Saturday, July 16, 2016

Making The Case For Shooting JPEGs

Purple Thistle Blossom Macro - Stallion Springs, California
Street photographer Eric Kim had a post last week, 8 Reasons Why You Should Shoot In JPEG, that stirred up some controversy. Literally hundreds of photographers harshly criticized his points on websites and message boards. His article was quickly dismissed by readers.

Perhaps Eric Kim didn't word his article in the strongest way, but I do believe he made some good points. Maybe the lowly out-of-camera JPEG has been disregarded too often. Maybe we should rethink this.

Most often I shoot RAW+JPEG. Sometimes I shoot just RAW and less commonly just JPEG, but 75% of the time I shoot both at once. Approximately 60% of my finished photographs are from RAW files and 40% are from JPEGs. There are advantages and disadvantages to both file types.

Probably the biggest reason to shoot JPEG is time. RAW files take plenty of time to post-process. There are professional photographers who don't shoot RAW because they don't have the time to edit their images. Their clients want the pictures quickly, and their deadlines just doesn't allow for it. So they shoot JPEG.
El Capitan Reflection - Yosemite National Park, California
Even if you don't have fast-approaching deadlines, a bunch of unprocessed RAW files can bring your workflow to a crawl. Life gets in the way. I have unprocessed RAW files sitting on a hard drive from over four years ago. I've only gotten around to editing maybe 15% of the RAW files that I've captured this year. I'm way behind!

JPEGs speed up my workflow because I don't have to sit in front of a computer for hours and hours and hours. I can move on with my life and not let photography get in the way of my family and the things that really matter.

Another reason to shoot JPEGs is that it's 2016 and not 2006 (and especially not 1996). Once upon a time out-of-camera JPEGs were terrible. RAW wasn't great, either, but that was the only way to get decent results. So anyone who was serious shot RAW. But JPEGs aren't so bad anymore (and haven't been for awhile), especially if you've taken the time to customize the settings to your liking. You may even have a difficult time distinguishing an out-of-camera JPEG from a post-processed RAW file.

In some cases you still need to shoot RAW. Sometimes in high-dynamic-range scenes or when pushing the camera's high-ISO capabilities, you need the control that RAW offers. But most images don't receive a significant benefit from RAW processing.
The Closed Road - Fish Camp, California
That is (and this is my next point) if the photographer has taken care prior to opening the shutter to ensure that everything is set correctly. You can't be lazy with JPEGs (and expect to get good results), but you can be lazy with RAW. With RAW you don't need to make sure the white balance is correct. You don't need to nail the exposure spot on. You don't need to worry about color saturation and contrast and other settings. You just shoot. But laziness is an enemy of creativity, which is an essential element of photographic vision.

I've heard it said that lazy people shoot JPEGs (because they don't need to spend hours in front of a computer editing pictures), but really the laziest photographers are RAW shooters. JPEG shooters have to take extra care in the field to ensure all of the settings are just right. Anything that slows down your process in the field is good. Taking extra care prior to the exposure will ensure that you expose fewer frames. You have a much higher success rate. You "spray and pray" much less often.

A final benefit of shooting JPEGs is instant gratification. You have a finished product (or nearly finished product) right away. It's like when you shot slide film and you sent it off to the lab and then (a week later when the lab was done with it) you had finished photographs--except now it's much quicker. The experience shooting JPEGs is much more pleasant than RAW.

You might be wondering about the photographs in this post. Were they captured as RAW or JPEGs? Does it matter? I don't think it does. But, to satisfy your curiosity, they were all captured as JPEGs. Maybe I should shoot JPEGs more often.

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