As a beginning photographer who has just acquired his first digital SLR camera, you might have shot in RAW and maybe even memorized its definition: it’s a digital negative, it’s an unprocessed image file, it has a lot of metadata, etc. But because you have been shooting JPEG all your life and also because RAW, you discovered, quickly filled up your memory card with its VERY big files, you got back to shooting JPEG. It suits me just fine, you say. After all, you could also correct and enhance your pictures in Photoshop even if they are in JPEG.
Boy, are you missing a lot! Everything you heard about RAW is true. Professionals and serious amateur photographers shoot in RAW for very good reasons. With RAW, you can do a lot more with your images. Mikkel Aaland convincingly illustrates this in his book “Photoshop CS3 RAW: Transform your RAW images into works of art.”
In the first chapter, Mikkel differentiates between JPEG and RAW and explains when to shoot RAW and when to shoot in JPEG by illustrating this with his own JPEG snapshots of family and some other “grin and grip” situations with friends, and artistic shots of landscapes and portraits where he clearly had to shoot in RAW.
Having convinced you to shoot RAW – not exclusively, he says; there is a place for both RAW and JPEG to coexist – Mikkel then proceeds to show you what to do with your RAW photos and how to make the most out of it.
The book is all about processing your images in Photoshop CS3 and the companion applications that come with it: Photo Downloader, Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and, if you download it, Adobe DNG Converter. All the tools you need to successfully work on RAW images are there. The book does not discuss Lightroom, Aperture or Bibble. Mikkel focuses solely on Photoshop and its companion tools.
How does he teach? Does he sound like a boring teacher in a sleepy classroom? No, sir, most definitely not. While he doesn’t throw thunder and lightning all over the place, or regale you with funny stories to keep you awake, Mikkel is methodical in his approach. The book is well organized. He keeps to his topic and succeeds in letting you understand what he is trying to say by the clarity of his language and his examples.
One thing you notice immediately about Mikkel’s style of teaching is that he often goes in-depth with his topics, explaining not only what tools to use but also why you should use it, in the process explaining the inner workings of say, Gaussian Blur or the Chromatic Aberration controls in Camera Raw, or the intricacies of the dreaded Histogram.
“Do I need to know how and why my car runs as long as I can drive it?” you may ask. As a beginning driver you may not need to know those at all, but as you gain experience, you’ll thank your driving instructor for explaining why you should not have your foot on the clutch pedal all the time, or what happens to the spark plugs, the oil and brake pads after some amount of time driving.
You just can’t help it; Mikkel spent more than 20 years in digital imaging and has done pioneering work in digital photography. He has such a wealth of knowledge that just naturally overflows.
To aid you in understanding what he teaches you, Mikkel has made available some full resolution pictures that you should download. You work on these examples by following the text in the book. I think this is a very good method, as it allows teacher and student to work in sync on the same image, greatly enhancing the learning process.
And here Mikkel excels. His gift as a teacher shines through here. He explains in no uncertain terms what to do and when to do it, and why. How do you tweak the sliders to add clarity to an image? How much Vibrance or Saturation do you add or subtract? How sharp is sharp? Mikkel spells these out to you in unequivocal language.
As you go through each page to follow the lessons, you will also be inspired by the beautiful photographs he shares with us. The book is interspersed with full page pictures that show what a good photograph should be. The photos are superb, the printing is topnotch.
There’s just one failed image in his book, that one on page 124, a picture of an Asian boy in sarong to illustrate how to recover a picture with blown highlights and very dark shadows. The workflow for this image is described in great detail on pages 138-145. The edges of the brick structure and the boy’s figure in the finished image are still clearly visible against the light background. These could have been softened some more in Photoshop.
But that should not distract from the lesson offered because that tutorial on blending two or more copies in Photoshop is very valid. Mikkel should have just gone an extra step to complete the whole image improvement process.
