Working with Digital Film

As you are probably aware, the term digital film is an oxymoron. Thinking of your raw data as digital film may be helpful, however. New technology is often understood using the metaphors of the technology it replaces.

Traditional photographers had the advantage of the film itself—a persistent record of their shooting. Unfortunately, most of the raw data taken by digital photographers is lost or is stored in a manipulated form.

Start thinking of your digital photos as "film" that must be "developed" on a read-only medium like a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM. If you get in the habit of burning a disc as a "roll," you will have a persistent record of your shooting experience. Years from now you will be able to access the light recorded on your camera's sensor plate, and the "truth" of your shot will be preserved for posterity.

WARNING If you work directly on your original image data, any mistakes that you save into the file are permanent and destroy the truthful record of your shooting experience.

Once your digital film is developed, the images burned on the disc are like "negatives" that you can manipulate in Photoshop. Because you will access the originals from a read-only medium, there is no danger of overwriting your shooting data with work you do in Photoshop.

Photoshop CS's File Browser has been greatly improved. Let's see how to use the File Browser to access and organize your digital film.

1. Press Shift+Ctrl+O, or click the Toggle File Browser button on the options bar, just to the left of the palette well, to open the File Browser. Figure 3.1 shows the DVD drive selected (the E drive in this case) in the Folders palette; the disc is called Film Roll 0001.

Figure 3.1

The Photoshop File Browser

NOTE The File Browser is no longer a palette as it was in Photoshop 7. You cannot dock the new File

Browser in the palette well; instead toggle it on and off as needed.

NOTE The File Browser is no longer a palette as it was in Photoshop 7. You cannot dock the new File

Browser in the palette well; instead toggle it on and off as needed.

2. Notice that the File Browser now has its own menu and palettes. Using the file system tree in the Folders palette, navigate to a folder on a disc you have burned or to a folder on the CD that comes with this book. You will see image thumbnails on the right.

TIP You can drag the palettes within the File Browser around and dock them where you want.

3. Hold down the Ctrl key and single-click a few thumbnail images to select them. Then click the Flag File button on the options bar within the File Browser (shown in Figure 3.2). Tiny flag icons appear on the thumbnails of flagged images.

4. Choose Flagged Files from the Show pop-up. Only the files you flagged in step 3 now show up. This is a great way to select a few choice photos you'd like to work on from all the photos you shot on your "roll" and hide the rest.

Figure 3.2

Flagging files

Flag File

Flag File

5. Navigate to the Chapter 3 folder on the companion CD and double-click the file IMG_1959.JPG to open it in a document window. Figure 3.3 shows the original photo that you will be working on later in this chapter.

WARNING Thumbnail images that show padlock icons in the File Browser were stored on a readonly medium and cannot be altered. However, you can open these images and save a copy.

Figure 3.3

The original photo

6. Choose File > Save As to open the Save As dialog box. Navigate to a project folder on your hard drive, change the Format pop-up to Photoshop's native format, and save this file as Sidewalk.psd.

7. You can create a printable contact sheet that has the thumbnails and filenames of all the images on your digital film roll. Choose Automate > Contact Sheet II to open the Contact Sheet II dialog box (see Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4

The Contact Sheet II dialog box

8. Change the Font Size pop-up to 8 pt and click OK. Smaller font sizes allow lengthy filenames more space to fit on the sheet.

Photoshop begins the lengthy process of resizing and transforming the thumbnails—thankfully it all happens automatically. Figure 3.5 shows a typical contact sheet image. Press the Esc key to stop the process if you want.

TIP Put a printed contact sheet in the disc's jewel case and you won't have to put the disc into the computer to know what's stored on it.

9. Close the contact sheet without saving the file when you're finished.

Most low- and midrange consumer digital cameras have options to save photos as Joint Photographic Experts Group (.jpg) files or in Tagged Image File Format (.tif). The problem with the former is its blurriness (due to lossy compression), and the latter format has enormous file size (although no data is lost). Less-expensive cameras often force color correction and exposure control within the camera itself, so the actual light hitting the camera sensor is not preserved.

