Custom Camera Profiles

With professional-level digital cameras, it's possible to use the manufacturer's software to apply special profiles to your images that internally modify the contrast of each photograph as you shoot. These profiles have the effect of either increasing or decreasing the image's contrast in subtle and non-destructive ways. You can even use special software to create custom profiles that you can upload into your camera for use in unusually flat or contrasty situations.

The problem with using these custom camera profiles is that you have to remember to apply them every time you are shooting a subject with unusual contrast. Also, these profiles are generalized and apply the same degree of contrast adjustment to every image, regardless of its unique characteristics.

One reason for my strong recommendation to use Adobe's Camera Raw application is that it provides one of the most practical software solutions available for the problems associated with high-contrast digital photography.

Note: As of this writing there are a number of excellent raw conversion applications available including Apple's Aperture, Capture One, Bibble Pro, the DxO converter, and my favorite, Adobe's versatile new Lightroom application. All of these have features that recommend them, but for the purposes of this text I will simplify this issue by referring only to the functions of Adobe's Camera Raw Utility. One reason for this is that its tight integration with Photoshop means that it allows for the establishment of a coherent workflow that's efficient. Another reason is that it simply does an excellent job and the features covered here are more or less transferable to all of the other applications.

First of all, when you open a raw digital image with the Adobe Camera Raw software it totally disregards your camera's internal profiles and instead applies its own unique and highly sophisticated software solutions.

Because Adobe's Camera Raw utility is working with the completely linear, untranslated data from your camera's chip, it has tools that can perform subtle image adjustments that are impossible to duplicate in Photoshop itself. See Appendix D for more on this subject. Two of the most useful of these tools are

• The Temperature Adjustment, which actually allows you to change the tungsten or daylight color balance of your image regardless of the light source illuminating our subject.

• The Exposure Adjustment, which, within limits, can reproduce the effects of increased or reduced exposure.

All of Adobe Camera Raw's adjustments are far more precise and subtle than what you can do with internal camera profiles, and also far less destructive to pixels than any of Photoshop's contrast adjustment tools.

The following two subjects utilize some of these tools to correct digital image contrast problems that you will inevitably have to deal with.

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