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Review: RAW without FUD: How to Shoot RAW without Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt

By Ellis Vener

There are those who like to learn by reading, there are those who prefer classes, seminars and workshops, there are those who like video instruction, and there are those who’ll take it anyway they can get it. Each approach has its merits. Good DVDs in particular blend several of the strengths of other instruction forms: they are portable, and there’s a human leading you through the process, and best of all, you can go at your pace.

How to Shoot RAWMy first impression of the “RAW without FUD: How to Shoot RAW without Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” DVD was amusement at the FUD acronym; I’d never heard it before. But according to the entry on FUD, it stands for  “Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.” FUD has explicit roots as a way of describing political disinformation tactics—like those used by many politically oriented talk radio show hosts. But FUD-ing really gained traction in the corporate world in the early 1970s, and since “1991 the term has become generalized to refer to any kind of disinformation used as a competitive weapon" according to Eric S. Raymond’s “The Jargon File.”

Let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment: who among us hasn’t felt fear, uncertainty and doubt when confronting digital processing? Like it or not we are now not only photographers but also the lab, and to large extent the equivalent of being film manufacturers as well as being photographers and business owners. It’s all on our (or our assistants') shoulders, folks. That can be scary, and many people still stick to a JPEG-based way of working to get around it. That’s not good because to do so means losing a competitive qualitative edge.

Michael Tapes’ educational goal with the “How to Shoot RAW without Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt” DVD of video tutorials is to dispel your phobias about raw processing, engender confidence in your raw workflow abilities, and thereby help you become a more confident photographer.

So, who is Michael Tapes and why is he worth listening to? He co-created an early independent raw developer program, but these days he’s best known in professional photography circles for the WhiBal White Balance Reference Card, reputed to be one of the very best white balance reference targets currently available. 

Click image for large view of WhiBal image comparison.

Section 1 introduces the differences between JPEG and raw images and the basic possibilities raw shooting and processing offers you.  As a bonus, you also get an extended riff on the differences between brownies made from a pre-packaged mix and brownies made from scratch.

Section 2 covers raw processing workflow in detail, starting with a basic view of how digital cameras, sensors and processing work. One salient point buried in chapter 1 of this section is that while the raw converter built into a camera is fixed (all digital cameras record in raw, and if you chose to produce in-camera JPEGS the camera is doing the raw-to-JPEG processing), external raw processors are being continuously updated. The focus in this section is on how Adobe Camera Raw and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom are similar and different and how to use the various controls in both.

(One point, not really explored in the FUD DVD is that along with interface design, the thing that really differentiates various raw converters like Adobe Camera Raw, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Bibble Pro, Canon DPP, Capture One, Nikon Capture NX, Raw Developer, etc., is that they each use different algorithms to process the data. The same raw image processed through various raw processors can yield real differences in results.)

Section 3 is dedicated to how different photographers specializing in different types of photography utilize raw and why they think it is essential to getting the best of their various cameras. One weird aspect of this section is that due to scheduling conflicts and deadlines sometimes what you have is Michael Tapes reading their words, and frankly by the time I got to that section, I just didn’t want to hear his voice or look at him any longer. He clearly knows his stuff and does a good job of explaining it, but, and maybe it’s just me, a little Tapes goes a long way.

That leads me to what I see as the big problem of “Raw without FUD.” The content is fine but the presentation and production values don’t inspire confidence. Mr. Tapes reminds me of a particular biology professor I once had: big ideas, great content, but a deadly presence.  For a large part of the time Mr. Tapes is sitting dead center in the frame in front of a computer generated graphic that comes straight out of the old “MAX Headroom” TV show, and this makes for some tough viewing. Better direction, better lighting, a different background and someone else to look at occasionally would help.

Stylistic concerns aside, there are reams of information in the tutorials, and he concisely covers complex topics in minutes that some books take many pages to cover. Of course, this means simplifying some of the processes but for photographers of a non-geeky bent (raise your hands!) that’s not a bad thing.

He hammers in the point that all digital cameras actually shoot raw, but if you are choosing to have the camera write out JPEG files you are doing yourself no favors. Among other salient points, he explains that external raw converters (like the ones in Lightroom, Apple Aperture, and Photoshop CS3) are continually evolving and by choosing to output the raw files instead of JPEGS this evolution will make for better raw-to-JPEG, -PSD or -TIFF conversions today and tomorrow than they did yesterday.

Tapes does a fine job of covering the differences between exposing for JPEGS and raw files and how to use the Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, Contrast, Vibrance and Saturation sliders. He goes through how to make and use development presets with your desired settings in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) 4.x for Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom. In particular, he stresses the differences between current Brightness and Contrast controls and others, and the new Vibrance setting. (The tutorials I viewed predate the addition of the Clarity setting, so that isn’t covered. Pity, because Clarity is a good thing. See what I mean about raw processor technology evolving?). He also, and this is very important if you are new to raw, shows how to automate (batch) processing of images shot in similar circumstances.

Section 4, “The Other Stuff,” caps nearly 80 minutes of color management theory and workflow with a chapter on choosing a camera for Raw and another 20-minute section called “Tapes Talk.”  In that last section he makes the most important point of all, one that creative photographers need to grasp: Knowledge is power, and to free your creativity you have to know what your tools are capable of how and how to get the ultimate quality out of them.  

Though I don’t agree with all of Tapes' opinions, I would certainly recommend this DVD if you are either new to raw capture and processing or have been hesitant to try it.