Just like any given subject on the planet, there are many varying opinions on the JPEG vs RAW issue. As for me, I shoot RAW. Ok, so I’ll shoot the occasional JPEG, perhaps when using my Canon S90. But other than that, it’s all about RAW for me. Why?
There are many advantages to shooting RAW, but let’s stick to one for this post. In the screen capture above, the color of the image on the right is very close to what came out of my camera when I took this shot. If I shot it in JPEG, the warmer white balance I chose on-camera would have been locked in, making this the only possible interpretation of the scene’s color. The ability to reinterpret a scene by selecting a different white balance later is one key reason I shoot RAW.
When I first took this photo, I was pretty happy with the way the warmer color looked when viewing image on the LCD of my camera. After uploading it to my computer and viewing it larger, I was still pretty happy with it. Upon giving it even further thought, however, I decided that the warm color didn’t really represent how I truly felt at the moment of capture, when I was actually there. And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? It’s very important for an artist to convey not just what a scene looks like, but what it felt like to actually be there, experiencing the scene.
So what was I feeling at the moment of capture here? A little bit of loneliness from strolling the streets of Kyoto very early in the morning for one. The cool spring air was chilling yet refreshing, and I was dazzled by the all the reflections on the ground that were caused by the light but steady rainfall that day. I decided to convey that feeling more effectively by turning down the white balance temperature (in LR3 beta), resulting in the cooler, bluer version of the image (above). If I had shot JPEG, I would have been stuck with the warm version. It would have still been a nice image, but again, I would have lost the ability to reinterpret the scene in a way that truly conveys my feelings.
Couldn’t I have just taken a second shot with a cooler white balance adjustment at the camera? Of course! But that idea didn’t really hit me until much later. Only after several times of coming back to this image and thinking about the scene did I finally decide that I wanted it to look different than I originally intended. Shooting the image in RAW allowed me to go through this longer thought process, and then make the desired changes to the image. Who knows, maybe I’ll want to change even more aspects of this image later, with newer, more powerful software that will inevitably be released as time goes on. RAW gives me that flexibility, JPEG doesn’t.
…and that’s one reason why I shoot RAW!
Top Image: Screen grab from the develop module in Lightroom 3 Beta 2
Second Image: Nikon D300s + Tokina 50-135mm f/2.8 at 60mm f5.6 ISO400 1/125 second
Be sure to check the progress of my gallery of images from my last trip to Japan on flickr!