house and do some film and paper work. One of the reasons I wanted to move to Yuma was to do more shooting in the desert, and I’ve barely touched my cameras since moving here … despite moving to digital which is much more affordable with not having to pay for film and chemicals! Digital is a great way to play with things and test ideas … but for some of the images in my head executing them in digital would just never give the final result I’m after. But taking lots of test images in digital and playing with them sure will help me focus in on the right combination of film to achieve what I’m after!

Oh and believe it or not – I actually started to post about the bread I’ve been baking. I’ll have to come back to that another night though. After seeing these images of the Challa I just had to unburden my thoughts a bit. They’re a bit ragged and raw up there but at least they’re out of my head now. Maybe later I’ll come back and try to clean them up a bit more for posterity, but it’s more likely I’d just post about it again instead and try to do better a second time 😉

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