Tag: post-capture processing

An open letter to Freeman Patterson regarding jpegs and raw files

Freeman Patterson is one of the most renowned and respected natural environment and outdoor photographers in Canada and around the world. Many photographers have learned greatly from this master of seeing, some of us from as far back as the 1970s. His work is equally remarkable when done in his own backyard of Shamper’s Bluff, New Brunswick or in the drylands of Namaqualand, South Africa.

Periodically through the year, Freeman sends out a newsletter in which he discusses life and philosophy and photography. I find them meditative and inspirational and read them when I have an opportunity to sit and ponder and enjoy.

So, it was with some shock, and a little dismay, that I read the following in his last paragraph of his most recent newsletter, dated May 2019, Images, Ideas and Reflections:

1/ It’s my long-term observation that most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated for the needs of most amateurs and, in fact, many professionals. 2/ In my view, always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time. Although some very well-known Canadians professional photographers agree, many amateurs seem shocked when I say this. When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare. For me, the old K.I.S.S. principle still applies – keep it simple, stupid. Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!

(Underscores are that of the original author).

Now, far be it for me to take on a legendary photographer such as a Freeman Patterson, but I simply could not sit by silently with a blanket statement such as “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time” and “When do I shoot RAW? Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print, which is extremely rare.”

Here is my response…

Dear Freeman,

I’m just wondering if what you wrote in the last paragraph of your most recent letter – the part about jpegs vs raw files – was put there to see how many people have read to the end, you can download them with  sodapdf.com!

I very much enjoyed reading your letter, as I always do, as much as I have enjoyed your photographs and teachings since the 1970s, that is, until I read the last paragraph.

