Wednesday, May 27, 2009

RAW and the California poppy

click photo to enlarge
I shoot exclusively in ORF (Olympus Raw Format) for the advantages and quality that it offers me. It's the nearest that digital gets to the idea of the negative - the basic, unaltered exposure - and consequently, every image that I keep is in the form of a RAW file with, if I've processed a shot from it, the resulting JPEG. Some people see this as a disadvantage, but to this former film shooter it's not very different from storing negatives and prints.

Anyone who doesn't shoot RAW is probably unfamiliar with the benefits of the format. You can find this information anywhere on the internet, so I'll confine myself to saying that I value it for the unadulterated detail of the images, but, more importantly for the opportunity that it offers to produce a good image from a less than perfect exposure. For example, if you haven't set the white balance correctly, you can easily set it after exposure in RAW. Highlight and shadow recovery is much easier, and dynamic range is better too. There are other advantages too, but those listed are the ones I most value. The downside with RAW is that each camera manufacturer has their own proprietary format. That makes extra work for users of more than one system, and the problems it will throw up in 10, 20 or 50 years time don't bear thinking about. Some weak attempts have been made to standardize on Adobe's DNG (short for Digital NeGative) format, but without much success. I'll be happy when there is one RAW used by all cameras.

The other day I took some photographs of our California poppies, plants that we'd grown from seed last year, and which have survived the harsh winter to flower again this year. They are growing at the edge of a north-facing border with bushes behind them, and on an overcast morning I forgot to set the white balance manually. Consequently the green foliage came out a little on the blue side, though the orange of the petals was not too far off true. Viewing the image in my preferred RAW developer, I made adjustments to bring back the green of the leaves and stems. But, when I saw it I decided that I preferred the original version with the "wrong" colour! The bluish tinge seemed to complement the orange and yellow of the bloom much better.

So, there you have it, an unexpected advantage of shooting in RAW that you won't find listed on any website!

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On