Camera Raw, the Real History
(Or why Ruth Knoll is still the President of the Photoshop Widows Club.)
Long, long ago in a land far away, Thom Solo was on the quest to find the biggest and best photon collector from the dark corners of the galaxy: the Canon D60. He could not wait to get his hands on the raw data straight from the photonic sensors. The chase was on, would the D60 arrive before we left for our family vacation to Italy?
Little did I know at the time that THE RAW was gathering from the dark edges of the imagination.
After frantic calls to FedEx to determine the exact location of the D60, it appeared that Princess Adobe would be able to build the democracy of RAW on the west coast of Italy. With the suitcases piled at the front door and the Metro Car in the driveway waiting to take us to the airport, FedEx arrived with the D60. Trailing packing material down the driveway, the D60 had taken 50 exposures before we made it to the interstate. With the manual tucked away for emergency use only, RAW was in the early stages of conception east bound on I-94 somewhere near the Romulus exit.
Waiting in line to check in for our flight, going through security, and finding the gate was just the prelude to the kind of quality time we would have in the departure area of Northwest airlines. It was time available to continue the yet unknown development of Camera Raw. I sat watching Tom in that departure lounge intensely working with the camera, down loading pictures and muttering.
When Tom twists his lower jaw so the that upper and lower incisors come together at a right angle and he grinds them together, I know something is wrong. When he mutters under his breath it just confirms the dark side. Snippets of: “I knew the software was bad, this is worse than I thought, how could they do this to such a beautiful camera?*” came floating through the departure lounge.
This is a historical reinactment of Thomas Knoll shooting daughter Hannah’s Ear. Photo Credit for this authentic reinactment, Ruth Knoll. Note, the SpectraLight Jr. is the very same unit on which Thomas shot the color samples for most all of the 75 + cameras that Camera Raw supports.
I knew that Tom was a man obsessed, so when I saw him taking picture after picture of our daughter Hannah’s ear, I thought nothing of it. However, thirty minutes later, he was still taking pictures of her ear. I watched for a while, and still he continued. I’ve heard of obsession, but this crossed the line into something more. Exactly what, I didn’t know, but I prayed that it was not a fetish.
I could stand it no longer and inquired about the apparent obsession with Hannah’s ear. “I need a standard picture to compare to others after varying only one setting on the camera at a time so that I can figure out how the meta data is stored in the raw file.” Our daughter’s ear had just become the standard for the development of Camera Raw.
Note: this is a recreation of the shots done by Thomas of Hannah’s ear. Alas, due to the fact that Thomas was only using these shots as F Stop tests to determine the correct metadata encoding, he threw out the original relics of much historical value. However, this “Hanna’s ear shot” is an authentic recreation by Ruth Knoll.
This technique was nothing new to me and made perfect sense. I had done something like this in college to figure out a database structure so that I could write the software properly for an exam. Put standard “knowns” in the file, look for them and then use the hex editor to extract the needed information. I refined this ability to replace expiration dates in demo software for clients when sales folks forgot to deliver the non-demo version of the software on time. Piece of cake!!
Tom spent the entire flight from Detroit to Rome huddled over the tray table with the computer and the camera. There were obstacles, the camera and computer could not be used at the same time, and when the seat in front of Tom came back, groans could be heard since the screen on the laptop was then at about a 70° angle to the keyboard. Nothing would get in the way, the true beauty of the D60 had to shine to the world. As the cabin lights dimmed after dinner, I reclined in my seat covered with a blanket and watched Tom, still muttering and grinding his teeth, across the aisle from me, bathed in the soft glow of MacLight from the computer screen.
We arrived in Pisa with enough time to look at the Leaning Tower. It was late in the day and was raining. We packed ourselves back into our small rental car with me at the wheel and started our drive to Crévole. The drive to Tuscany was “lovely”, complete with luggage, two children and Tom working on the laptop. During the drive through the Italian countryside from Pisa to Crévole the weather changed from rain to sun. Tom, however, had not changed. He was still hunched over the laptop muttering.
The beautiful farmhouse that would be our home for the next week was over-looking the long shadowed, undulating Tuscan hills in the last rays of evening sunshine; che bella. Rolling hills, olive trees, warm sunny days, cool evenings and fields bright with lightning bugs was the standard of the week.
Archeologists have determined that this is the actual farmhouse where the Knoll family stayed. The Photograph is believed to have been shot with that original Canon D60 camera by Thomas Knoll.
Early the next beautiful morning, when I was just getting back from the bakery with warm bread and cheese for breakfast, I heard Tom’s voice floating out of our upstairs bedroom window, “Ruth, come look at this.” I ran, wondering what he could see out the window that I was missing. It had nothing to do with the view from the window or the Tuscan countryside. He wanted me to tell him which picture of Hannah’s ear appeared better on the computer screen. “Oh. Is that all?” I asked. “Well, the one on the left.” “Oh” was the reply. “Coming for breakfast?” I asked. No answer. I had my breakfast, da solo, under the umbrella in the backyard overlooking the rolling golden fields of cyprus lined Tuscan vineyards.
Research has shown that this is the very scene that Ruth Knoll saw while eating her breakfast under the Tuscan sky – alone.
The rest of the week in Tuscany proceeded in much the same manner. I was out most mornings for an early solo exploration of the countryside, driving along the quaint country roads and enjoying the freshness of the day. Tom was focused on getting the most from his new camera files. The image appearance had to improve, the data were there, they just needed some coaxing to overcome their shyness in their raw format.
