Lessons in photography: RAW versus JPG

When you experiment with in-camera settings in black & white for instance, the raw-file will record ALL information for you, including the colors. Should you decide that black & white was a mistake for the motive, you can always go back to the original data. And vice versa, you can always convert a color file to black & white without losing image quality. (1) jpg black & white in-camera (2) corresponding raw file in color after post-processing and conversion to jpg (3) corresponding raw-file after post processing conversion to black & white and jpg.

I have stressed the idea of shooting raw-files rather than jpgs in my first article in the section “Lessons of photography” already. And you might have heard this over and over again from others as well, if you are still shooting jpg. I only see one advantage of the later, you simply don’t need so much hard drive space if you continue doing what you do. But this little advantage leads us to the main problem, to save storage by shooting jpg, your files are being compressed. Compression deletes useful information that you can collect using raw, it might even create artifacts on your images. And hard drive space has really become quite affordable (and fast, too!) these days, so why not use it?

Even when you’re not ready to dive into the world of post-processing, use the low prices of hard drive space and start storing raw-files. If you are really into photography tomorrow as well, I promise you, the day will come when you will be thankful for that decision. As mentioned before, most modern digital cameras support shooting both at the same time, raw & jpg, so for a while, you can easily go on with what you’re doing until you feel fit for another level. But seriously, start storing those damn files!

I will use an example from classical analog photography to illustrate the difference between raw-file and jpg better. The jpg-file is equivalent to the automatically (!) developed image of your analog shot. Imagine, after a machine developed your analog image, your negative gets lost. You will be stuck with the version of the image the machine created for you, forever. Here is your jpg!

The raw-file in comparison, is like the digital version of the negative, only without the inverted color scheme. With an analog negative, the outcome of the final image depends on your way of doing the development in the darkroom. Leaving it in the chemicals a few seconds longer to achieve a certain effect? That is, what your digital post-processing program is, a virtual version of your old darkroom. If you only photograph in jpg, you are giving the key to that darkroom to a machine. Does that sound smart to you? I hope not!

You might sigh again by the thought of learning post-processing. But here is the good news, you can’t destroy a raw-file with doing something wrong. The raw file will always contain ALL the information that you shot, no matter in how many ways you fuck it up while learning. You can always go back to the originally recorded camera settings and see the original “digital negative”. Your jpg on the contrary, loses quality EVERY TIME you open it, readjust it, save it. And lets be honest, you might see it as a disadvantage to need to process your raw-files, but do you really really never touch one of your jpgs for some minor adjustments after the shooting? Really? REALLY?

Last but not least a recommendation for your “virtual darkroom”. There are a lot of programs out there, to do post-processing. Maybe some came with your camera already, try it for a start! Many professionals count on Adobe Lightroom, which is absolutely a great program. Personally I prefer using the raw converter of Adobe Photoshop CC though, because simply I like everything in the same place and Photoshop is always my “weapon of choice” when it comes to digital visuals.

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The image I used for the illustration of this article is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper and two different sizes, 20×30 or 30x45cm. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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How to catch a shooting star

To catch a shooting star with your camera, you need one thing more than anything else -apart from a camera of course- you need patience.

This image was shot on August 13th 2015 at 0:22am. The peak of Perseids was forecasted for August 13th, but during a daytime with too much light to see them. So the night into August 13th was the best chance to observe the phenomena as well. At that time I lived on the countryside of Saxony-Anhalt, close to the border to Thuringia, so I naturally had a good position without too many distracting lights.

I have no special equipment to do something like this, I used a (fairly old) Canon 50D and my favourite wide angle lens (Canon EF 10-22mm) for it. A wide angle lens completely makes sense for this endeavour, because you can cover the whole sky and not just a small part, while maybe in another part something is happening. The lens was set to 10mm. I used a very high ISO setting here (3500), which required some post processing work on the image, to reduce the resulting noise. I always shoot .raw-files, because I feel that any post-processing on a jpg is like beating a dead horse. A good image should not require much post-processing at all, but having the option sometimes adds a little extra to make the image even more special.

(Speaking about .raw-files, I want to add a little sidenote. If you are learning to become a photographer, or a better photographer, use this option! You might sigh about the thought of post-processing if you have never done this before, but if you seriously want to take good pictures, you will turn to .raw-files sooner or later anyway. And you will find yourself angry, when you realise that years of photography have passed by and you’re stuck with a ton of .jpg-files from those days. Most digital cameras have the option to do both, so if you’re not ready for .raw, consider to archive the files anyway. I will write more about this in another post some time.)

But back to the camera settings. As the ISO setting was still not enough to get a decent picture in a fairly dark environment, I had to open my shutter much more than I intended to. Usually I would recommend to use the highest value possible in this case, but I had to use the smallest (3,5 on this lens) to make this work with the equipment I had. I switched off the autofocus of the lens and focussed manually, attached a remote-control release to the camera and mounted it on a tripod. I used the remote to avoid shaking the camera during the process of bulb exposure. Bulb exposure, because the secret to catch a falling star with your camera is, to push the trigger before it happens. Also, it gives you the option to end the exposure at any given time you see fit. Because if you catch one shooting star really well, it is wise to end the exposure shortly after, or you end up “overwriting” the phenomena with an image of the normal sky.

One more problem are airplanes. It is hard to find a place where non passes, in most locations they will ruin a larger percentage of your images. Alltogether it took me about two and a half hour to get the shot I wanted. I used an exposure time of 33 seconds. The shooting star I caught was much more intense than a lot of others, actually there is more than one pictured in this image, but the other one is not visible at first sight. As you can see, the night was not completely clear, but had a few small clouds coming up. I went home feeling quite lucky nevertheless. If you are going to try this yourself, I wish you good luck… and a lot of patience.

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This image is available in the Ateliershop. Like most of my images it is limited to 23 copies and you can choose between two different photo papers, a silk matte paper and a metallic photo paper. Personally, I prefer the later one for this shot. Just click on the image to go directly to the offer.

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