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Eric's Photography Corner - Easy Photography Tips and Tricks by ESP Photographic

The entire time I enjoyed digital photography as a hobby and for the first two years of going pro, I took my photos in JPEG format.  I knew in the back of my mind that shooting in RAW was an option, and some photographers raved about it, but I couldn’t be fussed to face the learning curve and massive files that were sure to accompany it.

When I finally got off of my derriere and experimented with RAW format I found that I had been suffering from a bad case of ‘photographer’s naivety’!  My photography world was blown wide open, and so was the potential of my photography.  The question I ask myself now is this: Is it worth the bother taking these shots in JPEG instead of RAW?

Think of the photo you’re taking as a house under construction.  There is a lot that goes into building a house that you don’t see with the finished product, i.e. foundations, support joists, electrical work, plumbing, etc… Now, pretend the house is finished but when you built it, you decided to strip out every element that you couldn’t see from the outside to speed up the process and save a few bucks. What you’re left with is a shell of a house that looks pretty from the outside, but when the first storm blows in, it tumbles to the ground!

RAW format is your camera building your photo with all of the information possible.  It includes info about white balance, exposure, dynamic range and so forth.  These are the foundations and support beams of your photo.

JPEG format is essentially your camera’s interpretation of what’s important and what isn’t.  Your camera strips out the ‘unseen’ information that RAW keeps and delivers a compressed image with a much smaller file size.

The ‘storm’ I refer to is what happens when it comes time to edit your photo.  I’ll give you a couple of examples:

White Balance (WB):  If I need to tweak the white balance because I didn’t choose the right setting before the shot, it’s dead-easy with RAW and an absolute pain with JPEG.  With RAW, the WB info is all there.  I can take the shot at the completely wrong end of the color temperature scale and easily fix it later.  With JPEG however, the camera chooses a definitive WB and strips out the extra data.  Getting your WB wrong in JPEG format is much more difficult to work with post-edit and often impossible to get cosmetically right.

Exposure:  This is one of the easiest settings to get wrong in digital photography.  People tend to look at their display screen instead of the histogram to check their exposure.  The reason this leads to trouble is because your screen has its own brightness settings, and it can also look completely different in bright sun-light compared to looking at the same image in the shade.  (Histogram post coming soon!)

RAW stores all of the exposure info including the darks, shadows, mid-tones, and highlights in your photo.  Fixing exposure in RAW is as simple as sliding a dial in the right direction.  JPEGs however are a beast if you’ve started off with the wrong exposure.  We’ve all been there.

My little girl loves pretending to be a statue at the moment so I took the opportunity to take a shot of her to illustrate the differences between RAW and JPEG formats.

This is my little girl who loves posing like a statue!  For the purpose of this post, I set my camera to take this photo 3 stops of exposure to low, and with a tungsten white balance instead of shade.  I also set it to take both RAW and JPEG format simultaneously.  As you can see the result is terrible, possibly ruining what could have been a lovely shot.
This is her heart shaped statue!  Setting my camera to take both RAW and JPEG format simultaneously, I underexposed the shot by a massive three stops and chose a tungsten white balance instead of shade. As you can see the result is terrible, possibly ruining what could have been a lovely shot.
I opened up the JPEG into Photoshop and did the absolute - very best I could to recover the photo.  Because the JPEG stripped out so much important data, After 20 minutes of playing photo doctor, this is the best I could come up with.  Her skin still doesn't look right and neither does the background foliage. I could have done a lot more for the photo, perhaps adding some warming filters etc...but I didn't need to.  The next photo will illustrate why.
I opened up the JPEG into Photoshop and did the absolute, very best I could to recover the photo. Because the JPEG stripped out so much important data, after 20 minutes of playing photo doctor, this is the best I could come up with. Her skin still doesn’t look right and neither does the background foliage. I could have done a lot more for the photo, perhaps adding some warming filters etc…but I didn’t need to. The next photo will illustrate why.
With my hand on my heart I can tell you I spent a total of 1 and 1/2 minutes editing the RAW photo.  I took it from the terrible 3 stops underexposed image with bad white balance to a beautifully composed keepsake photo of my little girl!  Her skin tones look natural and so does the background path and foliage.
With my hand on my heart I can tell you I spent a total of 1 and 1/2 minutes editing the RAW photo. I took it from the terrible 3 stops underexposed image with bad white balance to a beautifully composed keepsake photo of my little girl! Her skin tones look natural and so does the background path and foliage.

Now, shooting JPEGs isn’t always bad.  Click on Page 2 below to see the pros of JPEG over RAW!