I would return with breakfast and while gathering up the bags from the bakery would be greeted by the now familiar refrain: “Ruth, come look at this” floating on the air out of the bedroom window. I’d reply on my way up the stairs: “The one on the left.”
Sources have indicated that this is the very bed upon which Thomas Knoll toiled to create Camera Raw. It is believed to be the bed where Ruth and Thomas slept. However, from historical records, it’s unclear whether or not Mr. Knoll actually slept.
We had joined our friends and Ann Arbor neighbors at the house in Crévole for the week and the continued trip to Rome. I’m not sure what they thought of my early morning summons to look at ear pictures, but I know that I enjoyed their company while overlooking the fields of Tuscany.
It is thought that this photograph represents the standard fare prepared for lunch. It is unclear whether the photographer ever ate any of the food or if he was simply content to use this image as an example of the D60 sensor’s response to”Mixed Light” situations.
We spent a week exploring Siena, Firenze, The Uffizi, San Gimignano and the tiny streets of Crévole. Tom, with his right eye looking through the lens of the trusty D60, had only a mono vision approach to the wonders of yore, while the rest of us enjoyed a binocular view. We were fortunate not to be obsessed with photography but rather with viewing the grandeur of the ancient.
I looked around at the Uffizi seeing Rubens originals, followed by da Vinci, Michaelangelo, and Botticelli. All the wonders I’d read about I could now see in person. It was fantastico. Photography, however, was prohibited and it took its toll on the one obsessed; torn between the ancient and modern wonders of the world.
Technical analysis of this photograph indicates it was probably shot in Siena, which was founded by the Etruscans and became a Roman colony known as Saena Julia. Siena is built across a range of small hills, a unique position which gives it a pleasant atmosphere of being a collection of smaller towns. Since the thirteenth century it has been divided into three terzi, arranged around the splendid Campo. These terzi are in turn subdivided into contrade, seventeen in all, which play a hugely important role in the life of the city. It is presumed that Mr. Knoll took this photograph to test the resolving capability of the raw file and to determine the optimal demosaicing algorithms to achieve the prefect raw processed image. On the other hand, perhaps he just thought it was a nice picture.
We said arriverderci to Tuscany and traveled on to Rome. Rome, founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, seat of an empire, origins of poetry, mathematics and literature, wonders of construction lasting the millennia and still working. Rome, the city of fountains, and now, Raw software refinement. Finally, Raw was ready for use.
Based upon the position and angle of the shot, it appears than Mr. Knoll was wading in the fountain. An examination of police records from the dates in question reveal however that the carabiniere did not arrest Mr. Knoll.
My first experience driving in Rome jolted Tom and his computer to the realities of modern Roman traffic patterns. Carefully placing the computer in its padded case, he pulled out his trusty hand held GPS to assist in the navigation to our hotel. The instructions came fast: turn right at the next corner, then left and three blocks, then right. I tried to keep up, but the road built for three lanes of traffic was 5 cars abreast with swarms of mopeds engulfing cars as they crept forward in rush hour traffic. At the instruction to move right, I found myself pointed into the side of an articulated bus, with the letters ATAC painted on the side appearing all too close to the wind shield of the car. Finally, with my hands white from strangling the steering wheel, we arrived in one piece, fortunatamente, at our hotel.
It is believed that this photograph depicts the Colosseum, the gathering place of ancient Rome made famous by the Riddley Scott movie “Gladiator” starring Russell Crowe in his Oscar winning portrayal of Maximus. It is unknown whether Mr. Knoll ever saw the movie.
Rome is where RAW cut it’s teeth on Trajan’s column, the Roman Forum, the Capitoline Hill and the Coloseum. The images of Rome started to appear on the screen for discernment. I was more interested in the images themselves rather than choosing the one on the right or left. Evenings were spent reviewing the photon capture of the day: I, from the perspective of the ancient wonder, Tom from the wonder of the capture. After some calling back to modernity, I did see a difference between the one on the right and the one on the left.
This photograph appears to be yet another iteration of the Ear of Hannah. Speculation is that Knoll was trying to use variations of the ear to determine the proper white balance of the D60 camera. Later tests indicate Mr. Knoll gave up shooting the ear in favor of a GretagMacbeth ColorChecker which presumably was more useful for determining the spectral response of the sensor.
The true beauty of the D60 was shining through along with our family vacation pictures. Refinement of the Raw software went on into the night. Again, I reclined in bed watching Tom bathed in MacLight muttering at the screen.
Looking back on it now, it seems fitting to me that the ancient origins of Camera Raw, three years ago is ancient in computer terms, developed amidst the ancient history of Italy.
It is presumed that Mr. Knoll had finally lost his fixation on Hannah’s ear at this point of the expedition.
*Refinements in language have been used for political correctness.
Stay tuned for more tales from the Photoshop Widow’s Club.
Also note that both Ruth Knoll – Photoshop Widows Club President and Thomas Knoll – Chief Photoshop Widowmaker, will be at the Great Lakes Digital Conference: Photoshop Soup2Nuts 2.0
Joining Ruth & Thomas will be:
You can register for the event online.
All photographs © by Thomas Knoll, except the “Historical Reinactment ” and “Hannah’s Ear” shots © by Ruth Knoll.