While I agree “most digital cameras have far too many functions and are far too complicated”, and “Never let your equipment or the way you use it interfere with your spiritual life!”, I am rather dismayed by your blanket statement in support of jpegs over raw files: “always shooting RAW is a sheer waste of battery power, storage space, and processing time”, with little explanation beyond “Only when I feel there is some possibility that I will make a 20×30 or larger print”. Limiting the creative potential of a photographer is deceptive, limiting and, frankly, unprofessional as an educator.
While your notions of less is more deeply resonate with me, the limitations created by a machine-created digital file may be helpful for simplifying photography in the short term, a decision to only shoot jpegs can be unnecessarily restricting in the long term.
A jpeg is like a Polaroid print or a machine print from Blacks or a Kodachrome transparency. While each could be considered fine enough quality for display as artwork, they are, essentially, end points, with much less ‘room’ for further enhancements once they are created. A photograph should represent the photographer’s complete vision – one realized through field techniques and processing techniques – not only field techniques and that of a machine with ‘under-the-hood’ computer algorithms. 
So, I can only wonder if you were addressing those photographers who believe that what the camera spits out is the end product. Is this a remnant of your transparency days when the slide was very much an end product? One can alter a Polaroid, machine print, transparency or jpeg, but it will only lead to further image degradation – fine if that’s your style, but not as a blanket end result.
Polaroids aside (they were a niche art market unto themselves, pursued beyond snapshots by only a small minority of photographers), transparencies and machine prints would have been a suitable end product to non-darkroom workers. But stop for a moment and try to imagine an Adams black-and-white as a machine print?!? While his field techniques were legendary, his printing of each negative is what made each scene “sing”. A jpeg would never stand up to the modern-day equivalent of an Adams darkroom session.
Digital image files today are the negatives of before: an opportunity for a photographer to refine and/or extend their vision beyond what the camera machine produces. And, given the ubiquity of digital editing apps, and photographers willing to pursue the technology, it hardly seems appropriate to limit their future potential growth by recommending bog-standard jpegs. Again, I’m not referring to whole scale digital manipulation, stretching photographs beyond the recognizable; rather, I’m speaking of the myriad subtle enhancements to already finely crafted images that breathe life into the product of a machine – the same manipulations I once enjoyed working with in a wet darkroom (colour and b&w).
When it comes to digital editing, working within the confines of the colour space and compression of a jpeg is like playing tennis (or basketball or football/soccer) on a court with cement walls for out-of-bounds lines. In severely limiting a player’s freedom of movement, racquet swings become much more conservative and the game much different! Due to a jpeg’s limited 8-bit colour space, even tweaking it a little may drive colours out of gamut during processing. Furthermore, subtle highlight details also suffer due to file compression algorithms in jpegs. Granted, printing processes and screens are also 8-bit, but with raw files, the photographer has the option to adjust colours during the editing process, within the larger colour space of a raw file (Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB), then bring them back to the once again limiting 8-bits of the printing process (or screen visualization) in ways they see fit, not an algorithm.
Creativity can start from a finished product, but the potential is limitedWorse, the decisions regarding colour, sharpening and compression are not made by the photographer, but by an automated process, pre-determined by a committee of software engineers, to produce the best possible average of averages. It’s not looking at the content, the scene the colours and is ignorant of end use. While the product of these software decisions, the jpeg, is of high quality, it is still handcuffed into only reduced quality through editing, not improved quality.
Granted, you know this already, which makes it even more surprising you would recommend it. I see the role of teachers as ones who inspire students to go beyond, to encourage exploration and discovery, not to hamper them with built-in algorithms. The books and prints of your work are not the product of blind acceptance of the decisions of software engineers, neither should a photographer’s photographs.
I shoot with a full frame sensor camera, a 1” sensor camera, and an iPhone. Believe you me, the 1” sensor files definitely benefit from being captured in raw format; the iPhone files even more so. The image quality difference between processed raw files and jpegs from all three cameras is significant on screen and in print. As sensor size is reduced, that difference becomes even more obvious. For example, even subtle image processing on a jpeg can result in obvious and unacceptable banding across otherwise clear blue skies.
So, I can’t help wondering what, exactly, you were getting at by endorsing jpegs for all photos that are not likely to end up being printed to  20”x30” or larger. I’ve been successfully photographing and selling for decades and I still don’t always know when a photograph might be printed large like that. I would rather err on the side of caution and spend a little more of my time capturing in raw then making a few quick edits to it (even automated edits!), knowing that I still have the raw file that, at some later time, I can take to the next level if I should choose to go back to it to further improve it.
I’m just very thankful that I can go back to the raw files I made 18 years ago in Tanzania with an early digital camera – a 5mp Minolta 7hi – and still make improvements with today’s editing apps, something I cannot achieve in the same way even from high quality jpegs made with the same camera. They’re good, don’t get me wrong, but they are not nearly as good as what I can do with the raw files. I can also go back to my 4×5 negatives and make silver gelatin prints, if I choose, or scan them into digital files.
You see, that’s the difference between raw files and jpegs – raw files have the potential for further improvements jpegs, not so much. One never knows what the future holds.
With great respect,
Terry McDonald
www.luxborealis.com

St. Catharines Photographic Club

On Tuesday of last week, I “opened the season” at the St. Catharines Photographic Club, St. Catharines, Ontario. With the Niagara Escarpment wine country and Niagara Falls so close, the topic of my presentation, ‘Landscape Photography as Artistic Expression’ seemed appropriate for a good many in the audience of about 75 or so.

From my perspective, we can be greeted with a beautiful scene in front of us and capture it in an ‘ƒ8 and be there’ way, but there is so much more we can do as artists to accentuate the scene. For better or worse, as photographers our ‘canvas’ (our viewfinder) is always filled with a scene. It’s a blessing as it gives us a starting point; but it’s also a curse in that we now must work hard to ensure all the elements contribute to the final photograph we see in our mind’s eye.

The Landscape Photographer's Toolkit - copyright Terry A. McDonaldEssentially, we are ‘assembling’ a photograph to represent our vision of the scene by using the various elements provided to us:

  • the Ambient Conditions provided by the weather, time of day and time of year;
  • the Aesthetic Elements of camera position, leading lines and other compositional elements; and
  • the Technical Controls at our disposal: choice of lens, filter, aperture, shutter speed; using a tripod, shooting in panoramic or making an HDR exposure blend.

