| Written by Ronnie |
Here's one simple thing you can start doing today to improve your imagery: Switch over to shooting in RAW, if you don't already.
It took me a very long time to start shooting RAW files. I'd always heard about it and known about it in theory, but I never bit the bullet for myself until February this year.
Here's the thing: Shooting RAW can be intimidating for those of us who aren't professional photographers. JPEG files, we can handle. But RAW files? Well, that just sounds a little bit out of our league. Am I right?
Essentially, RAW files are uncompressed image files, which means that they retain all the information about your images.
What does this mean?
First, it means that you have complete control over how you want your final image to appear. JPEG files have actually been processed by your camera device. This is why they appear brighter and nicer than RAW files when you download them from the camera; your camera has already processed your image at a very basic level. On the other hand, RAW files are exactly as their name suggests. Raw. Untouched. Unprocessed. Ready for you to make the most basic of adjustments like exposure and contrast.
Secondly, shooting in RAW means you can do more with your images. In particular, you can correct problem images that would be irrecoverable if you'd simply shot in JPEG. For example, an overly underexposed image or an overly overexposed image can adjusted in such a way that you'd never guess that there were any problems with the original image. (I'm embarrassed to admit how many times this has saved certain images of mine.)
Thirdly, images shot on a high ISO look amazing. Speaking from my personal experience with the Fujifilm Finepix X100S, the difference between JPEGs shot on a high ISO and RAW files shot on a high ISO is like comparing apples and oranges. There is no comparison. With the JPEG files, everyone looks like they have fake plastic skin: I almost always have to convert them to black and white in order to cover this up. With my RAW files, however, portraits of people still look great. Sure, there's the graininess that you would expect from a high-ISO photograph, but the images still have texture and depth. The photo of Bear and his Pa above was shot at 6400 ISO, and I love it. All I had to do was increase the exposure and contrast in Aperture - I would be totally happy to print this photo as it is.
Overall, images shot on RAW are of a much higher quality than out-of-camera jPEG images. I have been comparing them side by side for the last six months, and there is just no argument about this. Photographs are crisper, sharper, with much greater depth to them.
Honestly, I wish now I'd started shooting RAW earlier, but I guess it's all a process.
Looking back, there were three main stumbling blocks that stopped me from committing to shooting RAW files: the larger file size, the fact that the images looked darker on my camera (which kind of freaked me out), and my fear of having to alter my photo organisation and image editing workflow. These might be your stumbling blocks as well, so I'll share my thoughts on each below:
1) The larger file size
A RAW file on the Fujifilm X100S is about 30MB, compared to 3MB for a JPEG file. This means that shooting in RAW takes up ten times more space on my hard drive! I found this hard to stomach at first. But when I saw how much better the image quality was, I knew I couldn't go back to shooting in JPEG. One of the up sides to the larger file size is that I'm now much more selective in when I choose to snap a photograph and I'm also much more selective in what images I choose to keep.
2) The darker images
Because RAW files are completely unprocessed, they can appear darker in their natural state (compared to their JPEG counterparts). I found this daunting at first, because I just wasn't sure whether or not I was doing something wrong. The fact that the RAW files didn't look as 'right' as the JPEG files threw me off for a long time. It wasn't until I started processing them in Aperture that I realised that the darker images were no big deal at all since all I had to do was increase the exposure and they were 'good to go,' so to speak.
3) The question of workflow
Turns out, there was no need to worry about this at all. Aperture handles my RAW files in the same way that it handles my JPEG files (and I know this to be the case with Lightroom as well). I download them in the same way, sort through them in the same way, and edit them in the same way. There was no need for any additional software and no need to alter my workflow.
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So here's my challenge for you today: Have a go at shooting in RAW.
(And let me know how you go...)
You can read the other posts in this series here.