Two recurring questions that we often see from photographers are: “I have color management properly set up on my computer; why is it that the color is different between an out-of-camera JPEG and, say, Lightroom (substitute with your favorite 3rd-party converter)?” and “Why is it that the particular color on a photo is different from the actual color?”. In this article, we will go over why color from images is reproduced differently on camera LCD screens and monitors, and the steps you can take to achieve more accurate colors.
On any photographic forum, it doesn’t take much effort to find old or new discussions on how to set the “proper” exposure while shooting, and even what exactly “proper exposure” is. The question of setting exposure was and is one of the most commonly-discussed topics on forums and blogs. Newbies (and not) bring it up again and again and receive all sorts of explanations – long and short, deeply “scientific” and completely “practical”, starting with advice to use the in-camera histogram, “zebras”, manual exposure mode, corrections and compensation, special camera modes to increase the dynamic range and increase the reliability of the histogram and other overexposure indicators, a separate exposure meter, Adams’s exposure formula, metering the incident light, spot measurement, a grey card, the back of one’s hand, green grass, an ExpoDisk, the sunny 16 rule, Magic Cube, etc., etc.
Suppose you have read somewhere that the dynamic range of your camera at a certain ISO setting is 11 stops. And here comes the immediate question – how can one use such a treasure to its full potential? Optimal exposure for RAW is the answer. But now we need to explain what we mean when we say, “optimal exposure for RAW”. Let’s start with one of the problems, which arises as a result of non-optimal exposure for RAW. Here is a typical wide dynamic range low-light scene. According to Sekonic spot-meter, it is wider than 11 stops:
As we already mentioned in the previous article “Where are my Mid-tones?“, most raw converters apply some hidden adjustments to a raw shot, often resulting in a bumped mid-tone, clipped highlights, and compressed shadows. This is done to make the shot look good, but can also lead to all sorts of confusion. If you are using or planning to use some raw converter, you may want to know what “beautifiers” it applies, and their price.
We’ve gotten several emails, the most recent and the best phrased one from a reader of Photography Life, with questions along the following lines:
What happened to my mid-tones? I set the exposure using exposure meter, opened the shot in Adobe Lr (or Adobe Camera Raw, or some other converter) … and the shot looks overexposed and everything from mid-tone and up looks very flat. If I shoot in RAW+JPEG, the JPEG looks OK, while the RAW is not. Should I expose lower?
We’ve decided that the reply to this question belongs here.
With Adobe Lightroom being the most popular post-processing tool on the market, one might wonder how good the software really is in processing RAW images. After-all, that’s what we use Lightroom primarily for – to post-process our images and get the best out of them. Having been using Lightroom since the early release versions (dating back to Lightroom 1), I have seen the software grow from a simple RAW editor to a pretty complex piece of software for both image management and powerful RAW processing. While there have been many great additions to Lightroom over time, Adobe certainly has had its share of rather disappointing problems, from typical bugs and stability issues to poor handling of RAW files. True, the software has gotten much more complex and with that complexity, it is surely expected to see potential bugs and issues. But one would hope that things would get better with each new release and bugs would eventually get taken care of. Sadly, the direction where Adobe is heading with Lightroom has just not been looking good. It appears that with every update, instead of getting proper fixes, all we are getting is additional bugs and new features that are not ready for prime time.
You may find this article to be useful in a practical way, not just as an isolated case of RAW data damage. Often, just a casual look into raw data provides arguments allowing one to persuade technical support that there is a problem with your camera body that needs to be addressed. The case started with this post at DPReview:
No matter what software one uses for post-processing photographs, the process of selecting what images to keep and work on, also known as “culling”, can be quite painful when dealing with thousands of images. And this gets even more painful when working with RAW images, because operating systems usually have no built-in capabilities to view and properly render RAW files. Many photographers end up keeping all RAW images on their computers, because they do not want to go through the hassle of deleting bad images they will never use, only to realize overtime that their hard drives get filled up quickly and their post-processing time takes much longer. Those who try to cull images in Lightroom know that if a full size image preview is not generated at the time of import, it can take a long time to render each image. Sadly, Lightroom is quite weak at quickly previewing images, so working pros and enthusiasts usually end up complementing the culling part of their workflow with additional software like Photo Mechanic. At $150, however, Photo Mechanic costs as much as a retail version of Lightroom, becoming a cost barrier for many. Enter FastRawViewer, an amazingly fast and truly inexpensive RAW file viewer that has become my personal choice for culling images. It was developed by the same folks that created RawDigger – one of the best scientific tools for analyzing RAW images. In this review, I will take a closer look at FastRawViewer, go through some of its features and hopefully help you in simplifying both your workflow and your photo backup / storage needs.