Automatic & Easy Versus Individuality

One of the most positive attributes of digital over film, the cost of film and processing disappears as an inhibitor to making photographs. I notice photo enthusiasts who write to me are taking large quantities of pictures at an occasion, especially recently since large memory cards have gotten very affordable. Like Joe Sixpack with his new Model XX dSLR shot 150 exposures of his 12 year old son's football game. So now what does he do, as he asks can he batch process all these files because he was told to set his camera on Raw to get the best quality images. And, color correcting and adjusting each image individually and manually is very time consuming whether using the software that came with the camera, or even if saved as a batch conversion to high-bit TIIF files and then color correcting and adjusting each image individually in a photo editor.

Of course for another $200 Joe can get either Adobe LightRoom or Apple Aperture and color correct and adjust just one image of the set and apply those settings to all the rest of the set and likely get a good result easily being all the exposures were made of the same subject, in the same environment and lighting. But what about his brother Sam Sixpack who has exposed almost 200 frames stored on his memory card but the subject, locale, lighting, and even the lens used was different to make the photographs. The automatic adjustments in any software editing application don't really work that well or reliably especially if the subjects are unusual like shots made on a ski trip in the snow, for instance.

Should I recommend to Sam Sixpack he would be better off because it would be easier, and probably better to switch modes and save in JPEG and let the camera's on-board processor make the adjustments post-exposure. Isn't that a bit insulting and denigrating after paying over a $1,000 for a dSLR and then use it like a point and shoot?

The idea of the Raw format is to record everything the camera's sensor is exposed to and then saved as a high-bit image file without any post-exposure in-camera adjustment processing. This is to provide the photographer with the opportunity to color correct and adjust each image ideally in respect to the uniqueness of every subject and its image information to satisfy the expectations of the photographer. This assumes we are all unique individuals with different tastes and perceptions of what reality should look like. However to a very large extent auto-matic processing can only measure the global attributes of the image file content with no realization or awareness of the subject content, and adjust the image according to those measurable factors as if all photographs should be the same. In other words it reduces all images to what some programming engineer believes is a good photograph.

Sadly although LightRoom and Aperture are ideal for pro shooters who make large shoots on assignment, usually the shoot is of similar subjects in the same location and under similar lighting, so they can easily do what I suggested was possible for Joe Sixpack. This is a dilemma I think for the photo enthusiast who is more likely to make pictures of varied subjects in different environments, like on a vacation or at a family reunion. How can they efficiently use Raw and get the best image quality with each individual and different exposure and do so easily and automatically.

Personally I don't think that is a reasonable possibility, but you may disagree. You might think, Oh! That's just Brooks' opinion. My response to that is that much of the last decade I have been scanning my film image library made over 40 years working full-time as a photographer, which has involved literally thousands of scans, and no two scans I have done have resulted from the same image color correction and adjustment settings. In other words experience has taught me all photographs, excepting those bracketed exposures of the same scene under the same conditions, are individually unique, And unless that uniqueness is respected, you cannot realize the full potential of an image. There is no easy way by assuming all photographs are alike which is the fundamental assumption of automatic processing, to realize the full quality potential of a photographic image unless it is given due respect as something uniquely individual and full attention is paid to all of its attributes in the way it is color corrected, adjusted and edited in processing.

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