I spend a lot of time studying color from aesthetic and technological points of view. Eventually I figured out that the really good results can be achieved by studying several points of view to color.

On the one hand, you must study the artistic properties of color – study the works of the acknowledged masters of color photography, view beautiful movies, visit museums and exhibitions, study the history of painting and art, and reading books. All this creates a visual experience, refines your perception of color and artistic taste, sets your priorities and criteria, creates a solid aesthetic base for working with color photography.

On the other hand, you should be able to use all this knowledge when shooting. You must not only understand, but feel how color is binded to light. You should know how to find colorful scenes, master lighting and feel the right moment to push the shutter release button.

And for last, but not least, you should know that the process of creating a beautiful photo in color won’t be completed unless we have the technology to implement our ideas. Speaking of color photography the most important parts are RAW conversion and post-processing your shots.

It is really odd, but in the era of digital photography, when we have a handful of ways to process our images, the post-processing is the most troublesome part for many photographers. For two years now I am writing a book about causes of this trouble and quality ways to overcome it. The book would be called “Living digit”. It will be available in Russian this fall. I also look forward to publish it in English in about a year.

Briefly, most of the problems in modern digital photography are associated with purely technical approach, deprived of any aesthetic component. It is believed that the manufacturer should give maximum picture editing possibilities and let the consumer create nice colors. Problem is, that the average consumer does not have any education in arts and have no idea of what colors look nice or even how to get the desired result. In the days of film photography things were all different – photographers were supported right from the beginning, because the film itself and the film processing technology contained some pre-programmed resulting colors that would look good . And this result was researched and designed not by engineers, but by artists and professional photographers.

Today the big manufacturers are not interested in such research and are not determined to bring aesthetics to digital photography. Lack of understanding of color harmony creates lots of ugly colored photos and lots of moaning about “how beautiful colors were in the era of film photography”. But things are not as bad as they seem. Some little-known enthusiasts and professional photographers with vast knowledge and work experience try to create alternative means and instruments to process digital photos.

One of such instruments – Raw Photo Processor (RPP) software. I found this software on my long quest of creating beautiful colors. Yet one must understand that no software can have some magic “Masterpiece” button and create a work of art in one click. The beauty of the picture is determined by photographer, the scene itself and the way of processing the raw shot. However, some smart software can greatly simplify things. I like the logic and results of RPP, thats why I recommend this software to other photographers. This does not mean that good result can’t be achieved by use of other instruments. This means that I believe RPP to be the shortest way to it.

You are about to read the translation of my article, once published in my blog in Russian and found very interested by other photographers. If my English-speaking readers found it interesting as well, I will continue to translate my articles about modern digital photography. In fact, I have lots of them!

Last time, I often have to explain how to work with Raw-converter RPP (Raw PhotoProcessor), so I decided to write something like “instructions for Dummies”. This is not a description of the program, but only intended to help those who opened the first RPP. Then – step by step instructions on a specific example.

1. Download and install the program.

RPP can be downloaded from its official website:

http://www.raw-photo-processor.com

RPP is free. After installing and running the programm you will be asked to make a donation to the developers. You can dismiss this action and return to it later if you like the program and you want to thank people who created it. Each person who made the donation, gets some extra features – such as support for multi-core processors, plugin for integrating RPP in Lightroom, camera profiling and a few others. Additional features do not increase the basic functionality of the program (you can work effectively without them), but only make it more convenient for professional tasks.

2. Run the program.

After starting the RPP you’ll see something like the following interface:

3. Open Raw-file.

This can be done in several ways, such as:

1) In the menu «File – Open / Batch …» (or key combination ⌘ O).
2) Drag the mouse on the file icon RPP in the Dock.

You can also configure opening RAW files in RPP from Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom (with a special plugin) and other applications.

After opening the file you will see the following interface:

4. Turn on the histogram.

For convenience you must use a histogram. By default, the developers do not turn it on, apparently to ensure that you can choose what channels you want to use. You can include one of these channels (or all) – R, G, B, L (from Lab color space).

5. Adjust the default settings.

Default settings are set to provide the finished picture, with no further editing. If you plan to work with the picture in Adobe Photoshop after the conversion, I recommend you change the following settings:

WB:As Shot
Local Contrast: 0
Sharpness: 0
Interp.: VCDMF

All of these values are only recommended for a first experience with the program. In actual work, after mastering the program, you can adjust them to meet specific objectives.

For future convenience, save these settings as defaults for all RAW-files from this camera:

File – Set Current Settings As Camera Default

Now all the files created by this type of camera will open with the settings, described above.

6. Configure the output

RGB TIFF 16-bit (BetaRGB)

Open in Adobe Photoshop CS5 (the program that will open the TIFF-file after the conversion)
Note. If you experience difficulties when working with color spaces and profiles, to avoid potential problems, I recommend to choose the file format JPEG 95% (RGB).

