Getting the Most from a Digital Capture

Raw format, 16-bit workflow are key

By Paul Schranz Back to


One of the problems with working in an analytical art is that we are forced to deal with the real-time element and the actual lighting of the space we are in at the moment. Merely making an accurate reproduction of the subject seldom reflects what we perceive about it. While a large part of expression comes from the content, a greater portion of its overall impact results from how we enhance the image, how we make an image more about the way we see its subject.

The image, Catwalk, New Mexico 2006, was captured in Raw format on a Canon 5D with a 35–350mm L lens on a tripod. I captured it with as much data as my sensor can record: the ISO was set to 100 and the f-stop to ƒ/22. Exposure was 1⁄4 second. The file size was 12.17 MB.

Raw settings

The image was recorded in a canyon with sufficient ambient light to give me enough exposure, but not enough contrast to yield an expressive print. Bringing the Raw file into Adobe Camera Raw (Figure 1) from Photoshop CS 3.0 beta, I first increased the overall exposure to 1.55 (Figure 2). With the long exposure of the flowing water, I also used the Recovery slider at a setting of 12 to hold the white highlight at the bottom of the falls. I opened the Fill Light slider to 35 to generally open the shadow areas, and increased the Vibrancy slider to bring out the gold at the top of the falls.

I set Adobe Camera Raw to save the image to Adobe RGB 1998 at 16-bit rendering at 300 ppi. With the reduced noise content of the Canon 5D and the use of Smart Sharpen, I knew from experience that I then could increase captured rendering file size to 4096×1644 pixels.

I then opened the image in Photoshop CS3 beta.

There were still several parts of the image that I wanted to enhance. I wanted to emphasize the gold at the top a little more and to add more emphasis to the lower left shadow area. I cropped in from the top (Figure 3), and cropped tight on the end of the splash area on the bottom left. I also cropped in the right side to make the image less symmetrical.

Burning and dodging

As I examined the water and the rock sides, I felt that there wasn’t enough contrast separation; I wanted more visual impact on the water. I created a new blank layer in the Layers palette (Figure 4) and set the blend mode to Soft Light. Using a large brush (500 pixels) set to an opacity of 16, I used black to burn in the sides and top of the image around the water. Switching to white and a smaller brush (175 pixels), I worked to open the shadow on the bottom of the rock on the left.

I created a new Adjustment Layer for Hue/Saturation and increased the saturation to 7 to bring out more of the muted color. I then added a Curves adjustment layer (Figure 5) and slightly brightened the overall shadow areas.

Satisfied with the results, I flattened the image and added a Smart Sharpen treatment. The file remained in 16-bit throughout the whole process. I did the final printing on a Canon IPF 5000 that prints greater than 8-bit. The final image size was 12.233×17.24 inches at 300 ppi; it weighted in at 108.6 megabytes in 16-bit mode.

About the Author

Paul Schranz
Paul Schranz is a photographer and a photographic educator. He holds a BFA in photography from Ohio University, Athens, OH and an MFA in photography from Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. He is Professor of Art Emeritus, Governors State University, University Park, IL, where he taught photography and digital imaging. He exhibits nationally and has received grants for documentary projects from the Illinois Arts Council. He is the former Editor of photo technique and Director of Mesilla Digital Imaging Workshops. Schranz is currently a faculty member at Dona Ana Community College, Las Cruces, NM, where he teaches advanced digital imaging, photographic composition, digital printing, image enhancement and manipulation.