I wish I had kept track of how many hours it took me to post-process the digital photos I took in Ireland. I shot 999 photos, all in RAW, with my Canon S95. If it averaged me a minute per to work them over in Photoshop — and that estimate is probably light — that’s about 16½ hours of processing. No wonder I’ve gotten so little else done since I got back to Indiana.
I kept thinking about Eric Kim’s recent article extolling the virtues of just shooting JPEG and simply accepting the results. He’s right: it’s faster and easier. And your digital camera does correct for lens distortion and adjusts color and contrast. Kim says that modern digital cameras make pretty good choices. Why post-process when the camera can do it well enough for you?
But I don’t usually like the choices my S95 makes. I wonder whether my six-year-old camera qualifies as modern anymore. Kim is shooting with cameras much newer.
And no camera can do certain things as well as Photoshop can.
Let me show you what I mean. I acutally shoot RAW+JPEG, meaning I get a RAW file and the in-camera JPEG each time I click the shutter. Here’s the JPEG I got of a dramatic scene at Carrick-a-Rede Island.
Here it is after I worked it over in Photoshop. Check out all of the detail Photoshop and I pulled out of the shadows. And the sky isn’t blown out anymore. Also, the S95’s images run a little colder/bluer than my mind remembers them. I warmed this up slightly.
It really is remarkable how much information the RAW file contains that the JPEG doesn’t. Here’s a church and cemetery in Ardara, a coastal town in County Donegal.
Just look at all the detail Photoshop found on the hillside cemetery. I also made some corrections to perspective to more properly anchor the church in the photograph. I take a lot of architectural photos from ground level, leading to buildings appearing to lean back. I frequently tweak perspective, even on my film photographs, trying to make buildings look more natural.
But sometimes the results are mixed. This is the JPEG I got of a scene as Margaret and I climbed the breathtaking cliffs at Slieve League. The distant hill is a little hazy, but the colors are pretty good.
My work in Photoshop clarified that hill and made the sky a lot more interesting, but I couldn’t do that without dulling the foreground.
I’m going to process most of my photos whether or not I shoot RAW. I’ll tweak white balance, fix perspective problems, straighten things up when I didn’t have the camera perfectly level, and enhance colors. So I might as well shoot RAW; it gives me so much more information to work with.
Perhaps the solution is to shoot fewer photographs, but make each one I do shoot count. That way, I’ll have fewer to process when I get home. This is what happens automatically when I shoot film, by the way.
Because I want those 16½ hours back.
What are your thoughts and feelings around shooting RAW and post-processing?