Rant and ye shall receive or something along those lines. Mere hours after posting my little diatribe on Aperture's yet again broken white balance and other senseless things - Apple decided to grace us with a fix in the form of Aperture 3.5.1. Hoooooray.
Today in a less sarcastic celebration of the Aperture update I wanted to take a random image and walk through what I consider a baseline set of adjustments for me and what I want - at least at the moment vs what Aperture 3 gives us out of the box in terms of default RAW conversion. For discussion purposes I chose an image shot in dark, dank, monsoon conditions down in DC. In that space with the horrible green/pink blue/red every which way but loose color balances. This one is a bit less radical than most over by that alien light source mixed with cloudy sky.
At the top you can see a screen shot of Aperture 3. I've included all of the adjustments to that particular RAW file. The only one not shown is the white balance which I happened to use the newly fixed temp/tint mode and a sample of something close to normal in close proximity to Anastasia. I then proceeded to tweak it a hair to suit my mood of the moment. Just testing to see if the controls are really fixed.
Moving on to the other things I consider pretty important for just about every image as well as commonly tweaked ajustments to make Aperture 3's RAW rendering more what I want let's go through each and every adjustment I added along with what it does and why I consider them essential - obviously vary them according to what you want.
- First up in the exposure block I set the black point from the default 5 for the D600 to 3. That's sort of normal for me but it does vary based on shooting conditions and the scene. I typically mess about with this after my default curves adjustment based on how jammed up the blacks and things below that first quarter of the histogram are. Depending on the scene I typically go anywhere from 0 to about 10 on this particular camera. Other cameras have different defaults. Use your eyes first and also reference the histogram to gauge how much stuff you have in the lower quarter that really shouldn't be.
- That first curves block is pretty crucial and pretty much universal to put every single camera I shoot in line with a tonal response that is more along the lines of good looking JPEG's any particular camera produces. The default tonal response Aperture 3 dials in has quite a bit of overall contrast but typically is about a third to two thirds of a stop darker in the mid-tones and shadows than what the camera JPEG's typically are. It also seems to have a lot of highlight contrast. That first curve fixes all of that for me. It opens up the shadows puts mid-tones where I want them (for any given exposure) lowers the contrast in the highlights and does it without sending the highlights off the map as a similar adjustment to Aperture's exposure control would. I use the exposure control to tweak actual minor or major exposure faults. I use this curve to correct the response of Aperture 3 to my liking. At this point in the work-flow is where I make that blackpoint adjustment.
- That next curve - yes, it's actually doing something if you look closely - adds a smidgen of mid-tone contrast that I lost by dialing back the blackpoint from 5 to 3. I Could have done them in one curves adjustment but I did them this way for illustration and to relate them to some of the preset packs I made. You can download the little PDF manual if you want to take a look at them for free.
- That last adjustment you see, the color block, fixes another thing that I don't like with Aperture's default conversion. The crazy pink issue. I have found this absolutely necessary for every single camera I have used in Aperture 3 just to varying degrees. The Fuji X-TRANS camera happen to need the biggest tweaks here. Here's what this does - it takes the hue somewhere in the neighborhood of 345° skews it a bit more red and lowers the luminance a lot. This makes the pinks far far more manageable and less cartoonish. This is the fix for the Fuji pink problem in Aperture 3. Just more of it.
So there you have it - that's my goto baseline for the vast majority of what I shoot. More or less mid-tone contrast in that second curve but not crazy amounts unless you want crazy effects. In reality this is about what I would expect to get back from the lab if I asked for neutral color and was shooting say Fuji 400H in the same conditions. It's definitely far more toward a negative film response than a slide film response given the same exposure. All of the film presets I put out do similar things just skewed differently and to different degrees. They are meant mostly as illustrations - starting points to take where you want them for whatever look you are going for. Not be-all end-all this is what something should look like.
Ps. Before anyone gets their dander up about Anastasia, the wardrobe, or the stripper pole - that was her idea not mine.