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If you're going to become a matte artist, you'll want to start building a reference library to use in your projects. One of the best ways of doing that is to start carrying your camera with you, and photographing anything that might be of use. You want to invest in a camera that shoots a special format called camera raw. The file sizes of photos shot in the Camera Raw formats are much larger than other formats like JPEGs because this format doesn't throw away any information that the camera sensor collects. And the image is totally uncompressed.
Let's open up a Camera Raw photo. This is available to lynda.com premium members if you want to try this along with me. This is a photo I shot on vacation in Colorado and it's called ColoradoLandscape.CR2. When you open a Camera Raw photo, it comes up in its own special interface that gives you a lot of control. You can also open the photo in that special color space I talked about in a previous lesson, in 16 bit, the much deeper color space your professional matte paintings will be done in.
This is especially important since 16 bit reference photos are not available on the internet, and not generally available on reference websites. Most importantly, you can adjust the exposure and a lot of other parameters of your photos before you open them. So that any color correction you do will be less damaging to the image. It's worth noting that camera RAW photos can allow you to correct for under or overexposure by a couple of stops either way. And that's really a boon for those moments where either you or the camera screwed up on the exposure.
You can also lighten or darken the highlights and lighten or darken the shadows. If you shot a photo in hard sunlight, lightening the shadows can help to balance the image for relighting. Camera raw doesn't bake in the white balance like other formats do. For instance, I can use this dropdown menu to choose any white balance I like: daylight, cloudy, shade, tungsten, fluorescent. If you have a camera that does the white balance calculation for you, I'll bet there are plenty of times it guessed wrong.
This allows you to choose any white balance you like after the fact. You can also tint your photos here. If you are planning to use this in a desert scene you could pull the Tint towards red and the Temperature towards yellow and now it looks really hot. If you are going to use it in a freezing Alpine scene you could cool it down before you open it. And that's just the first menu. There's all these other menus to explore like Tone Curves, Sharpening and Lens Correction. You can do all this before you even open up the photo.
In this photo, I wish the clouds popped out a little more. So before I open it, I can pull the Highlights to the left. And now the clouds are nicely clarified. When you are happy with your adjustments press open image, and now you have a pristine 16 bit image to experiment on. One note when you go to save the image you have to save it in to another format like Photoshop. When you do that you will no longer have access to all of these Camera Raw controls. Those are only in the CR2 files. So, make sure you save the original in case you want to make some more corrections to the photo next time you open it.
So, with that done, let's experiment with Levels and Curves and see how they work.
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