In summary, Photoshop CS3 RAW by Mikkel Aaland succeeds in instructing us how to use Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS3 as a very important workflow tool to process and enhance RAW images. This book is particularly suited for the beginning photographer who is just now starting to use his new DSLR camera to shoot RAW and has Photoshop CS3 installed in his computer. The lessons could go deep at times, but it can only benefit the photographer to understand the hows and whys of the tools used.
Adobe Camera RAW in Photoshop CS3 is a very capable RAW tool. If you follow along with Mikkel’s lessons in the book, you will be rewarded with a deep understanding of the process and thereby be able to improve your photographs more than what is possible with JPEG alone.
But ACR, you might find out later, could become inadequate for your workflow as you progress as a photographer. If you have not already, you will encounter Photoshop Lightroom down the road. Lightroom is what the pros use for workflow. Lightroom offers the photographer more functionalities that make it easy to import, edit, organize, process and share digital images in an integrated work environment. If you get to that point you’ll have a head start, you’ll thank Mikkel Aaland for explaining Adobe Camera RAW to you. After all, if you superimpose ACR’s tools over the Lightroom interface, you’ll find they are one and the same. You’ll find Lightroom is actually ACR, just a bit fancier.
Photoshop CS3 RAW: Transform your RAW images into works of art, by Mikkel Aaland, O’Reilly, First Edition December 2007, 8” x 10”, 252 pages, US $34.99. CAN $34.99
Chapter 1 Shooting RAW
Why Shoot RAW?
When to Shoot RAW
Critical Digital Camera Settings
Including a Color Target
Chapter 2 Using Adobe’s Photo Downloader
Using the Photo Downloader Standard Dialog
Useful Features of the Advanced Dialog
Chapter 3 Photo Editing RAW in Bridge
Creating a Custom Workspace
Editing a Photo Session
Chapter 4 Getting Started with Camera Raw
Updating Camera Raw
Camera Raw Tools
Preview and Analysis in Camera Raw
Camera Raw Tabs
Chapter 5 Photo Editing with Camera Raw
Editing the Shots
Chapter 6 Using Camera Raw Basic Tab Controls
Using Camera Raw Auto Tone Adjustments
Customizing the Camera Raw Default Settings
Evaluating an Image in Camera Raw
Manually Adjusting White Balance
Manually Mapping Tone
Using Vibrance and Saturation
Adjustments with Photoshop
Chapter 7 Advanced Tonal Control
Using Camera Raw Tone Curves for More Control
Using the HSL/Grayscale Tab
Creating Custom Camera Profiles
Advanced Tonal Control with Camera Raw and Photoshop
Part One: Creating Two Versions
Part Two: Blending Two or More Copies in Photoshop
Chapter 8 Sharpening RAW
RAW Sharpening 101
Sharpening with Adobe Camera Raw
Using Photoshop’s Smart Sharpen
Sharpening High ISO Images with Reduce Noise
Chapter 9 Reducing Noise, Correcting Chromatic Aberrations, and Controlling Vignetting
Using Camera Raw to Reduce Noise
Using Photoshop’s Reduce Noise Filter
About Chromatic Aberrations
Diminishing or Adding Vignetting
Chapter 10 Converting RAW to Black and White, Toning, and Special Effects
Using Camera Raw’s Grayscale Mix
Single Color Toning
Getting A Cross-Processing Look with Split Toning
Pushing the Boundaries with Special Effects
Advanced Localized Control
Chapter 11 Archiving and Working with DNG
Archive Strategy: Hedging Your Bets
Saving DNG Files
Converting to DNG with Camera Raw
Using Adobe DNG Converter
Chapter 12 Converting and Delivering RAW
Using Bridge with Image Processor to Convert RAW Files
Applying Custom Settings to Multiple RAW Images
Using Camera Raw’s Save Image
Automating Contact Sheets, Packages, and Web Galleries
Using Batch and Actions
Writing Custom Scripts