Stephen Johnson Tutorial: What I Do in Raw, What I Leave for Photoshop

(excerpt from the book Stephen Johnson on Digital Photography unreleased revised electronic version)

(from Chapter 9 of the 2006 book)

RAW Files and Adobe Camera Raw
For the first few years of digital cameras, the JPEG format was the only picture-saving option in many cameras. As a compressed format with heavy image processing and permanent data loss, this was not an acceptable format. Eventually, many of us working in the industry were able to convince camera makers to support uncompressed files, but they were implemented as fully processed TIFFs and therefore were big and slow to save.

sjodp book

In the early 1990s, Kodak, Leaf, and BetterLight pioneered in what has generally become known as a “RAW” format—holding onto their camera data and building software to process these “sensor dumps.” In response to many of our requests, additional camera makers started incorporating a raw archive format into the file saving options in professional camera as well as many pocket cameras. Adobe has even created a documented standard for Raw files known as DNG (Digital Negative), and many companies are starting to support it.

Preserving the data that the camera sensor can record is a very high priority for pulling every nuance of photographic information from the camera and for long-term options to reprocess and later improve the image as software improves.

The Camera Raw plug-in for Photoshop and Lightroom are Adobe’s contributions toward a universal interface for accessing and interacting with a variety of camera manufacturer’s RAW/archive formats.


Preservation of Your Data
The data from which your photograph is drawn, and its accessibility must be preserved. This is absolute. As camera companies get into the software business, some might see revenue advantage from keeping their raw file formats proprietary. This seems to me to be essentially trying to own the basis from which our copyrighted photographs are derived. It is almost as if we could go back in time and have a camera/film company try to own the latent image left on the film after exposure and hold the key to the only development method possible. This is not acceptable. There must be publicly documented parameters and full access to the data we record. We own our data, they do not.

To address the growing frustration with locked up data, Adobe released the Camera Raw processor and then developed the DNG format for encoding Raw data into a documented format. Many companies are starting to write their files to this format, while others are refusing. This standard is now under review for adoption as an ISO standard..

Currently the DNG format is available to anyone using a camera supported by Adobe, through the DNG Converter. Some people’s workflows make the conversion to DNG the very first action they take on their files, batch converting all of their data to DNG, and working from there, through Camera Raw or Lightroom to interact and “develop” their raw files into photographs.

(from Dec. 2011 Newsletter)

I use a RAW Processor to interpret the Raw data with the intention of developing it into the most useable form possible for precision editing in Photoshop with its extraordinarily powerful processing tools.

My basic intent is to draw out the image the information I need from the Raw data stream, taking care of basic tasks, moving the rendition toward my intent, but always with the mantra of preserving detail and options for careful and precise editing in Photoshop. Those basic tasks include color balance and exposure, any rotation needed, and correcting chromatic aberration.

The following is a basic breakdown of the issues I pay attention to at the Raw Processor and Photoshop stages of deriving, then editing the photograph.

RAW Processor Image Development

  • basic look and feel with Exposure, Recovery, Fill and custom Point Curve
  • careful highlight and show detail revealed and held
  • basic color balance
  • detailed highlight recovery if needed (Adjustment Brush)
  • lens corrections (chromatic aberration)
  • horizon straightening

Photoshop Image Editing

  • Adjustment Layers for Non-Destructive Editing
  • careful, deeply controllable sharpening
  • precise tonal control
  • geo-specific editing with  extreme control
  • very careful color editing and Hue adjustment
  • b&w interpretation through the Black and White Adjustment Layer



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Last updated on December 22, 2011 . Mail comments to:
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