Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Eating Pudding

This past Monday I spent the better part of 4 hours in front of my laptop trying to play a serious game of catch-up on all the photos I'd taken in the week-and-3-days prior. It's always those late night stretches in front of that digital glow that remind me why, as much as I love the process of taking a photo, I absolutely despise the post-process involved. Luckily a majority of the images were simply snaps that just needed to be re-sized, contrast boosted and maybe given the warming touch of an 81A - nothing too complicated. But that swamp of snaps stood in the way of what I really couldn't wait to get to - the crop from a recent explore.

As many times as I've ventured into "The Valley", my coverage of the area always seemed to stop on one side of the dividing river. My portfolio is full of images of the power station on the South side, but not once in a year of wandering have I managed to document the mill on the North side. This past Sunday, with the company of a new friend and photography junkie, the decrepit innards of the mill finally got their 15 minutes in front of my lens (gee, that sounds kind of pompous now that I'm re-reading it).

Needless to say it was an exciting explore. Easily my first foray into an unfamiliar, unknown location since February. Despite being a comparatively low-risk endeavor compared to other "missions", the adrenal rush of excitement I so missed welled up right away. I'm starting to wonder if perhaps the secret ingredient to a heightened state of creativity isn't the adrenaline rush itself, much as it works for athletes who pull out dramatic maneuvers in desperate moments. Much unlike my other shooting as of late, I certainly came away with more than a dozen images I saw as quality enough to merit some time in post. However, it was in post that I hit something of a brick wall of limitation.

I am happy to be shooting in JPG again... most of the time. When candidly photographing people or snap shooting an event or anything that to its core involves a more reactive method of shooting than premeditated, JPG seems to serve me just fine. Photographing what matters to me, however, the decay and peel and dirt and dust of forgotten places, despite having all the time in the world to set up, compose, frame and shoot, the JPG is not enough. Dare I say it, the GF1 spoiled me when it forced me to shoot in RAW.

Compared to the post techniques exercised by some, my own process isn't particularly heavy or involved. Each photo I carry into post sees a pretty uniform list of edits done upon it that typically doesn't run over 6 adjustment layers. The adjustments are simple and straightforward, but where the catch 22 has managed to surprise me is in how hard those adjustments punish the JPG for discarding rather specific image information. Specifically, I'm referring to color channel adjustments, especially the red channel. Given the layout of the bayer matrix generating color on the sensor, the red channel is right next to blue as being the noisiest of the bunch. This is an issue for me, because one of my crucial methods of recovering shadow detail is to tweak that channel. In RAW, there is no issue because, despite being initially concealed by the way the image was exposed, that concealed image detail can be recovered via channel mixer tweak. In JPG, however, the image information hidden in the shadows is discarded during compression to reduce file size. Thus, when attempting to recover that image detail with the channel mixer, all the JPG files give me are blotches of chroma noise. Not attractive, and not what I'm looking for at all.

So the old proverb "the proof of the pudding is in the eating" has struck again. Despite thinking I could get away with an exclusively JPG process, there are just some things that won't stand up to my abuse without being shot in RAW. For these kinds of images, however... they're worth the time in post, and therefore worth the "RAW treatment". I just need to figure out if E-P3 RAW files are supported in software, yet.

In any case, it was a great day to explore.