Light Curves - Kristine

A big debate in photography is about shooting RAW versus JPG. There are pros and cons for both sides of the argument. I won't be touching on all of the arguments, but instead just a few of the pros and cons for each format. The results being the main drive behind the decision for the format I use to take pictures.

To the left is a picture of Kristine from my "Light Curves" concept. Light Curves uses a single light source just outside the frame which highlights the edges of the model's natural curves. The goal is to emphasize the natural beauty in the feminine form. As you see, the image contains a lot of black shadow with only the edge lighting of the curves plus some overflow.

I have cropped the photograph from the upper bust up for demonstrating one of the key differences between in-camera JPG and RAW formats. For this example, I had the camera set to save the image in RAW and JPG format. The source is identical, excluding format.

Shooting JPG

A number of the photographers I know shoot JPG mainly because they rely on the camera's finishing technology. With the noise reduction, color and contrast controls as well as other enhanced automatic features in modern digital cameras, most of the work is done in-camera at the time shot - automagickally.

For a significant portion of photographs this is acceptable and works reasonably well. This enables the photographers to provide clients with pictures quick and easy, requiring little or no post work.

There are plenty of special instances where the automated features damage the results instead of improving upon them. Color correction and exposure are examples of common failure, where the camera's analysis point might detect the incorrect lighting conditions or environmental coloring. It is more difficult to correct for this mistake in post processing when shooting JPG.

Take a look at this enhanced JPG image. In a case where we need to enhance the shadowed areas, we end up with an solarized effect where details still exist, like on the bust and shoulders, or the details are gone completely, like on the face. The shadows in this image cannot be recovered.

Enhanced JPG Image

When shooting in high ISO digital noise and other artifacts appear in the captured image, especially when under-exposed. In-camera noise filter helps to eliminate these conditions, sometimes better than a lot of photo editing software, however sometimes again at the cost of hidden details - and of course requires saving to JPG or some other non-RAW format.

RAW is Uncooked

Just as the name suggests, RAW is the image representing what the camera saw inside the frame. It is not edited at all, not for contrast, not for noise - nothing. Depending on your camera, the information saved in the RAW file may have more colors than print-ready formats like JPG can possess, because the data is saved in layers - the same layers which your camera sensor captures the data. Read about the sensor layers (filters) on Wikipedia.

Enhanced RAW Image

Since so much data is saved in the RAW file, the files are very large - two to four times the size of their JPG counterpart. All this data allows a good photo editing software to recover hidden information. That is the main reason that I personally shoot RAW, all the time - even for simple, personal pictures.

In a studio, the lighting is usually very controlled, but sometimes your subject moves just a little bit without you noticing when you take the picture. Instead you notice in post. This is where that hidden data is needed. Look at the Enhanced RAW Image example to the left. This has the same enhancements as the JPG version above, but all the detail is still present. From here, a little extra time adjusting tone and lighting would turn this into a "normal" portrait.

RAW versus JPG

It's a personal choice, simply put. I shoot RAW versus JPG, because I want the flexibility of easily correcting technical details or otherwise improving images accurately, including those hidden details.

Consider the following for making your decision on format to use.

Yes No
Do you shoot in low light situations? Post editing is your friend with a good product, like ACDsee. Shoot RAW to preserve lost data and allow shadow recovery in post. JPG might work well for you. Controlled lighting and good exposure reduce the need to recover hidden detail.
Do your clients expect instant gratification? In-camera processing allows prompt delivery of JPG images for your client. RAW requires post processing, even if just converting to JPG. RAW provides excellent control for post work and helps you ensure your clients get the best image possible.

The image in this article is from my Light Curves project.

Prints are available for purchase through my print processor.

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