Every now and then, it's nice to be reminded of how spoiled we are and how much information really lives inside our raw files. Whenever we capture a raw image, we have a plethora of information at our disposal. That's all well and good, but this one example really helps bring it home.
If you're looking for the most control over your image, you're shooting raw. Period. There are benefits to shooting JPEGs, no doubt, but those benefits revolve around increased speed, file size savings, and the ability to share immediately without processing. For those of us that are obsessed with image quality and the control required to bring out the best in our images, raw is the only answer.
The below photo was the first image on a demo shoot before any exposure settings were applied and ended up being roughly four stops overexposed. The image is straight out of camera, a Phase One IQ3 50MP A-Series, converted to JPEG via Capture One Pro 12. License plate blurring applied in Photoshop.
Several months after the shoot, I was skimming images and came across the above photo. It was a slow day, so just for fun, I thought I'd try to bring the exposure back down and do my best to salvage the image.
I've been working with raw files for over a decade and with medium format camera systems/Capture One Pro for the better part of that time, but even I was surprised at how well Capture One was able to bring back the completely blown out information, and with only one slider.
The below image contains RGB overlays in the same pixel locations for each variant.
Fully clipped areas were brought back with significant information still left over.
After how well the initial correction turned out, I decided to finish the edit to see how "complete" I could get what would typically be an immediate throwaway image in Capture One. After some masking, white balance adjustments, gradients, color balance, saturation, and a few other edits, I reached the below image.
Is the image quality perfect? Far from it. The mountains behind the truck have lost most of their color information other than what is in the blue channel, especially the middle portion above the truck. Plus, had the image been exposed properly to begin with, nowhere near as much work would have been required to make the sky an asset to the photo.
However, considering the SOOC image, the final result is, at least in my mind, nothing short of miraculous.