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Wednesday, 25 May 2011


Entertaining thesis!

This ties nicely into something I have been thinking about recently, while trawling through (as I seem compelled) what the interweb has to say about digital postprocessing, retouching, manipulation, "workflow".

There's a lot of talk about getting extra ability to manipulate - and very little talk about extra opportunity to practise restraint.

Yet as I regard it, the more low-level tools you are using, the more delicacy is achievable. If your approach does involve a lighter touch, the more the picture has passed through your hands, the more evident this will be in the results.

The same applies for a crude or clumsy touch, of course.

In my own personal characterisation, Raw is hand tools, JPG is power tools.

I am admittedly one of the sinners, intrinsecally inferior photographers who shoot always in jpeg.

I tried a few times shooting in raw in order to redeem myself, but I confess I got quickly bored of playing with settings in software in prosecution of the photographic uber-perfection, and decided it was best to spend time shooting (or listening to music, or reading...) than in front of the computer.

Oh, and sorry but I am afraid that I will keep on being a sinner.

Uh oh... now you've gone and started something me thinks...
I know some who shoot in JPEG and when I asked them why and the answer was always that it's just too much trouble to convert them so I lump them in the same category as those who in the old days used to take their film to the corner drugstore lab and a week later rave about all the pretty prints they had made...

Give me RAW's potential any day. Thank you!

Suppose Nikon (Canon, Leica) were to come up with a camera that, after the photo is taken, encrypted the photograph with a public-key encryption system that would be published, and would allow anyone to decrypt the photograph, but not tamper with the original encryption. (RAW or JPG, your choice.) This would guarantee that even if someone were to alter a photo, there'd still be an unaltered photo around -- or, if that unaltered encrypted photo were destroyed, it would alert potential users that the derived photo might not be pristine. I can think of several uses for such a system (in law enforcement and news operations, particularly) in which there might be a moral dimension, although, of course, inanimate objects don't have morals. In addition to evidentiary purposes, such a system would also allow photographers to take a position that their photos are "as life." I don't know how many would actually want that, since life seems to suffer from color shifts and underexposure, but the system would have some interesting ramifications.

I think I can call my reaction to this column "perfect Irony." As the author was busy ascribing traits of moral superiority to Jpeggers, I was thinking to myself, "That is actually the trait I get most from RAW users." The perfect irony came in as I read further and there it was for all to see.

Personally, I don't fault anyone for using tools, settings, or media that gives them pleasure. I subscribe to the "good enough" philosophy that I'll use what is good enough for me and hope others use what is good enough for them.

I am a Jpegger mainly for the convenience and the likelihood that converters for it will be around for a long time. When I know I am doing shots I will want to have the most creative possibilites with, I switch to RAW.

Thanks for a provocative post.

Choice, is what makes any being what they become. In our case, applied to photography.

So my choice is still colour slides (and has been for all my photographic being), and a secondary choice, digital rendering, as a JPEG. Have plenty enough problems dealing with a computer image that requires some form of adjustment to appear viable to some.

How any of us record an imageo is determined by the final use of said image.

John, Canon has that:

Though I understand it has been cracked!

Ctein's post reminds me of Milton's "Paradise Regained". Lucifer and his minions are discussing how to tempt Jesus and run through the options. The first one thought of is sex - which is described in loving detail, but it is dismissed with a (paraphrased) "Naw, that'll never work!".

John -- Nikon has < a href="http://www.nikonusa.com/Nikon-Products/Product/Imaging-Software/25738/Image-Authentication-Software.html">such a system in place.

Except it has recently been compromised.

I suppose Ctein agrees with the 'Black + White Magazine Photographer of the Year' rules for competition entry, stating RAW is a must for digital submissions? See RFF discussion: http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=104581

Further question: can JPEGs lead to virtuousness and righteousness if a photographer's camera has no RAW capability? If not, how may a photographer only able to afford a basic digital compact camera claim virtuousness or righteousness in his photography?

