The Chimeric Photo

The Chimeric Photo

by Mark Alberhasky, August 28, 2016

(in Greek mythology) a fire-breathing female monster with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail.

The backstory…

A couple of years ago I decided it would be a good change of pace for the instructor to become the instructed, so I signed up for a workshop that came with an unusual stipulation: all images submitted for critiques had to be jpgs, straight out of the camera jpgs. For a guy who prides himself on beautifully processed images from raw files, this was not a hurdle I was happy about clearing, but there’s nothing like a challenge to get the juices flowing, so it was time to train for the hurdles.

I owned several cameras at the time and the logical question was which to use. The answer came from dusting off a setting I rarely used: raw + jpg capture. I had a DX NIKON D7100, FX Df and FX D800, so shot large jpg and raw with each body. When I imported the images into Lightroom I was in for a surprise. The jpg that came out of a D800 was like no other jpg I’d ever produced (and there were a lot of those during years shooting NIKON Coolpix assignments in jpg only). The D800 large jpg was a 15MB behemoth. I’d seen beautiful, large tradeshow prints made from 6MB jpgs, so knew that a 15MB jpg was no slouch. But what really stopped me in my tracks was the alchemy taking place in the D800 processing to produce the finished jpg. In many cases they were drop dead gorgeous. Skies were beautiful and skin tones fabulous, without any processing on my part. Frankly, as a guy who for years has been extolling the virtues of raw files, I was at a loss for words. After the workshop I ran into some other industry colleagues and shared my experience. They were like, “Are you crazy? Surely you don’t mean that?” Their reactions were so shocked I second guessed myself and relegated the concept to the back burner…until Paris last week.

I was traveling with my wife, and if you read my last post you know I was shooting raw + jpg for the second time in recent years. Once again, as I looked at the jpgs (this time from a 24MP DX D500 body) their beauty was impressive. Yes, the raw files had more detail, but there were undeniably beautiful aspects to the jpgs that in some cases couldn’t be easily matched in processing the raw file.

I wrestled with this quandary until a logical compromise arose from the conflict: a photo made from the best of each image. The jpg and the raw file had the same pixel dimensions, so it was easy to combine them. I developed the raw file emphasizing detail in the desired areas and then took both images into Photoshop on separate layers. Which layer you might want on top could vary. I would say put the layer from which you will use the least content on top and attach a black layer mask (this discussion of course assumes you work with layers and masks already). Take a white paintbrush to the black mask and begin revealing the jpg content you want to blend with the raw content layer. I think there’s a chance a smile may work it’s way across your face as you see how easily the well exposed jpg can augment the raw file detail in selected areas of the image with surprisingly little effort.

The white water kayaker at the top of the page is a chimera (90% jpg) and the Arc de Triumph below another (50/50 raw/jpg). They are both very sweet images. While this may not be the end all processing technique for every photographer for every image, it certainly is an interesting approach and takes a fresh look at what for many is an underused format these days.

Nikon D500/14-80mm f/2.8-4, 2 sec, ISO 1600

But don’t take my word for it. Take the chimera challenge yourself. After all, seeing is believing.

Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks,

and leads destination photo tours for PhotoZoneTours.com.

Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.

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