But that only gets us as far as, what I like to call, a ‘machine file’ generated by the camera. From there, we continue our artistic explorations by applying ‘subtle and discreet’ post-capture processing techniques to further enhance and re-create the scene as we experienced it.

If all we do is reproduce what was there, are we truly adding anything of ourselves to the final work? This is the crux of my goal as a photographer: “to interpret the art inherent in nature’. Nature is spectacular just at is, but sometimes it needs some help to clarify and accentuate the beauty that exists. That’s where the astute and passionate eye of a photographer comes in. For me, the ‘interpretation’ is my take on the what nature provides as art for us everyday.

Overall, it was an excellent evening with many thoughtful questions from the audience. It was also great to see the level of involvement of many members and the high quality of images as evidenced by their website.

I hope to return to St. Catharines in the future to work with Club members on a landscape photography workshop or two. If that’s something you would find helpful – hands-on instruction in the field – then be sure to let the Club know. Alternatively, I am more than happy to lead small groups in ‘field and screen’ workshops where we spend the morning out shooting and the afternoon editing. Just drop me an email if you’re interested.

In the meantime – get out and get shooting. It’s autumn and the colours are arriving. And, if you get out early enough into the rural areas, you will capture some of the wonderful foggy mornings we’re having.

Adobe offers Lightroom 4 “Public Beta” for download

Lightroom 4 is out and earlier than expected. Mind you, it is just the “public beta” version which means it is not the final version and will benefit from the many bugs that will be discovered by the thousands of users.

If you are a casual user of Lightroom or have never used Lightroom – do not download and use Lightroom 4 Public Beta (LR4PB)! This version expires on or before March 31, 2012 as the final version will become available around then. In the meantime, I’ve been playing with this new version for a few hours today and like what I see. Major improvements include:

  • Book module using Blurb to create photo books
  • Map module using Google maps to geotag images
  • new process version – 2012- that offers a “new and improved” workflow (however, you can still, on an image-by-image basis retain Process Version 2010 if you choose)
  • soft proofing of files in preparation for printing (soft proofing allows you to see a facsimile of what a print will look like with a specific paper profile and colour space loaded)

This is just the beginning of the myriad updates and improvements. Over the next few days I will provide more detailed information, but for now, rest assured, that LR4 is not a revolution, but more of an evolution of features.

If you are interested, LR4PB may be downloaded from AdobeLabs at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/lightroom4/. You will need an Adobe ID (free). LR4PB will not overwrite your LR3 files. It will create a separate folder for both the app and any catalogues you create. To make use of LR4PB, do not simply Add images from your LR3 Library. My suggestion is to:

  1. Select a bunch of images in LR3 that you’d like to work on in LR4PB;
  2. Choose File > Export as Catalog (making sure the check boxes at the bottom of the dialogue box are checked as for any Export to Catalogue). Save this catalogue temporarily to your desktop.
  3. In LR4PB, DO NOT choose File > Import from Another Catalog – it won’t work. Instead choose File > Import Photos and Video… Navigate to the catalogue you just made in LR3 (on your desktop) and select “Move” to move the photos from the catalogue to the location of the LR4PB Library : Pictures > Lightroom > Download Backups;
  4. Before you press “Import”, go to the Destination palette and choose Organize: By original folder. Everything will be moved into folders created by LR4;
  5. Once the import is finished, you can delete the temporary catalogue on your desktop as the photos (should) have been moved into place.

From there, you can play around with your images in LR4PB. Take note – whatever changes you make may not work with the final version of LR4 as Adobe reserves the right to continue to make tweaks which may render your images unreadable in LR4 Final. Remember, this is Beta version that is put out of Adobe for testing purposes. So don’t do anything “mission critical”. Do, however, have fun!