Now, after you click Save, TIFF-file with specified settings will be created next to the original Raw-file in its directory. After that it will be automatically opened in Adobe Photoshop (or another program of your choice).

7. Set the white point.

Lines and Roman numerals in the histogram are Adams zones. Each line corresponds to one stop of exposure. Parameters of the white point are also expressed in stops of exposure.

Exposure
Compressed Exposure

Difference between these two parameters is that when the Compressed Exposure tries to preserve detail in highlights. The extent of it is determined by the parameter Rq. (Region), which can be set within the 0-16 (again, stops of exposure). Rg. determines the range of highlights, which preserve the information by compressing it. The more Rg. is, the more information is saved in the highlights. This is very useful when increasing exposure.

For this example it is obvious (as can be seen in the histogram), the file was initially underexposed. We can increase the exposure for at least 1 stop. If you use compressed exposure, it is possible to lighten the picture even more. For example, let’s set the value to 2 stops.

Enter the number 2 in the Compressed Exposure. Now click Apply (or key combination ⌘ R). At the bottom right of the window you will see the progress bar – Raw-conversion speed depends on the speed of your computer, and support of multi-core processors (available after donation). On modern computers it usually takes about 4-6 seconds.

Important Note. RPP does not have the sliders to change settings. At first glance this seems awkward, but lets not rush to conclusions. Previously RPP had the sliders. But almost all of the users after using the program for sime time will no longer use the sliders, because it is much more convenient, fast and accurate to input values from the keyboard. That’s why developers completely abandoned the sliders. After you start using the program, you will see it for yourself. Those who still want to move the sliders can do so by using the scroll wheel on your mouse (or two fingers up / down the touchpad for Mac OS).

8. Select a film profile (if required).

If you plan to use the film profiles, the best thing to to do is to use less contrasty picture, with some margin in highlights and shadows. This is due to the fact that the profiles contain a characteristic curve, which increases the contrast.

For this image I decided to use the profile of K64 (Kodachrome 64). Here’s what happened after you select the appropriate item in the list of profiles:

I, after the profile is used you see excessive contrast, try to change the setting for the Curve Type from Film-like to L *. This way the film curve would be used to only once (at the level of the profile). Usage of two film curves is acceptable, but the result should be monitored visually.

In our example we do not have any excessive contrast or loss of detail in highlights / shadows after the film profile is applied.

Film profiles in RPP have their own names. In this article I won’t describe them in detail, because this topic is worth the separate article. I just want to note that the profiles in the RPP are based on the following films / processes:

A25 B&W = Agfa APX 25
P50 B&W = Kodak Vision2 50D
Duo = Technicolor 2Strip
P160NC = Kodak Portra 160NC
A100F = Fujichrome Astia 100F
K64 = Kodachrome 64
V50 = Fujichrome Velvia 50
TC4 = Technicolor System4 die Transfer (Technicolor 3Strip)
LF = Kodak Ektar 25

(as of version 4.4.2)

9. Set the black point

You can set the black point by using two parameters:

Black Point
Contrast

RPP increases the contrast is increased not relatively to the mid-point, but more photographically – with a priority in shadows. Accordingly, the increase in contrast darkening the image and, therefore, moving the black point.

If you need to improve the contrast and set the black point as well, it makes sense to start with the Contrast. What I did for this example is set the value of Contrast to 10. Once you enter the number 10 in the appropriate box, make sure that you click Apply (or key combination ⌘ R) to see the change.

10. Set the white balance.

When you are done with the brightness-contrast adjustment, you can adjust the white balance (if needed). In the RPP white balance is adjusted using the coefficients of exposure correction for each of the channels of RGBG-Bayer matrix. Any Raw-converter adjusts the white balance this way, but RPP lets you directly manipulate the coefficients. This provides an opportunity to fine-tune the WB, but it is usually very misleading when you use RPP for the first time.

In fact, it is quite simple. Firstly, do not pay attention to the fourth channel (G), it is unlikely you will ever need it (however it could come in handy in some extreme cases). By default, both channels of G are connected in parallel. Secondly, notice that the coefficient in the green channel will almost always be close to zero. This is due to the fact that the green channel is the most bright and uniform, so we would set the coefficients relatively to the channel R.

To understand the white balance in RPP lets look at the similarity with White Balance Temperature in Adobe Lightroom (Adobe Camera Raw):

Increasing Temperature in Adobe Lightroom (colors become warmer) corresponds to the following steps in the RPP:

Reducing Temperature in Adobe Lightroom (colors become cooler) corresponds to the following change in the RPP:

Increasing Tint in Adobe Lightroom corresponds to the following change in the RPP:

Decreasing Tint in Adobe Lightroom corresponds to the following step in the RPP:

In all cases, the parameters are changed by the same value.

The same effect could be achieved by using the parameter Cold / Warm in the RPP. This parameter simulates the application of photographic conversion filters (white balance shift).

