May 28, 2009

Unapologetically JPG

(maybe I should whisper that. JPG vs. RAW is a hot topic in photographic circles). Here are some excerpted thoughts I put forth in a question/answer dialogue back in January at I Heart Faces.)

JPG vs. RAW is almost as big a discussion as Free Will vs. Election.

Ok, not really. But, almost. [grin]

Entire volumes (I'm not kidding) have been written about the merits of RAW vs. the merits of JPG.

I've chosen to continue shooting JPG. Though I have experimented a couple times with RAW. Here's the deal with RAW - it's like an insurance policy. If you screw up the exposure, you've got a "backup policy" that will let you recover some of your losses. RAW will let you tweak up to, like, 4 stops of exposure. In JPG you can probably only tweak half that. RAW also allows you greater ability to post-process in terms of recovering detail and taking control of every aspect of color. In simple terms, RAW absolutely lets you tweak more than JPG does.

The down side of RAW: the files are HUGE. They take a ton of time to download and extra time up front to bring to a viewable level (they're very "flat" sooc). They also take up a ton of hard drive space. For me, the biggest down side was all the extra time required to download & process.

Plus, for me, I don't think my "style" is ever going to be one of ultra-processing-snazzy-tweaking-artistry. So I don't need the extra tweakability that RAW provides. I want to take a good, classic photo that will be as appealing 10-20-30 years from now as it is now. And I really want to learn to expose properly, and not to depend so strongly on RAW to save me. So, for me and my vision of what I want my style to be, RAW isn't a hardcore necessity.

That said, if I'm on a shoot, and the lighting conditions are really tough (ie. like bright sun & harsh shadows combined with rapidly changing lighting conditions), I might go ahead and switch into jpg + raw shooting mode. Just in case.

Which brings me to the only advice I've got to share re: you possibly transferring over. Try it and see if you like it. :-) I know, I'm, like, soooo knowledgeable and helpful. ;-)

But, truly, check your camera manual. Your camera more than likely allows you to shoot in JPG + RAW. Take a bunch of practice pictures. Make sure you really screw some of them up. Then open up the JPGs & RAWs side by side. Compare. Process. See what RAW will allow you to do. See if the greater tweakability is worth the extra time/space for you.

For what it's worth - there are highly paid pros who shoot ONLY jpg. And there are highly paid pros who would never consider NOT shooting in RAW. It seems a very personal decision with valid arguments/rationales on both sides.

coastal road trip

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16 comments:

Shirl said...

I played around with RAW as well, but when I bought Lightroom, I never went back to RAW. Like you, perhaps when the lighting is really crazy, I'll shoot RAW...I don't know. I think what broke me was when I undertook a major digital photo organizing chore a few months ago and realized the inconvenience of RAW shots and the SIZE and how much space and how many disks it took to archive them! So, it's JPG for me as well...without apology. Heck, there are still people arguing about using film over digital.

Tracy P. said...

Well let me say that I'm far more knowledgeable about the free will vs. election debate, so I got a good chuckle out of that. ;-) And yeah, someday maybe I'll get a "big girl" camera, and then I'll worry about this one. I like your thoughts about learning to get it right, though. There are lots of ways to "cheat", and I sure need 'em, but there's a lot to be said for the learning and growing that produces a better over-all result without hours of post-production.

Heasleye said...

I began shooting raw about 1 1/2 years ago. The two main reasons I continued were the ability to easily adjust exposure and white balance. As I've become more proficient, my exposures have become more consistent. But I still loved being able to easily adjust the WB in ACR. Shooting a custom WB in camera just isn't always practical, for me anyway.

Now that I'm using LR so much more (I began with PS Elements), it's great to have the same editing tools available whether or not one shoots raw or JPEG. Scott Kelby pointed out that the only difference between the two in LR is that the White Balance drop down menu is much shorter for a JPEG than it is for raw. But, you can still use the dropper tool (my favorite) or the sliders. So, now my two main reasons for shooting raw are not nearly as compelling as they were 1 1/2 years ago.

For whatever reason, I haven't been bothered by the file size and downloading/processing time. It is what it is, and I've become faster at what I can control and I haven't known any different for what I can't. Perhaps one day if/when I upgrade my camera, that will hit me a lot harder. New camera means huger files, for sure! When will it stop?!

I know there are lots of portrait/wedding pros who shoot JPEG and do an outstanding, gorgeous job (you included!). I'm not as familiar with landscape pros and their workflow...I wonder if they have a greater need for what raw can give? Hmmm...

Scott Kelby pointed out the Camera Calibration area in LR, how you can use it to sync with your particular camera and with one click, take a raw photo and basically make it look like the JPEG that gets displayed on your camera's LCD. He knows of some people who want the larger file of raw and the tweaking power it offers, but they have set LR to download their pics with this JPEG-like preset so that their initial edits are already done for them. This could be a great way to handle making a set of basic proofs for a big job. Then, any further editing is just gravy, but the real digital negative, the raw, is still intact if they should need it. Insurance, I guess. We all have insurance for those just in case moments of life...why not for our photo developing? :) Hah!

