The power of the file format you use…
Most photographers don’t think about settings and file formats when starting. First off, most people just want to take pictures. Down the road you need to think about what you are doing more carefully. You will need to get into RAW processing to overcome the shortcomings (but also, see my comment after this article)
When you think about settings and file formats it appears very technical. It’s not easy to work out what you need to know. Here are the basics. There are two in-camera file types for photographers…
- RAW = a file type for capturing all the data from your camera, but which needs developing (post processing) after the file is downloaded. There are many manufacturer-specific versions of the RAW format.
- *.jpg = a specific file type created in-camera from a RAW file. It is processed by the camera. The *.jpg format was originally designed only for transmitting and displaying files. It is extremely limited for post processing and easily degraded.
Both file types are useful for certain things. The RAW format is ultimately the most useful for photographers because it is so flexible. It allows you to develop the image you want from the picture you have taken. The *.jpg file on the other hand is processed for you, in a limited auto-processing system over which you have little control. It is confusing for beginners because *.jpg files create reasonably good images. But it is difficult to make them do what you intend. Beginners eventually find they cannot create the excellent images that RAW users produce. Nevertheless, starters use *.jpg because they don’t understand RAW and processing – they are stuck without help.
The processing is already done for *.jpg files by the time they are downloaded. Most beginners think they have something special when they get a great image straight out of the camera. Actually they are getting something processed according to someone else’s ideas. So it is not entirely their creation.
How do you break out of this situation?
The easiest way is to do a course or join a club or both. Then you can gain the experience and techniques you need to learn while having fun with others who share your interests. There are lots of courses and clubs around. More specifically you will have three goals. You need to learn how to…
- Control your camera to get the picture you want.
- Do post processing to produce great images.
- See great scenes and compose them to create great images.
Along the way…
At some point every aspiring photographer is told, “why not try moving to RAW, that format gives you greater control over your processing”. This is true and a worthwhile pursuit.
What most beginners also hear along the way is something like this… “It is easier to shoot in RAW because you don’t need to worry about your settings so much”. “You can sort it out in post processing”.
This whole “sort it out later” attitude is a recipe for disaster. Here is my reasoning…
- Have an underdeveloped sense of colour.
- Are not sensitive to light intensity or brightness variations.
- Have an underdeveloped sense of the quality of light.
- Cannot properly remember the colours shades, tones and brightness levels at a scene until they can start the post processing hours or days later.
The result is that during processing colours, brightnesses, tones and shades get over/under processed owing to no reference point. The resultant image is often a long way from reality. Incidentally, as your eye/mind system develops the “photographers eye” you begin to remember these details much more.
I urge you to cultivate the habit of fine control of your camera. Every shot, or at least every set of similar shots, should be set up individually. Be obsessive about it. Then, when you get your work into the computer, your post processing has a realistic starting point. It is easier, and more realistic, to process a picture that starts out very close to your intended image.
There is another reason to be obsessive and accurate about controlling settings from the start. Bad habits are really, really difficult to break. If you get into the habit of sloppy settings from the start you will almost certainly be a lazy photographer. I can assure you that will condemn you to many hours in front of the computer doing menial development tasks. It is much easier to get it right in-camera from the start. Then you can slightly tweak it later. Breaking a sloppy habit to get fine control of your camera later is a long, hard road.
Professional photographers are obsessive about getting the settings right. They know that the difference between an amateur and a professional is getting EXACTLY the image they want. And, they know they will not get that exact image by being sloppy. Precise, accurate and pre-set control is the name of the game if you want to create sharp, and realistic images.
So, forget about ‘rescuing images later’. Do your photography correctly from the start and do it using RAW files.
It is important to consider the tools you work with. If your camera does not offer the opportunity to save RAW files you have to work with what you have got. Nothing wrong with that. It is worth reading my comment after this article.