Friday, December 14, 2012

RAW vs Jpeg

You may be asking yourself “So what is all of this talk about RAW? Should I be shooting in RAW?”

I commonly hear people say things like “Once I started shooting in RAW I won’t shoot in anything else?”, or “Memory cards are so cheap why shoot in anything other then RAW?”, and “Shooting in Jpeg is like owning a sports car and never taking it out of 2nd gear.”

So what exactly is RAW? The short version is that it is all of the light data the camera has captured. Jpeg is a possible interpretation of that data. This is an important distinction to understand. If you have the RAW file you can then create several extremely different interpretations during post. Which really is the time to use RAW, when you plan extensive post manipulation, either to achieve a look the camera can not create or because the lighting conditions are such that they dictate post op correction i.e. mixed light sources (tungsten and florescent) and extreme dynamic range (very bright harsh light), then that is the time you will need to use the RAW setting.

So to answer “Should I be shooting in RAW?” Generally no. I know you may be thinking, “But you just said it lets you do these great things, why not shoot RAW?” 

Well for one thing, while memory cards are cheap, computer hard drive space is a bit more precious. This may not be an issue for you if you only shoot a few thousand photos a year, it is not uncommon for me to shoot 2000 photos in a week. At this rate of fire I not only avoid RAW I throw out a lot of good images so I have plenty of space for the images I am selling and the really good and great images.

Another is work flow, particularly speed of work flow. RAW takes longer to download, longer to process, just for a start. But how much time are you going to spend beyond that in post? If you are working on a project that needs a lot of post then the time is already considered. Most of the rest of your images should not need a lot of post, if they do you need to correct your shooting.

“So what about the sports car analogy?” you may ask. Lets take the analogy a little farther. If creating a photograph is a mile long trip, the camera is the last two blocks. Do you need a sports car to go two blocks? A photo starts with an idea, it consists of subject and background, all of which is bathed in light to bring the idea to life A photograph is much more then just shutter, aperture, ISO, the camera only gives you shutter, aperture, ISO. Shooting in RAW does not change that.

Most of what you shoot you will be able to shoot in Jpeg, it will speed your work flow save you space, but more importantly it will limit your ability to just shrug and go “I can correct that color / exposure or what ever later and force you to be a more aware shooter. Greater awareness will bread greater skill. So whenever possible shoot in Jpeg.

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