Rob Sheppard’s 2005 book on Camera Raw does a wonderful job of demystifying the technology and developing a workflow that is simple and effective.
Adobe Camera Raw For Digital Photographers Only is a fine book for digital photographers of all skill levels, especially those a step below professional like myself. The ideal reader is probably someone who currently shoots JPEG and gets a lot out of their images with Photoshop, or someone who shoots Raw because they hear it’s superiorâ€”but balks at the complex Camera Raw interface and simply processes with default settings so they can make the real tweaks with familiar curves and levels. If this describes you, this book is for you.
I LIKE ROB SHEPPARD’S STYLE
Currently I’m reading The Print and The Negative, both by Ansel Adams. His writing style is pretty technical, mostly because he shot only with film and that’s the way the discipline was. But digital photography can be just as complex, and yet Rob Sheppard can deconstruct it in a writing style that’s easy for anyone to understand, and yet specific and technical enough that all the important information is there. It really comes out in the opening chapters, which weigh the pros and cons of Camera Raw versus JPEG. In general, Raw images offer increased processing capability, flexibility, potential (after tweaking and correcting) and removes the usual JPEG difficulties such as grain and artifacts. I like the fact that Sheppard deconstructs the notion that anyone who’s a professional would shoot in Raw and anyone who shoots in JPEG is a rank amateur. Consider this passage from page 14:
Some photographers think that Raw is the formta for professionals and JPEG is for amateurs. This can get you into trouble as it gives the wrong impression of what Raw does for you. Both formats are capable of the highest quality images.
Raw is a tremendous tool when you need it, but it is not for everyone, pro or amateur. If you arbitrarily use Raw at all times, and it doesn’t always fit your needs, personality, or style, you may begin to find you have less enjoyment from working digitally. I don’t shoot Raw all the time, and I have had many JPEG-shot photos published. Earlier in the digital changeover in photographer, I shot mostly JPEG because the memory and processing overhead for Raw was a pain to deal with.
Raw no longer has that overhead problem. I like the rich capabilities of Raw, and now that large memory cards have come down in price, I use it extensively because it is such a valuable tool. Cameras that shoot Raw and JPEG at the same time are very useful but require larger memory cards…. Raw is very important for digital photography, but it should never be used as an odd way of separating good photographers from bad. That comes from what’s in the Raw or JPEG file, not from the file itself. Don’t let any photo guru bully you into using either Raw or JPEG when they are not appropriate to your needs.
This strikes me as a level-headed approach to digital photography, especially when you think about all the cheerleading about Raw technologyâ€”which is a quantum leap forward in the industry, but not necessarily for all photographers all the time. Nowadays I shoot in Raw and JPEG at the same time since my camera allows this, and I’ve recently purchased larger memory cards to accommodate. This change in my methods is a direct response to this book.
Rob Sheppard is currently editor of PCPhoto and Outdoor Photographer magazines, and obviously have a love for the craft of photography as well as the desire for both amateur and pro photographers to find success out in the field. I’d recommend this book to everyone, from the amateur using his first camera and copy of Photoshop to the professional who has years of experience shooting with Raw but is looking for a better method of Raw processing.
WHAT’S IN THE BOOK
There are three parts to this book:
- Capture Workflow (definition of Raw, histograms, color spaces and white balance)
- Camera Raw Workflow (step-by-step construction of an ideal Camera Raw workflow, including advanced tonal and white balance control, noise, color and contrast techniques, compact camera processing and special features)
- Making Camera Raw Work Harder For You (double processing for difficult images, interpretation, alternatives to Camera Raw)
I really recommend the first two to all readersâ€”go through both, and you’ll have pretty much all you need to shoot with Raw. The third part is restricted to special techniques for difficult photos, such as those with overexposed and underexposed areas in the same shot. I found this part less appealing than the others because there was relatively little about Raw. Most of it covered Photoshop techniques such as layering and compositing that belong in another book. I was hoping to read more about HDR (high dynamic range), the feature introduced with Photoshop CS2 that is designed to increase value range in photographs, but Sheppard only mentioned it briefly. Intermediate or advanced Photoshop users will grasp the third section of the book in seconds.
The quality of the material is excellent and it’s presented well:
- The “Pro Tips” sprinkled throughout the book, as well as the “Q&A” pages at the end of each chapter, are quite valuable. They answer some good questions that for whatever reason aren’t addressed in the main text.
- As mentioned above, Sheppard’s writing style is clear, unassuming and appropriate for all users.
- The images used throughout the book are good specimens for the techniques presented and teach readers a lot.
There are a few quibbles I have about the book:
- Step-by-step instructions are not clear or concise enough to follow very well when practicing the techniques with the book. Everything is presented in long paragraphs and it can be hard to see, at a glance, the keyboard shortcuts and commands to execute. Having them in bold, or presented without verbiage in a sidebar, would be helpful.
- Images are printed quite large, often half-page or quarter-page size, and while that is usually a plus it became a hindrance when several were presented at once. When I was on page 243 and reading about Figure 12-28, what was in front of me was Figure 12-22â€”Figure 12-28 was three pages ahead. That particular technique used ten examples of the same image during Camera Raw processing, and they were similar enough that the whole exercise became difficult because the illustrations weren’t really showing me what the exercise was describing. This glut of images across multiple pages was prevalent throughout the book. I like examples and exercises, and this book has some good ones, but they can be presented in a cleaner fashion.
- As mentioned before, the third part of the book isn’t so much about Camera Raw as it was about Photoshop photography techniques. Camera Raw has been hyped for a long time and I was surprised and a bit disappointed to learn there are still plenty of photographs out there that Camera Raw simply won’t improve any more than the usual JPEG processing. Techniques in the third part of the book apply to both Raw and JPEG, and they’re techniques I’ve known and used for a long time so I was let down that I didn’t learn too much here.
If you are a serious photographer who hasn’t really adopted Raw quite yet, this is a great book for you. It will allow you to immediately jump into Raw processing with good results. I had been reading about Raw for a long time and thought I understood it pretty well, but after reading this book it seemed like everything else made a lot more sense. This is quite an illuminating book.
ADOBE CAMERA RAW FOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHERS ONLY
Author: Rob Sheppard
Paperback: 345 pages
Publisher: Wiley (October 7, 2005)