Raw Versus Other Formats

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Okay, raw format may not be ideal for every photographic situation. I shot thousands of images in JPEG format before the raw format made it into advanced compact digital SLR cameras. Many of those photos are permanent staples in my portfolio. And yes, I admit it: I still shoot JPEGs sometimes. I carry around a compact digital camera that produces great 7 megapixel images (Figure 2-3, for example). My compact camera is convenient for snapshots or interesting subjects I come across while driving around town — and it serves as a backup while I'm shooting nature photos. But for those images (as for all my more serious shooting), I use my digital SLR — in raw format, of course!

Though I have a nice collection of images from earlier digital cameras (and I still carry a compact around in my pocket), I often run into the limitations of shooting in JPEG or TIFF format — these, for instance:

Figure 2-3: Shooting in JPEG can produce great images, but you can't do as much to them.

i Loss of image data while making adjustments in Photoshop: Shooting JPEG, you can run into this problem a lot. Without the lossless overall color and tonal adjustments that you'd get in Camera Raw, you have to make those adjustments in Photoshop — and they'd better be right the first time. You lose image data every time you save, reopen, and readjust a JPEG in Photoshop. In essence, every adjustment affects the tonal range of the image; you're throwing away bits of information, leaving less data available for creating the image (a destructive effect).

When shooting in raw format, you have the advantage of making adjustments in Camera Raw to white balance, tint, exposure, shadows, curves, brightness, contrast, and color saturation — without the risk of losing image data (and some image quality along with it).

^ Limited white-balance adjustment: When I'm out in the field shooting (with my digital camera, always!), I'll often set the white balance on the camera to best match the lighting conditions I'm faced with. I'll use the auto-white balance setting in some situations as well. If I'm shooting JPEG or TIFF and discover later when editing those images in Photoshop that the white balance needs adjustment, it will take a lot of work to make those corrections. If I'm shooting raw, I can easily adjust the white balance any way I need to.

^ Limited exposure adjustment: I hear this argument all the time; "Good photographers should always get the right exposure when they shoot photos so they don't have to make adjustments in software later." That's good advice and should always be suggested as a goal — but in the real world, sometimes a perfect exposure just doesn't happen. Even the best photographers shoot photos that need some exposure adjustment in software. If I'm shooting in JPEG or TIFF format and I need to adjust exposure after the fact, I have to use Photoshop CS2 Exposure adjustment to do the job — and although this feature is a welcome addition for JPEGs, it can still degrade image quality.

Shooting in raw format means you don't have to settle for the exposure you get with the shot; you can fix under- or overexposed photos in Camera Raw, using its Exposure adjustment. Even better, you can do that without losing image data (which is what happens if you shoot in JPEG and use the Photoshop Exposure feature to tweak exposure later).

^ Limited image quality due to compression: JPEG is a compressed file format. When you shoot a JPEG image, your digital camera processes the image, and then compresses it. One of the side effects of compression is the fact that you lose image data in the process. It's really not noticeable, but when you're using an 8-bit file format such as JPEG, you need all the image data you can get.

When you open JPEG images in Photoshop to begin adjusting and editing, make sure you save them as a file format other than JPEG when you import them into Photoshop. Converting the images to PSD or TIFF format will help avoid the image degradation that happens every time you save a JPEG file. Figure 2-4 shows the effects of resaving JPEG images while editing them in Photoshop: More artifacts creep into the image after it's been resaved a few times.

Figure 2-4: Resaving JPEGs reduces overall image quality.

Advantages and Disadvantages to Raw

Okay, even though this book is about shooting images in raw format and following the steps to completing your images for display by using Bridge, Camera Raw, and Photoshop, let's keep it real: There are both advantages and disadvantages to shooting and processing raw images. Many pro-level photographers don't mind taking the few extra steps that raw format entails — generally they get higher-quality images that way — but JPEG images are often faster to take if the opportunity to get a shot is fleeting. Bottom line: It's a three-way tradeoff. The individual photographer has to balance the speed and convenience of JPEG against the greater control and image quality that are possible in raw format.

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Reasonable care has been taken to ensure that the information presented in this book is  accurate. However, the reader should understand that the information provided does not constitute legal, medical or professional advice of any kind.

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