Friday, April 15, 2011

the RAW reality

the other day, somewhere in the twitterverse, arose a quick discussion of shooting RAW and JPEG.
it veered off in varying directions, as things tend to do on twitter, but the comments that were made stuck with me. photographers tend to be very adament about their choice in this matter.

for the non photog types reading this, you may want to stop reading now. those of you who are incredibly well versed in phodo may want to stop as well because i am about to angela-cize the discussion.

i have been shooting RAW ( not to be confused with in the raw ) exclusively for about two and a half years now. this means, basically, that i am using up a huge amount of memory with every photo i take in order to collect the greatest amount of information i can.

for the most part, this information is amassed for naught as you all know that we are supposed "to get it right in the camera the first time".

(why do i feel that this was written primarily by someone not shooting children in varying states of movement and undress?)

most decent DSLR's today take high enough quality JPEG photos that very little more is needed to make beautiful snapshots and enlargements. i debated switching over from JPEG to RAW initially because i have historically managed to run out of storage space on my desktop at an alarming rate and felt that i was getting good enough results from my photos.

but then i read something that changed my mind...the difference between JPEG and RAW is not a simple matter of information gathering, but also of control over your photo.


i had never realized that shooting in JPEG, i was basically allowing my camera ( or the wonderful people behind creating my camera's internal software, because i am sure they are nice people and all ) to do a good part of my editing for me.


that didn't sit well with me.
contrast...sharpness...being decided by firmware and not me??
information about my shot being tossed aside like yesterdays garbage by a mini camera computer?
not cool.

so...i changed. for a few months a shot JPEG and RAW files, looking for difference enough to justify the memory suck on my computer. 
and for awhile, i did not find a huge difference.
then slowly, i began to realize that within the processing part of my picture taking, i was finding a more gentle style.
and i began to feel that i did have more control over the end result of my photos.
and that is when i gave up JPEGs for good.

i will never compare the darkroom experience of my youth to the post processing i do now...but there is one similarity. with the information you have contained in a RAW file, you have the ability to start from square one every time you approach your photo. when you shoot film, once that negative is developed, you have the opportunity to print it differently every single time, with all the information you need right there in your hands.
(i am sure someone could tear that analogy apart, but it works for me).
letting my camera decide how my photo was going to look was just not an option any more ( no matter how much affection i have for her ).

now, that said, for some photographers, JPEG is a necessity. for others...well...apparently if you shoot RAW then you just can't get it right the first time. did i mention this debate can get contentious at times?

i don't really care what other people shoot - through this whole discussion i found out that a ridiculously creative photographer whose work i really like is a JPEG only shooter -  but i find the reasons why people choose to shoot one or the other interesting. 

ironically, this week i found myself shooting JPEG for a few days while i worked on a memory issue on my computer ( like, i had none left and i had promised to take photos for someone ).
the results were great!
my photos loaded faster, took up a minimal amount of my minimal space and they looked crisp and bright. it was awesome! the shots themselves required little editing and i was up and running and finished the job in no time.

hmmm...maybe i had been hasty in my absolute rejection of JPEG...

until today.

when i was brutally reminded why i love RAW.

today, when i did not get it right the first time, in the camera.

today when i took a photo of my little guy that could have been perfect if i had had all the information
my camera is capable of gathering in that charming little sensor it has.

today when i goofed a photo i will always regret goofing.


alex's hair will be forever blown out.
i tried a million different ways to get it back and initially did not even realize *why* i was having such a struggle recovering details...and then i remembered.

i had not switched my settings back from JPEG to RAW.

and in this one photo lies the reason why i shoot the way i do.

anyone else mess up and been saved by RAW...or been in a situation where it would have made all the difference? Are you a JPEG shooter? RAW convert? i am always curious to know:). 

i have a ton of reading on this topic but i found this little article to be a quick read if you are looking for more info...RAW vs JPEG.


Anonymous said...

Hmm as the mother of the whitest child on the planet I may have to revisit RAW. It's such a struggle to balance her coloring in full sun. Then add her reasonably colored family *g* and some one is getting the short end.

Lisa said...

I shoot in RAW and JPEG. My camera basically take the regular photo in RAW and then a converted one in a B&W or something like that...I can't figure out how to get it back to just RAW. I need to break out the manual.

Anonymous said...

Of the many discussions we will have over coffee/wine this summer, this is one of them. x

Red Dirt Lattes said...

Going to give RAW a shot. Your picture did say it all.

Amanda said...

I'm still not convinced. not to say that I don't flub shots, I do all the time. but I haven't noticed a significant improvement in recovery since starting to shoot raw.
I also strongly dislike what lightroom does to (certain) nikon raw files straight out of camera.

that being said, I still shoot raw and jpeg, (in case I just can't deal with LR) but I should just switch to one :)

angela auclair said...

amanda - in one of the articles i read, they noted that nikon RAW files tend to be sharper and less...RAW than files from other cameras. that may totally play into your experience with the less impact in the way you process ( which is not really all the LR dependent anyways ).

if i had the memory capability? i would be tempted to shoot both, for the shots i want to run out and get printed quickly ( a big issue i ran into recently ). i do like the versatility of shooting both.

maybe i need to figure out my memory suck next;).

and thanks ot everyone on your input on this post, here and on faebook and in email - i thought i was gonna get a big yawn on this and am tickled that you guys have so much to say!!

Lauren said...

Just so you know I have always avoided this debate mostly because I didn't want to deal with it - once I knew you had "angelized" it I got interested. It was in fact very interesting and I now would like to try shooting RAW. If I may ask how do you deal with your memory issues? My poor little very old Macbook is always running out of memory.

DaniGirl said...

I can't imagine ever not shooting RAW anymore. Just the control over the exposure (I think the range is four additional stops) and white balance alone make it worthwhile. With TB drives at $100, I'd rather have the room to play and experiment than limit myself to JPEG. Hmmm, I'm sorry I missed that convo on twitter!

cathy said...

Honestly, there's nothing wrong with the photo. Looks natural to me.