I prefer to work with the main instrument of WB (the coefficients) as this tool is much more flexible. It allows to change the coefficients by different values of shift then to one side, use the channel G, and so on. This is rarely needed, but sometimes it is needed.

Also you can set the white balance by the selected area. For this purpose, while pressing COMMAND (⌘) select an area that should be neutral grey, and then click Apply (⌘ R).

In this example, changing the white balance, in my opinion, is not required.

11. Other parameters.

A) Please note that I did not use the tool Saturation (its value is set to zero). When using the Contrast tool the right way you will get vibrant colors automatically. Personally, I do not recommend using Saturation, although sometimes there are situations when you need it. Also, it could be useful to set the Saturation to negative values.

B) An important parameter – Brightness. It allows you to raise or lower the overall brightness of the image without changing the position of the black and white points. In this example, changing the Brightness is not required.

B) A joint application of Exposure and Compressed Exposure can provide interesting results. For example, such combination (the numbers are given as an example) sometimes can recover detail in highlights to some extent:

Exposure = – 2.00
Rg. = 16
Compressed Exposure = +2.00

D) I do not recommend to use Highlights Recovery option at this stage, because its logic is not obvious for novice users. I can just say that the Highlights Recovery in RPP is working correctly (it may not seem so at first glance), you just need to learn how to manage it. This is a topic for another article.

12. Save the result.

Click Save. After converting the image, it automatically opens in Adobe Photoshop (or another program that you have chosen).

Note:

I need to draw your attention to the fact that this article is not a description of the RPP user interface or its tools. Moreover, many of the features are not described intentionally, to make the first usage of RPP less complicated. This is a basic step by step instruction for beginners, so you can just start working. For in-depth study of RPP, I suggest that you read the User’s Guide that comes with the program. The guide guide explains in detail how the program works and answer all the most frequently asked questions, such as: “Why do I need to press Apply», «Why is the picture converted for 5-6 seconds,” etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why the file opened in RPP appear darker than in other converters?

Modern cameras implement metering with some underexposure, to avoid clipping in the highlights (which, as we know, can not be restored). Common converters try to compensate for this underexposure with the defaultsettings. For example, Adobe Lightroom by default sets the Brightness +50 etc. RPP does not compensate, and shows a picture much closer to that originally contained in Raw-file.

Why the file opened in RPP appear less saturated than in other converters?

Common converters set the defaults to increase contrast and saturation to provide colorful result by default. For example, Adobe Lightroom by default sets the Contrast to +25, Black Point to +5, Medium Contrast Curves, etc. Increasing the contrast automatically leads to an increase in saturation. When using RPP you start with a more “honest” (in terms of information contained in the file) pictures.

Why is the picture converted for 5-6 seconds?

RPP – one of the few converters that uses the floating-point math. This can be illustrated as follows:

5 / 2 = 2.5 (this result of floating-point math used in RPP)
5 / 2 = 2 (this result of integer math in most other converters),

Integer math, as opposed to floating-point math, throws the fraction after the decimal point. As a result, in the process of conversion there are errors that reduce the quality of the final image. The only advantage of this inaccurate integer math is great speed.

Why do I need to press Apply (⌘ R) each time I make a change?

Since the conversion of image takes some time, it is logical to have this actions initiated by the user. This also provides the ability to change several parameters at once, which significantly speeds up the work, and most importantly – makes the change in settings conscious. If the conversion would be run automatically after each change, working in RPP would be extremely slow and dificult.

After gaining some experience many users start to change the several processing parameters as once and run a conversion after that. This allows them to get the good result in minutes, sometimes seconds. Although at first glance it might seem that processing in RPP will take longer than in other converters, in fact it turns out to be the opposite.

Why is there no version for Windows?

RPP is a program written by photographers for photographers. Authors of RPP work with Mac OS and do not have the desire or ability to create and maintain versions for other OS.

How to run RPP under Windows?

This can be done by using a virtual machine. Detailed instructions can be found in internet.

Why RPP is better than the Adobe Lightroom (ACR, C1, Aperture, etc.)?

It is a big topic. I do not intend to prove the advantages of RPP. I can only give some information to think on. Everyone who is interested in color and general image quality (both technical and aesthetic), can conduct their own experiments and make their own oppinion.
Technically the main advantages of RPP are:

a) accurate and correct white balance
b) floating-point math
a) the absence of the phase of blurred channels
d) compressed exposure
d) photographic contrast
e) film-like curves
g) quality film profiles
h) photographers (not programmers) logic

I must say that all of the above are just words. You just should look at the results and make your own conclusions. However, the results, as well as the conclusions will be highly dependent on visual experience and the ability to use the program. Again, this main goal of this article is to help beginners.

Original post in Russian-version blog:
http://pavel-kosenko.livejournal.com/307924.html
My thanks to Konstantin Sharlaimov for translating this post in English.

“LIFELIKE: A Book on Color in Digital Photography”