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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Photo Notes: RAW vs JPEG


Concerning raw files for those who don't understand the purpose and differences:

Sony Raw file imported into Lightroom into Adobe colorspace (purposely underexposed when shot). The image looks dull and lifeless. This is not how the scene looked in real life, but the data is there in highlights and shadows for processing, rather than 2/3 of the data being tossed out if it were a jpg:

Sony Camera JPG Profile "Landscape" applied in Lightroom (for comparison to what the JPG would have looked like out of the camera - not bad just a little under exposed to keep highlights intact):

Sony Raw file with correct white and black point set, and exposure correction:

As you can see, there is no manipulation other than standard corrections, mainly exposure, but it brings out what the chip captures. I shot this image specifically because it contained a huge range of rich and subtle colors. The marble had many variations of pinks, reds, golds and blue. The doors were deep aqua blue, the overhead lights were yellow tungsten, the blue evening sky reflected in the polished marble, red tail lights of cars and there were blue LED lights from Christmas decorations reflecting as well. I liked the mix I saw and shot appropriately.

This next image looks like heavy handed manipulation but it's not. The heavy blue on the door looks oversaturated, but it's actually the reflection of a massive, blue LED Cuenca sign across the street. The yellows are the overhead lights and the pinkish hues are from the mix of blue light and overhead orange sodium vapor lights in the park, as well as the red taillights of the line of cars in front of the guy. The magenta saturated streaks on the columns are the blue LED's reflecting into the glossy gold marble, the gold eliminating enough blue to leave the magenta base. The same blue reflects as blue on the white marble between the steps, because the white marble doesn't kill the blue as does the gold on the columns. It appears to those who know nothing about light or color as an oversaturated magenta, but that's how color and light work. That's how the moment looked and the reason I shot it. Years ago in the industry when I shot film, people wondered how I captured brilliant color and asked how I did it, assuming I duped the transparencies to oversaturate. I didn't do anything, just knew how to minimize flare and nail the exposure.

This image from Honduras is a shot with only the light of an LED lamp and I loved the dull color it made, capturing the late night boredom of the moment. It was processed exactly the same as the above images with the same settings, but inherent in it's nature were the flat colorations, not brilliant ones.

This image from Guanajuato was processed from the raw file with the same settings the other images have, difference being the muted subject matter and the inherent flare from the windows that muted the colors and shadows into a soft and subtle image.​

Point is, don't confuse subject matter, light, environment, atmospheric conditions, lens renderings (which differ substantially between each lens you own), and all the other variables, with having been worked one way or another. All of my images are imported with the same corrections and generally are exported out as jpg's with no changes. And to that matter, jpg's toss most of the data and change from your original on export, then enter the world of differing monitors and computers. Your computer and monitor will display that jpg very differently than your spouses iPad lying next to you. Entering a world of insane variables in image processing and display will lead you down a never-ending road chasing your tail. I suggest just enjoying taking photos and don't sweat bullets unless your'e trying to copy the Mona Lisa for a museum and need to be as accurate as possible. But then again, that ain't really photography, it's technical recording.

This is an example of why I don't shoot JPG's. Charlie's Olympus produced typical jpeg output which is both dull and oversaturated at the same time, no detail in clouds and black shadows. Not his fault. But would this be considered an accurate image because Olympus put together the processing algorithm so that the tiny chip in the camera could make an image? I think not. If a raw file existed, then it could be tuned to look more as the eye saw it. Don't forget, when you see an image, your eye doesn't see black shadows or overexposed clouds. It compensates instantly and sees detail in shadows and detail in clouds. This image doesn't look anything like what he saw at the time. Raw allows you to make the image look closer to what was reality, if you know what you're doing.

Caught this when Michnus, Elsebie and I were walking around the other night, specifically for the brilliant surreal colors! I knew how to expose for the midpoint, blowing the colored light strings into saturated glows to capture the tone of green I wanted on the tiles and his profile. It's not manipulation, it's understanding how to shoot.

I hope this helps some of you guys begin to look at things differently and to understand the value of raw AND the camera system you choose. Some are better than others. Canon has always had flat color and good skin tones, Sony is good in low light and color, and I feel Fuji has the best of all of them. NO SYSTEM has completely accurate colors, even when calibrated with custom profiles, and will always interpret colors differently than another.

If you want to become a photographer, just look for images you like and capture moments in life that engage people, focusing on why rather than the technical issues. If you're happy with the jpg's that's great. If you want to improve the quality then consider diving into the world of raw. The point and purpose of photography is to create images that are beautiful and capture the viewer. Get the basics of technique down and then move on to what's important - the image you capture that captures others. Otherwise, stay on the photo forums and post 45 megapixel pictures of your cat in the kitchen and rant on about sensors and pixels and lens charts. :-)

Choose life and color instead!

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