Aristotle listed courage as one of the Virtues - can shooting slide film & jpeg be at least regarded as courageous - especially for working, commercial photographers?

Beware those who claim virtue. Let he who is without sin...

Choice is "good"? Maybe, until you have so much choice that it becomes paralysis. Then it's "bad".

What if you constantly make the same choices and some future camera's internal Artificial Intelligence engine figures out what those are and simply saves you the trouble by making the choices for you? I don't like ketchup on hamburgers, so I am never going to make that choice again. Is that sin or virtue?

This started out as a calm peaceful Wednesday, now I have to worry about photographic moral dilemmas. Thanks.

(Go on, shoot a jpg, try it, you may like it.)

"...and I don't chimp/look at the screen." I see that a lot from the Leicaphiles. Reluctant to embrace digital, but they sorta have to, since Leica tells them to.

...and what of the boast about not cropping?
Probably stems from HC-B worship, but isn't it the same thing?

With either, it's an unfettered arrogance. 'I know what I'm doing, and I do it perfectly every time.' Probably compensation for realizing they're still only just pressing a button....

If someone has tried RAW and knows all about it but still decides to shoot JPEG for some photo (or even decides to buy a camera that only shoots JPEG), then they've already demonstrated their virtue by making that decision up front. It is only those who are ignorant of the possibility of shooting something other than JPEG that have never had to face temptation.

This reminds me of some of my dealings with certain Leica-tographers, who insist that you can ONLY put Tri-X into a Leica, you MUST develop the film yourself, and you MUST spend hours in a "real" darkroom, up to your elbows in chemicals, making the final print.

Remember one character telling me "nice shot," then asking me if I used Tri-X (yes, I'd taken the shot with a Leica). When I told him I'd shot it on Ilford XP-2, scanned the film in, and did up the print on my computer, I became aware of a slight chill in the air...

John Camp,

Both Nikon and Canon already offer "Image Verification" tools with their DSLR's and have for many years now.

And these tools are completely and utterly broken. The are not secure and they are easily cracked.



Should there be an "SA" somewhere?

Dear JC,

"... since life seems to suffer from color shifts and underexposure..."

Not to mention lost or unreadable memory!

pax / Ctein

Dear John D,

Ah, but the all-important difference is that we're right and you're wrong!


pax / Ctein

I used to shoot JPEG only, for the simple reason I had no other option. I don't shoot digitally much anymore but if I did, I'd want to use RAW.

When I get back into color film shooting (working through a small B&W stash now) I'm planning to use slide film for a few rolls at least. This isn't to gain some misplaced sense of moral superiority though; I just happen to like how it looks and the scanning workflow seems less of a PITA overall. I like making my selects on a lightbox and scanning just those.

Of course I'll probably end up missing the dynamic range of color negatives...

I may be off base here, but what makes an "straight" photo more "right"? Isn't the purpose of a photograph to express something? The tools one uses are irrelevant, as long as one uses them wisely (that is the difficult part)
Yes I used to use slide film, largely because I was a poor printer. Now I shoot RAW because I am a poor printer and RAW allows me to tweak and "fix" my photographic expression more easily.

Now, this is brilliant, sir. And judging from some of the comments above, spot on :)

Here's another Strawman argument for you: dye transfer prints make boring photos great 'cos they're waaay hard to print :-p

Wasted words on arguments that were settled many years ago. Working pros shoot digital in the raw format. Dilletantes play with, and argue endlessly about, JPEG, film, pinhole cameras, and so forth.

"you can ONLY put Tri-X into a Leica, you MUST develop the film yourself, and you MUST spend hours in a "real" darkroom, up to your elbows in chemicals, making the final print."

You mean there's some other way?

Mystified Mike

John (Camp) - does this not already exist in the form of the write-once media cards? Or am I mis-imagining something?

Apparently the video is not available for rent in Canada. I get a message that this rental is currently unavailable in my country. What's up with that?

