Shooting In JPEG

Ask any experienced photographer and, aside from a very few (Ken Rockwell comes to mind), they will always tell you to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG. That is actually good advice but it’s not for everyone.

To make full use of raw files, you are expected to be reasonably good at post processing. Depending on how much time you have in your hands, learning how to shoot and how to process your images at the same time will definitely slow you down. Beginners in photography are better off spending more time shooting instead of sitting in front of a computer. I would advise them to shoot in JPEG instead because it does not require much processing.

To give an example, I will use one of my recent shots which I took using my Sony NEX6. I shot in RAW+JPG mode just for comparison. I know that the light is going to be tricky for this night shot and that I may have to push the shadows in post later on. I intentionally underexposed the image because it was a night shot afterall. Leaving the camera by itself to judge the exposure will render the image much brighter than intended and will ruin the mood. It was a beautiful twilight and the sky had a wonderful display of colours. I wanted to capture the fantastic magenta so I set the white balance to daylight otherwise the camera will think that there is too much red in the scene and it would shift the balance towards green.

Here is the JPEG image as captured straight from the camera:

20140609-140939-50979677.jpg

I’m quite happy with the composition. The camera has done a good job of capturing what I saw that time. Twilight is typically a low contrast situation. You could choose to increase the contrast in camera but doing so will only bury the scene in deeper shadows. Bottomline is, reality is quite dull and boring. The raw file is even worse: contrast is very low, colours are dull, there is too much barrel distortion from the kit lens and then there’s vignetting.

I went through my shots for that day just to see if there is something worth processing. There wasn’t much to go through anyway. For every hour of shooting I normally produce between 20 to 30 frames. I think before I shoot and if I like what I see in the LCD I would take 2 or 3 more of the same angle for safety. I tried processing some of the raw files in Lightroom but I could not come up with something that I liked so after a few minutes I decided to turn off my computer.

The day after, I got bored so I opened my iPad and decided to try processing my shots in Snapseed. It is a very simple app. Every beginner should install it. In just 5 minutes I managed to transform the JPEG image above into this:

20140609-143149-52309056.jpg

The difference is obvious but subtle. It’s practically just a few contrast adjustments, a gentle shadow push and a bit of sharpening. I also cropped the image a tiny bit to remove that white mark on the ground that can be seen on the lower left portion of the original shot.

The point is that if you start with a good image, a JPEG capture is all you will ever need. You do not need to perform heavy post processing that a JPEG file might not be able to handle. Thing is, if you have to spend hours tweaking a raw image then it probably means that you spent too little time thinking about the shot.

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