02 October, 2013

RAW and JPEGs

"Stairway to the stars"
I've commented on RAW and JPEGs in a couple of forums, but (until now) I haven't talked about them here.

RAW works for me. I only shoot in RAW. But I recognise that it’s not for everyone.

Many photographers are fully occupied with the opportunities they already have. They seem to be saying that if they have extra time, they want to spend it taking NEW pictures instead of sitting in front of their computers working with OLD ones. I have great respect for that argument.

I understand why a serious digital photographer who is:
  • taking the time to make sure that the picture going in the lens is the one that he or she wants; and
  • does not intend to manipulate the image in the computer; and
  • wants to print at 8 x 10 or smaller (or directly to the web)
will be happy to work with JPEGs.

Also, I think that JPEG users are also right to see the format as future-proofed. JPEG will probably be around longer than most of the RAW formats – but perhaps not DNGs. (DNGs will be a discussion for another day.)

And, finally, many of the pictures that we take are of family or friends. Working in JPEGs means that they are immediately portable. They can go into emails, social media sites, photography sites, blogs, into the new live photo frames, or many of the high-res digital TVs — with no more work to do.

A family friend, for example, is an inveterate traveller and photographer. Her travel compact goes with her everywhere. She has a lovely eye, and is quite satisfied to capture moments in what can’t be described as anything other than Art. (With a capital "A.")

In my youth, I did my time in the darkroom. In those days (the early 60's), the darkroom was the only avenue for photographic control and it was the only way to do photography on the cheap. I think that once you get a taste of that level of control, it’s hard to give it up. So, for me, shooting digital (and RAW) is that control – on steroids.

So, if you have ambitions (and the time) to
  • print at exhibition sizes or quality; 
  • work seriously in black and white;
  • rescue shots that might otherwise be lost;
  • maximise photos taken in low light;
  • exploit the full potential of photographs; or
  • improve the aesthetic appeal of your photos—
then you should be working in RAW.

But RAW is not without its troubles:

Working with RAW as a once-in-awhile thing isn't fun. For me, working with RAW needed to be part of a regular workflow. (For this reason I found saving in RAW + JPEG, and and doing a bit of one and then a bit of the other unhelpful.) 

At first I was using Silkypix, Raw Therapee, Sagelight and Noise Ninja (all great programs), but in ad hoc sorts of ways. I had some success, but I struggled. 

There’s a learning curve with RAW – understanding what makes digital files tick. (If you don’t understand them, it’s harder to fix them.) I see now that, initially, I didn't have a firm grasp of all (okay, most) of the digital elements.

Two things turned that around for me: First I bought Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom introduced me to a real workflow. Suddenly I had a, well, flow. Then I got the Luminous Landscape’s Lightroom videos. In addition to learning the program, that series of videos took what I knew about film and oriented it to digital photography. (While Lightroom worked for me, I'm not suggesting that similar results couldn't be obtained by other programs like Aperture.)

So, Good Luck — with whatever path you choose.

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