I thought that the first rule of photography is that "nobody cares how hard you worked to get the picture."
Wouldn't the corollary be that nobody cares how little effort you put into post-processing?

There's something to be said about getting it right in-camera. This usually means adding a reflector, moving a light, adjusting your composition to balance the tonal range, waiting for the right light, and instinctively knowing how your equipment, both hardware and software, will react.
These are all things that can be tweaked for hours and days in post (or in the darkroom), but let's not pretend that one road is virtuous and the other is not. What matters is the end result.

Another example of the Balkanization of the internet, I'm afraid. A tremendous shame, that....


Dear Robin,

I will defer to more expert theologians, but I would think that while you can persist in a state of innocent grace that way, you will be unable to demonstrate true virtue.

Still, there are worse fates.


Dear toto,

Why in the world would you say that?


Dear David,

You might be surprised how often that has been true.

But that relates more to my earlier column, "No One Cares How Hard You Worked."


Dear Wade,

Not my department-- you'd have to take that up with RetouchPRO.

pax / Ctein

I fear that all these tongues in all these cheeks are putting us at risk for a biting disaster!

I shoot slides for myself because I like various properties of slides - I can look directly at a positive image, and the image is my own and not a print that a processor or developer fiddled with. I shoot digital (and record in raw) when people expect to see the images and I need to make sure I produce something usable.

I know plenty of people who shoot only digitial and never use raw. They've figured out how to get the camera to make reliably acceptable JPEGs, and they don't want to spend a lot of time PotatoChopping their images afterward.

Neither my JPEG-only friends nor I feel any sense of moral superiority because of our choices. We've found media that work for our purposes, and we're happy with those. End of story.

For people who want to profess some sort of virtuousness, virtuosity, or superiority, there doesn't seem to be much difference between the guy who laughs "Do they still make film?" and squints at his PowerShot while I stuff a roll of Provia in my Maxxum 7 and the guy who makes a crack about PlayStations then frantically fiddles with the buttons on the back of his D3 as I put my A700 to my eye. Snobbishness is snobbishness.

While I realize that you likely have no influence on the pricing or distribution of the video, I am accustomed to paying 14.99 for a disc that I can watch as often as I like. Either the price or the lack of infinite re-watchability I could stomach, but both is hard to justify. Having to sign up for yet another service to pay for it is an additional bit of energy expended that makes it that much harder to get around to it.

That said, I'd really like to see it!


Dear Will,

Attending the live seminar cost $10.00. If renting the video later cost no more than that, there would be little encouragement for people to attend the live seminar. (Yeah, you can ask questions, but most people don't, and besides I answer questions by email all the time.)

The RetouchPRO model is to present live seminars and follow it up with rental capability, for those who couldn't attend. If you have some ideas that you think would work better for them, by all means email Doug-- he's a very friendly, receptive person.

pax / Ctein

I would expect that the opportunity for virtue begins from the moment one grabs their camera and walks out the door. What about the ability to be virtuous when choosing what shot to take or how to compose it? Or, heaven forbid, when deciding NOT to take a shot? Is this not possible? According to Ctein, it is not possible if one doesn't take the shot with the right medium.


I make JPEG images, lots of them. Sometimes, not often, I make one that pleases me and I send it to Mpix and, for a modest sum, they make a nice 5x7 for me. I don't spend a lot of time and money on inks and papers and the other stuff that might get me a print that might be just a bit better. I guess I'm just an image maker who can be happy with just 80 percent of what might be. Nothing here to pity.

To Bernard,

I don't think anyone, least of all Ctein, is suggesting for a second that post processing is a substitute for properly executed capture, lights, makeup and softboxes included as required. Photoshop will not make a good photograph out of a bad raw file. The quality of the raw material is actually even more important if you plan to manipulate it, however carefully, just as it was with negative film.

The issue I have with some "get it right in camera" exponents is the that they assume the rest of us are advocating photoshop as some alternative to correct camera technique. It isn't. It's just a necessary step after capture if you want the best possible result.

