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Review: "The Digital Negative" by Jeff Schewe

By Ellis Vener

“The Digital Negative”  201212we_digitalneg.jpgBy Jeff Schewe
Published by Pearson / Imprint: Peachpit Press 

As an admitted perfection freak of a commercial photographer, an unpaid alpha tester of Photoshop since the early ’90s, and one of the original drivers in the creation of Lightroom, Jeff Schewe belongs to an elite echelon who know the ins and outs of Photoshop and Lightroom better than anyone save Adobe’s development teams. Taking as his model Ansel Adams’ classic “The Negative,” this Schewe’s first solo effort as an author. “The Digital Negative” concentrates on the use of Lightroom’s Develop Module and Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and the use of Photoshop to perfect a digital negative. What you can learn here is somewhat applicable to other image processing applications as well. Copiously illustrated with photographs and screen shots, and weighing in at fewer than 300 pages, the book does a fine job of laying out practical and useful explanations of raw processing procedures for all working photographers.

The first chapter in “The Digital Negative” defines the capture technology, what a raw file is, why “expose to the right” makes for technically better files, the components of digital noise, and why raw trumps JPEGs processed in-camera. Getting the exposure right—and by right Schewe means as much of the luminance information into the richest data fields (which are represented on the right side of a histogram—hence “expose to the right”) is the foundation everything else is built on.

After that the heart of the book explores the panels, sub panels, and individual controls and what they do in Lightroom’s Development Module (which is much like the current version of Adobe Camera Raw but with a different and more user-friendly interface). Of particular note there is a clear, short exploration of the current state of both global and localized sharpening tools and their capabilities in ACR and Lightroom. Since Schewe is co-author (with the late Bruce Fraser) of the second edition of the classic “Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom.” he has a deep understanding of the sharpening process.

If you want to take things a step further, Chapter Five discusses various post-processing Photoshop techniques to improve color, use creative localized sharpening techniques, enhance mid-tone contrast and texture—all involving the use of layers, masks, and blend modes. If you have ever been curious about working with the various layer blend modes in Photoshop, the two-page Blending Mode Magic breakdown is as concise as you’ll find anywhere. The very basics of retouching and compositing multiple images are also covered.

Chapter Six is unique among dozens of digital darkroom manuals I've examined because it covers something all photographers and studios must wrestle with: creating and implementing time- and resource-efficient workflows. Whether or not you think what you are doing is fine art doesn’t mean you don’t have to get it out the door as quickly as possible if you want happy clients.

So what is missing? A discussion of printing and other output methods. You’ll have to wait for the upcoming “The Digital Print” (not to be confused with Martin Juergens older work of the same title, aimed at curators and conservators).