RAW vs. JPEG Debate – Why RAW RULES!

People love to debate gear and processes in photography more than any other profession I have ever known or seen.  Maybe with the exception of car parts, photographers love to take pride in ridiculous debates over what camera is better with Nikon vs. Canon, what lighting equipment produces better results with conversations about Elinchrom vs. Profoto vs. Dynalite vs. Alien Bees/White Lightning/Einstein or they get even more ridiculous with conversations about Strobe versus Continuous Lighting.  The bottom line is this... WHO CARES!  All that should ever matter is that you know your equipment well enough to get the results you want and need.  I know photographers who use Canon and ones who use Nikon and can light the hell out of an image with just one Paul C Buff Einstein flash head or an entire scene with 5 or 6 Profoto strobes.  The one thing everyone has in common here is that they know their stuff.

War, good God. What is it good for?

I have often heard the same debate about shooting RAW vs. JPEG.  Of course there are several instances when shooting JPEG comes in really handy.  Sports photographers or photojournalists shooting in 4-9 frames per second can't worry about the buffer in their DSLR slowing them down while they are trying to get the shot.  I also can imagine that some Wedding Photographers would shoot in JPEG for the very same reasons.  So, by my deductions, it seems as if JPEG shooting is great when you really only have one chance to get something that's happening quickly and you (the photographer) may not have the chance to capture that frame again.  For those instances I can see why JPEG is necessary but as a Portrait Photographer I always shoot in RAW so I never lose the information imbedded in the image file on my CF card.  Let me show you why...

This is the RAW, untouched image SOOC (Straight out of the Camera) opened in Camera RAW.

I made the above image of actor, Steve Durgarn in the middle of the day on a very bright afternoon.  Now before anyone gets on me about shooting people in the middle of the day I can just say, "save your lecture."  I know all about the pitfalls and problems of a midday sun, harsh shadows, lens flares, etc.  Sometimes schedules are such that those times of day are the only times when people can get together for a shoot.  Such was the case here.  While armed with only an Elinchrom Quadra and a 39" Deep Octa I had to make this image.  I didn't have an assistant with me as I was traveling and to keep costs down to my client I knew I could use the tools I had to make this image.  While this image is fine and technically solid I am not completely satisfied with the final image and post processing in Photoshop is in order.

As you can see, there are details just waiting to be extracted from this fence/railing here that I can easily extract from Camera RAW.

As you can see above, there is not a tremendous amount of contrast between Steve's clothing and fence/wood behind him.  We actually had to find shelter from the sun as it was surprising ferocious that day in October.  We were standing in a wide open area and I couldn't hold my camera, a Lastolite Tri Grip as my scrim to shade the sun from his head and trying to maneuver the 39" Deep Octa at the same time.  Fortunately, I found this area on the path we were walking that provided some shade and knew we could get the photo here.

Here you can see the light on, above and below the right ear that will need correcting in Photoshop as to not distract from the image.

I think the image of Steve is pretty nice and balanced for the time of day and my lighting setup but something needed to be done to separate him from the background and create some contrast in the image or to make it at least a little more appealing.  There a couple of things I instantly notice I will have to remedy in Photoshop like the bright sun spot just above his right ear and the fact he wore two different socks that day and those things are somewhat easy for me to do in Photoshop.

Didn't notice this until I opened the RAW file... UGH!

But the real magic comes from opening up this image in Camera RAW in Photoshop knowing I have a tremendous amount of vital information I cannot get from a JPEG file.  One of the things I love about still shooting B&W film is that even after the negative is developed I still have close to 5 stops to work with either way within the image.  I like to think of working in Camera RAW the same way.  I know I have 5 stops of light to play with in post processing and I can create contrast where none seems to exist.  That's one thing I desperately needed to do here.

Plus 5 Stops of Light allow for lots of freedom and information in processing

Lots of light to play with here.

Lastly, I started playing around with my settings in Camera RAW and got the image close to how I wanted the final image to look and then opened it up in Photoshop.  The first things I did were to match his socks and get rid of the bright spot on his head above his right ear.  After that it was a matter of retouching.  I needed to make his skin less red, darken the background a little more, bring out more detail in his clothing, hair and beard and remove the junk from around his feet.  Below is the final image and while I could have done some of this with a JPEG file I know I wouldn't have had as much information available to me without compromising the image quality.
Indiana Actor Steve Durgarn

Here is the final image once processed in Camera RAW and Photoshop.

People can have the spirited debates over cameras, lighting and gear.  I always enjoy reading the zealousness and passion they have for their brands.  But to me there is no debate when shooting anything other than sports and photojournalism images... RAW RULES EVERY TIME! Until next time, SH

Like what you see? Why not share it?

Share your thoughts on this post.