Figure 3.5

A contact sheet

Many "prosumer" and professional quality cameras offer raw formats that preserve 100% of the original data that was captured by the camera sensor. These cameras also have many options for tweaking images within the camera itself, but people who are serious about shooting prefer to leave that task to Photoshop. It is better to adjust tonal range and color balance of your images at a color-corrected workstation (see Chapter 2, "Working with Color"), and under proper room lighting, rather than in the field with your camera. As you develop digital darkroom skills, you will want to leave these tasks up to your trained eye, rather than entrust the "development" of your photos to some in-camera presets.

NOTE Camera raw images have smaller file size than uncompressed TIFF images of the same pixel dimensions.

Photoshop CS now has raw image file support built in as a standard plug-in. (It was initially available as a free download for Photoshop 7.).The Camera Raw plug-in is much improved in CS and offers many options for working with digital film. You will be using Camera Raw to develop your digital negatives before bringing them into Photoshop.

1. Point your browser to www.adobe.com and select Downloads from the Support group. Click the link for Photoshop (either the Macintosh or Windows version) and then download and install the updated Camera Raw plug-in version 2.2 or later. The new version of Camera Raw includes bug fixes and supports many more makes and models of digital cameras.

TIP It is a good idea to periodically check Adobe's website for free updates to Photoshop.

2. Follow the download instructions given in the .pdf file that accompanies the plug-in. You will be required to move two files and restart Photoshop.

3. Open the file Landscape.NEF from the CD. This file is in Nikon's raw format and was taken with a professional Nikon D70 camera. The Camera Raw dialog box (see Figure 3.6) automatically appears as Photoshop senses raw image data.

Figure 3.6

The Camera Raw Interface

4. Click the Settings pop-up and select Camera Default from the list if it isn't already selected. The preview image gets darker and bluer. A colorful histogram within the dialog box changes in real time to give you more detailed information about the image.

NOTE The Camera Raw dialog box shows the camera and shot statistics on the title bar. This image says "Nikon D70: Landscape.NEF (ISO 200, 1/500, f/11, 70mm)," indicating the model, filename, film speed equivalent, shutter speed, f-stop, and digital film size equivalent.

5. Click the Adjust tab if it is not already selected. Click the White Balance pop-up and select Auto. Then drag the Exposure slider to the right until its value reads +0.70. The image brightens, and the color balance shifts away from the blue tint that was initially visible.

6. Click the Advanced radio button at the top of the dialog box and notice that two additional tabs are added below: Lens and Calibrate (see Figure 3.7). You can experiment further by clicking each one of the tabs, dragging the sliders, and watching the preview image change accordingly.

7. Click OK to "develop" your image and open it in a document window in Photoshop.

Figure 3.7

Camera Raw settings

8. Save the new image as Landscape.psd on your hard drive. Note that the native Photoshop file is more than six times the size of the raw file format.

9. Close the Landscape image. As you have seen, Camera Raw is like your own photo processing center for professional-quality images inside Photoshop.

Not everyone has access to a high-end digital camera that supports a raw data type. The good news is you can "develop" photos in other formats by learning to manually adjust tonal range and balance color. Histograms give you valuable feedback that aid in this process.

This Histogram palette is new in Photoshop CS. This palette shows real-time information about your image as you are working.

A histogram is a graph of the tonal range of the image. The left side of the graph represents the darkest parts of the image (shadows), the middle displays the midtones, and the right side shows the highlights. The height of the graph reveals how much detail is concentrated in the corresponding key tonal areas. Images with full tonal range have pixels in all areas of the histogram. You can tell a lot about the quality of an image by studying its histogram.

NOTE The Levels dialog box shows a histogram that you can manipulate (see the tutorial in the next section).

Every time you manipulate pixels with the tools in Photoshop, you lose some of the original data as the pixels abruptly change colors. Data loss is called banding and is visible in a histogram as gaps in the graph (shown in Figure 3.8). Banding can appear in an image as discrete jumps in what ought to appear as continuous color.

Figure 3.8

Histogram banding

High-quality images tend to preserve as much original data as possible. Images that have been heavily altered may show a great deal of banding, and many small gaps will appear in the histogram. You will get less banding generally by slightly adjusting your images; extreme changes in the data set are usually perceptible in the final result.

One way that the pros decrease banding is by working in 16-bit color (see Chapter 1, "The Basics"). When images start with twice as much information per channel, you can manipulate a lot more before image quality visibly suffers.

Photoshop CS now works better with 16-bit images with full support by layers, painting, text, and shape tools. If you have a camera that can create 16-bit raw files, Photoshop is finally ready to work with them.

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