Nikon D200 + Nikkor 17-55 f/2.8 @ 19mm — 1/350 sec, f/13, ISO 100 — full exif & map
Another Sunset View
from our New-Year's trip, from the set shown in the post the other day
When a digital camera produces a standard JPG image file, it does so after internally processing its sensor's raw data. This processing includes the mathematical application of various settings for exposure, white balance, sharpness, color saturation, and other algorithms that massage the image data in an attempt to achieve a particular look.
Many cameras offer “scene” settings that can impact how this processing is done. For example, a “portrait” setting may reduce the amount of sharpening applied.
When shooting in a raw format, this processing is taken out of the camera, and left to your image-processing software. I use Adobe Lightroom to catalog and process all my images, including raw ones. Lightroom offers a myriad of settings for adjusting the raw sensor data, many of which are comparable to those done in camera, and others allowing finer control.
Making adjustments to these controls (again, controls such as white balance, exposure, sharpness, etc.) can be done to some extent without breaking the “honesty” of the result. For example, adding a bit of exposure boost to correct for an underexposed shot, or to adjust the color balance so that skin tones are realistic.
It's quite acceptable, even, to adjust the white balance to add an overall red/blue tinge to achieve a “warmer” or “cooler” look to the result. These effects are well within the limits of what the on-camera settings can do, so they fall under “creative adjustment” of the image.
However, at some point, making these changes leaves the realm of “creative adjustment” and enters the realm of “creative license,” producing a result that can be quite far from reality. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this, so long as one realizes that the result is no longer “honest,” but rather “artistic.” (Hah, as it turns out, today's “What the Duck” cartoon applies perfectly.)
Frankly, I'm not happy with my choice of “honest” and “artistic” here, because one can certainly be both honest and artistic at the same time — heck, that's the ultimate goal of many types of art — but I can't think of anything better at the moment.
Playing in Lightroom
Lightroom offers many image-processing settings. The most basic set of controls are in the aptly-named “Basic” group, but there are many other groups, some of which have with names like “Tone Curve,” “Lens Corrections,” and “Split Toning.”
In playing with some of the “Basic” controls, I found some really interesting effects when I combined them in extreme ways, so I thought I'd share a few of the results. The version above is replicated as the “A” version in the set below.Mouseover the boxed letters to see various versions, and Lightroom's Basic group of adjustments used to create them.
mouseover a button to see that version
Remember, all these versions are built from a single image's sensor data, differing only in which generic mathematical adjustments are applied. There is no “painting” or other free-form image manipulation going on, as one might do in Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro.
I find the range of results to be just amazing. Which do you like best?
This is only the tip of the iceberg, even using only the “Basic” controls. For example, only three versions (“F”, “G”, “H”) adjust the basic white-balance, and none adjust the tint, which would result in all the more crazy results.
The “X” version is the result with Lightroom's settings at their default, which is fairly close to the JPG my camera would produce with its own settings at their default. Although this is the most “honest” version in the “straight from the camera” sense, it doesn't reflect reality well because the image is much darker than the scene actually appeared. The human eye has much more dynamic range than film or digital sensor (that it, it can distinguish detail throughout a much wider range of concurrent brightnesses), so while we could easily see the sand and island and all around, they look very dark in this “X” version because the camera adjusted the exposure based on the overpowering brightness of the sun.
Anyway, I caption version “D” as “Closer to Reality” because, well, the result is closer to what we actually saw that day.
Even more interesting/bizarre effects can be achieved with the “Split Toning” and “Color” controls. If you have Lightroom, Aperture, or another application that can process Nikon “NEF” files, feel free to download the original by right-clicking and selecting “save as” with this link: JEF_024582.NEF. If you come up with something interesting, post to your own blog and leave a comment here!
(I guess this post sort of qualifies to be among my photography tech posts.)