It even changes in a subtle way the function of the capture process, which is to provide good quality raw material for manipulation rather than as an end in itself. This may for instance lead one to choose a different exposure to avoid blowing highlights or a wider crop to allow for distortion correction.

Of course, some people will insist on overdoing it, just as some people will use sloppy shooting technique and try and fix it later....but that's the exercise of choice right there. Bad choices make bad pictures.

Trying to construct an argument based on virtue is ... a noble approach ;-)

I believe it comes down to common sense / practicality.

A RAW file is the camera's best quality. That coupled with the extra gain when editing will give you an image that has a technical image quality that's between 0.5% and [at best] 5%.

If you are already editing your images then the additional cost of RAW is next to zero.

Cost / benefit: RAW beats JPEG.

Perhaps Ctein could try to quantify the benefits of RAW over JPEG. All arguments I've seen to date are qualitative.

snobbery, and no irony either. funny that. if anyone is more liable to get on his moral high horse and prescribe a "proper" way to approach photography and to pooh-pooh those "others", it would be a RAW shooter. just get on the forums and see for yourself.

as some comments have pointed out, it really doesn't matter what format you shoot in because it's the end result that counts. all this reminds me of the whole hi-fi brouhaha that used to rage in the 80s -- to wit, you weren't really listening to music as it was meant to be heard if you didn't have this amp and those speakers and them cables.

meh, what a load of bollocks. the irony of this kind of single-minded pursuit of audio perfection (or image reproduction) is that often, these people miss the point and put cart before horse. many of those hi-philist ended up listening to the "reproduction" of sound rather than the "essence" of the music, the emotional side of music.

i think, there are a few Raw shooters that tend to be that way as well. they look at a picture, and all they see is WB, dynamic range, underexposure, blown highlights etc.

you know ctein, your space shuttle launch picture some posts back was technically impressive but to be honest it left me cold. give me the blurry robert capa D-day photo you dismissed out of hands anytime. that one resonates in a way that a pixel-perfect picture of a rocket blasting off never will.


Dear toh,

You must be new around here, or you'd know me better than that.

pax / Ctein

Funny that, made my morning!

Although at the end of the day only the pictures count (and technically poor execution doesn't make the image more artistic) ;-)

The day that someone shows me how to make a negative looks like velvia 50 (for instance) is the day I'll stop using slide film. As it is slide film has a unique look (unlike jpg) that can't be emulated in post processing (either digital or converting a negative).

If you like that look then you've made a choice - if you can't see the difference then it's not a problem for you.

I will say that choice before capture seems more virtuous than choice after capture, but that is a different argument.

Thanks, I hadn't thought about their pricing model that way. Interesting!

"I shoot slides for myself because...the image is my own and not a print that a processor or developer fiddled with."

I think this path is how a lot of people came to slides. When I started, B&W was the norm for most things, and doing your own darkroom work was the norm for any serious hobbyist. Slides were the preferred form of color because it was cheaper, and because nobody else messed with the image. Also, projected slides look spectacular in a well-darkened room. And, commercial printers were used to dealing with slides, so it's also what commercial color work was done on (only wedding and portrait photographers and snapshooters used color negative film), so we felt like we were using the "professional" material.

But let's not lose sight of the fact that post-processing has always been an important part of the photographic process. Not just Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, but everybody who employed a master printer to make their final prints. Also, of course, the people working for most of those commercial clients, who did the post-processing after the work left the photographers' hands.

The "slide period" was an anomaly, which took the post-processing out of the hands of the original artist. Conditions no longer require that, and failing to consider artistic options now again available to us doesn't correspond to any kind of "virtue" I recognize.

Mystified Mike,

Some people actually use (gasp!) COLOR film in their Leicas.

And let's face it, Leica committed heresy in making their digital Ms. They should've made 'em shoot ONLY in black and white ( as some people have actually demanded...)