For now, I'm still shooting raw, but in light of what I've shared above, I've thought about switching back, or at least using JPEG for certain situations. It appeared that Mr. Kelby switches back and forth, depending on the situation and his final development needs.

Sorry for being so long-winded! :)

Melanie said...

I kind of get annoyed when I forget that I've shot in raw instead of switching to jpg.

There are only a few specific instances when I will shoot RAW. This is generally when it's a smaller photoshoot and I don't want to take any chances. However, sports events, weddings, and other social events all get shot in JPEG fine. After reading the notes of professional photographers time and time again, I feel completely comfortable with my decision.

It's funny what different circles of people choose to turn into debates, isn't it?

Melanie said...

Oh one more thing- if you have Adobe Camera Raw- you can adjust the white balance on JPG's as well as RAW files, so the white balance argument is a little pointless. :)

Heasleye said...

I hope I didn't come across as being argumentative. I'm really not that attached to either method. I know so much more now than I did when I started out. Some of my self-imposed boundaries were based on the limits of my knowledge. I'm thankful to have worked with both raw and JPEG, if for no other reason than to have learned more about all this stuff. :) I was so intimidated by raw for so long. I'm glad it's not scary anymore. It's nice to feel like I have at least a little bit of a clue on how to handle either type of file. :)

~ shi ~ said...

I wanted to say Thank You for the great review of my picture for "I Heart Faces" this week...I still think a compliment from you is totally the BEST!

and now back to business:

wow...So much good stuff..thanks for sharing this subj..I was just asking what RAW was...now I know...Now I need a big girls camera and PS or LR...see there are advantages to when the kids leave home, you have more money for toys...Well if they have grad from college or they do not give you gandbabies...or the go on missions...I am never going to get my dream camera darn it!...But thanks I am storing away knowledge..Shi!

Teri said...

When I first started researching digital several years ago, I found Gary Fong's website. He no longer shoots professionally because he has made so stinkin' much money investing and stuff. BUT...he said he always shot in JPG. If a guy can charge $20,000 for a wedding and shoot in JPG, then I was sold.

I am so anal about researching every little thing. It took me more than 2 years to convince myself to sell all my trusted Hasselblad stuff and go completely digital. Well worth the trade up. And I shot 10's of thousands of frames to learn exactly how my cameras work so that I could pretty much rely on the end result that I would get. That being said, you will still see me slap up a mediocre picture on my blog here and there because I just want to get it posted. Whatev.

Always loving your pix, again today.

tiff said...

Oh thank goodness! I just cannot get the hang of RAW, I like JPEG but I kind of felt like a huge photography failure not loving RAW.

theArthurClan said...

I completely love shooting in RAW...but I think it's because I'm still not quite there with accomplishing perfect exposure, etc. It has really saved me from losing some precious "problem" photos over time.

I solved the "taking forever to load" problem by buying an inexpensive card reader. It loads photos a lot faster for me so that doesn't bother me at all now.

And the huge files don't bother me either because I have a couple of external hard drives. I keep the most recent photos on my laptop and then everything else goes on the external hard drives (I try to have all of my pics in two spots just in case a tragedy should occur and I would lose my images.)

I love this debate though and I think it totally depends on the person. Obviously, people can get great photos from both! :)

Donna Boucher said...

I heart jpegs ;o)

Life with Kaishon said...

Every time I come here I am just so thankful! This was refreshing and honest. Of course I am not nearly at your level, but I feel the same way about tweakability. that I want the picture that I take to be excellent as possible right out of the camera. I always love your work. I thought your fix it today was especially marvelous! Thank you!

Lizzie said...

all your pictures are beautiful regardless of format :)

Boybarian Dad said...

Great post. I'm along the same line as you Susan.

Forget RAW, I don't need it in my life and my hard drive has enough stuff on it already. I only shoot RAW if I want to do HDR image, other then that, JPG for Moi :).

B Dad

apryl said...

this is so very true susan,
and those raw people can make us feel SO inferior!

but i'm staying jpeg for now..

my first priority is to learn how to get the best out of my camera, not to recover to the best of my ability...

although, there are always times you wish you could do something for a particular shot...just pushes me to learn more!

SKELLER said...

Wow. A whole conversation happened in my comments while I was on the road. Great thoughts, All. You demonstrate/represent well the various viewpoints of raw vs. jpg.

Elaine - you're welcome to wax philosophic here anytime you like :-).

Apryl - all my jpg "shame" has been self-imposed. RAW shooters have never put that on me. Most RAW shooters are just so very enthusiastic (for good reason) about what RAW allows them to tweak/recover/create that they want everyone to have that same ability. :-)