Dear toh, as a photographer I don't relate to a hi-fi nut, but to the musician.

Listening to music is more akin to watching movies. It's a passive, non creative process that can involve lots of consumer electronics.

But like playing and writing music, photography is creative. If I am a musician, do I care about the performance? Yes. Do I care about recording quality? Yes.

To use your music analogy, a jpeg shooter would be a musician who goes to a recording studio which had four presets for classical, jazz, rock and blues and picks one. A film shooter who uses a drug store lab puts everything on "auto levels". A slide shooter always uses the same lab with the controls set the same way and can't play too quietly or loud in case of noise or distortion, but the result is predictable.

There is a reason why recording studios have lots of buttons and sliders. It's the same reason Photoshop has lots of buttons and sliders. There is no "best setting" for every photograph.

"And let's face it, Leica committed heresy in making their digital Ms. They should've made 'em shoot ONLY in black and white"

That's what I thought.


dear ctein,

i have visited this neck of the woods three years and more, and still i don't seem to know you better. mea culpa. i think when the technical details get thick, i get scarce. i must say though that i thoroughly enjoyed your piece on how you ended up converting that image of the mansion by the lake into a b&w photo.

dear steve jacob,

first off, i don't think watching a movie is a "passive, non-creative" experience despite the movies seeming to dumb down all the time. the movie does not manipulate me, and it certainly does not come without cultural baggage and ideologies. also, i think you missed my point.

i'm not arguing one way or another for one format or another. rather, i'm making a case for the primacy of the picture. like art, photos are to be attended -- to borrow from nabokov -- at the level of the guts. you wait for it to hit you in the solar plexus. sometimes it creeps up on your unawares much later on. i think a good photo is a good photo despite any number of flaws, whether it has blown highlights or is blurry. conversely, a technically polished image is not necessarily a good picture.


"I will say that choice before capture seems more virtuous than choice after capture, but that is a different argument."

Perhaps a different argument, but probably an interesting one.

Choice before capture matches the "pre-visualization" model -- you figure out what image you want, and then plan the exposure and pre-plan the post-processing to get you there. The major decisions are all made before exposure (even if there is extensive post-processing; if the decisions on what will be done are made in advance of the exposure, then it fits this category).

I will say it fits my own personal ideas well. I want art to be a deliberate intellectual process, arising in the mind and proceeding outwards from there.

But some artists are all about surprises and discovering things, and talk about newness and spontaneity and discovery a lot. I can't off-hand name one from this school whose work I consistently like -- but that's more likely to be my ignorance than the real absence of any such artist and work.

Despite being largely of the pre-visualization school, I sometimes find surprises in my take from a session that I like very much. I suspect that the most extreme adherents of both schools, if they were completely and totally honest, would have to admit that they have, in their careers, produced work they like using significant bits from the other school; pre-planning to make accidents you like happen, say, or finding a lucky thing that made the photo that you hadn't anticipated.

I can imagine people getting frustrated at things they did that were "almost right", and gradually training themselves to think ahead more -- moving themselves into the pre-visualization school. And I can see people finding they're stifling their own art by over-intellectualizing (while I yield to few in my respect for intellectual effort, it CAN become a straight-jacket and set of blinkers if you let it, too), and looking to ways to get back more spontaneity. In other words, some of the people with strong commitments to one or the other camps may have reached there because that camp helps them avoid their own personal problems.

I suspect, but certainly cannot demonstrate, that the camps are much more important as tools for individual artists to overcome their own problems than as real guides to producing good art. If so, then I would say that no moral imperative attaches to either one.

Dear toh,

OK, you've been here almost as long as I have.

Please recall that one theme I consistently and regularly hit is skewering the absolutists. Every time. My position against the "one true way" folks is pretty well, ummm, absolute.

(No that's not a contradiction, just wordplay. Same way I like to characterize myself as being firmly bigoted against bigots.)

So, he asks rhetorically, why would you assume that I suddenly feel differently in this column?

Nope, there's no overt irony, no satire alert, nothing to tell the reader how absurd I'm being by using the absolutists own logic to prove a contrary position. I'm simply writing on their level.

There's no way to determine, merely from the words, that I'm not dead serious. Yet, almost every commenter figures that out, through critical reading and thinking. So I gotta call this column a success.

Will there be one or two who do not grasp the import of a particular column? Surely. But there always will be, and I do not sweat it.

pax / Ctein

"Choice before capture matches the 'pre-visualization' model -- you figure out what image you want, and then plan the exposure and pre-plan the post-processing to get you there....But some artists are all about surprises and discovering things, and talk about newness and spontaneity and discovery a lot."

Pre-visualization is great for landscape and architectural photographers. But "choice before capture" often involves photographs of evolving scenes that cannot be pre-visualized, and it is often far from a slow or deliberate process; important decisions about the photograph (framing, direction, timing) are made instantaneously. The "choice before capture" camp includes great street-shooters (HCB, Elliott Erwitt, Robert Frank) and others who specialize in clicking the shutter as they are "discovering" "surprising things," continually reacting to split-second rearrangements of constantly changing scenes. In other words, almost every photojournalist, war, and sports photographer falls into the "choice before capture" camp, and they are hardly a ponderous bunch.

The "choice before capture" is often made in a tiny fraction of a second. To elect to make before clicking the shutter the decisions that most affect the final image (rather than making those decisions after capture, in post-processing) certainly need not mean one is slow; on the contrary, spontaneity, discovery, and quick reaction times are often crucial to those who opt for "choice before capture."

Just a thought - can you change the content, the subject matter, the subject of a photograph after it has been taken? Without discarding your virtue, of course....

'a technically polished image is not necessarily a good picture."

"Although at the end of the day only the pictures count (and technically poor execution doesn't make the image more artistic) ;-)

Both true. Interesting.

"I only shoot RAW."
"I only use manual mode."
"I never crop."
I. do. not. care.

Show me the picture.

Dear toh,

"i think a good photo is a good photo despite any number of flaws, whether it has blown highlights or is blurry. conversely, a technically polished image is not necessarily a good picture."

I don't disagree. I never mentioned sharpness or blown highlights. I know many musicians who rave about the musicality of old recordings played on worn out LPs and even cassettes.

But why should I entrust the soul of my image to the camera defaults? Capture is just the sheet music, post processing is the performance. It's where I make it personal, even if it's noisy and blurred and displayed on the web.

This column is very amusing.

For me, the chief merit of slide film is not that it's a superior medium per se, but that shooting slides was always a good way to improve your photographic skills (and for many still is)and to determine who is truly and consistently a good photographer- because, "what you see is what you get." When you entered a slide competition, for all intents and purposes, it is the finished product and how it is later reproduced in a magazine or print is secondary. It cannot be denied that in the digital age too many people rely on post processing to not only "improve" their images but to alter them well beyond what one could do with film. One could say, this is not photography as we know it but a hybrid that should not be compared to film photography.

My humble observation is that the chief beneficiaries of digital photography, apart from the mass market for cheap and easy images for exchange, is the photo-artist, one who combines art with digital images to create something new.

I am the virtuous film photographer. After having eschewed a 5D Mk II to lug a 6 kilo medium format kit around London, I have surely now ascended to the level of Deity. Fellow tourists gawk at my camera as they prostrate themselves at the altar of 'Rolleiflex'. They are awed by my bad mood when my Pan F supply runs out, and they are humbled by my piety as I kneel and face east for a roll-film change every 20 minutes.

Temptations in the desert? Ha! I have Schneider locust Kool-Aid. What have you got? 20 megapixels? Plebe.

Frankly, Ctein needs to be washed clean in the Holy Water Bath.

Dear TM,

Truly, I am in the presence of a master. I bask in your glory,

Pax / humbled Ctein

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