Being weak*, I cannot resist throwing in my own two cents on the recent discussion of Raw and JPEG. I should probably forbear, but I'll claim disorientation—it appears that summer is here, already, and I'm not ready for it. The abrupt commencement of warm weather at an unexpected time has addlepated my brainpan.
First of all, if there was ever a non-controversy, this has got to be it. Saying someone else should shoot Raw or JPEG is like trying to say they should use a certain cologne or perfume, or put their toilet paper in the holder so that it comes off the top of the roll or the bottom. It's their business, and, let's face it, is of extremely limited importance to all those others whose business it is not. Each sovereign human being has choices she will be exclusively responsible for as she wends her way through the myriad puzzlements of quotidian life. We must accept that. JPEG or Raw is like ketchup or mustard...suit yourself, and don't bother haranguing me about it—like you, I'm going to suit my own dang self. :-)
My only interest would be in seeing that people understand the distinctions clearly enough to make their own rational choice, and that no one feel pressured to make one choice or the other. I can't speak for him, but I would guess that at least part of Ken's motive in writing his column was simply to help break the tyranny of majority opinion for those who would rather shoot JPEG.
Two events in my photographic life: 1. c. 1980, age 23, I built a rudimentary darkroom under the basement stairs in my father's Bethesda house and, David Vestal's developer-stained The Craft of Photography permanently opened on the counter, taught myself to print. It was a liberation: after frustrating years of trying to tell the clerk at the drugstore what I wanted the lab to do, I could at least make sure that each frame was cropped correctly, something that had previously been a headache. Never looked back.
2. c. 2006, age 49, I got a copy of Bruce Fraser's Real World Camera Raw (its relevance is thankfully maintained into the present by Jeff Schewe, in part a labor of love: Bruce died that year). It's still the most important technical book in my own history as a digital photographer. I had just recently bought my third digital camera and first DSLR, a used Konica-Minolta 7D that came with a zoom lens. For me digital had imposed several limitations on photography that hadn't existed previously, but the worst had been the headache of setting the white balance. To me, with my darkroom experience, having to set the color balance before taking the picture was ass-backwards, and a giant impediment to freedom while shooting. Shooting Raw restored the world to its proper order: shoot first and make the creative technical decisions later, at leisure. Never looked back.
Raw fits the way I shoot, which is more or less opposite the way that a professional photographer has to. A pro has to be able to step into any situation and make a good solid strong "B" photograph: competent, capable, good looking, techically skilled. That never interested me. It doesn't give me what I look for in photographs. I'd rather take a bunch of C pictures (and some D's and F's) in return for the occasional serendipitous precious A. That is, I shoot for the hits: those occasional wonderful accidents when the mystery happens and a picture somehow works for me. I probably only get a dozen good shots a year. Part of the reason I so hated having to nail the WB in advance was the possibility that one of those precious great shots would happen and I'd have the WB set wrong: for me, that made it feel like the peril of a misstep lurked in every shot.
One last relevant factoid. I said that for me the good shots, the ones I like, happen rarely, and are consequently prized. One such picture was one I took with a Nikon D700 (it's the first shot in this post) when I briefly owned that camera. I got the exposure right, of course, but I mistakenly had the damned camera set on JPEG because I'd been doing some eBay photos at home that night and I forgot to change it back to regular shooting mode. Ever since then I've regretted that I don't have a Raw file of that shot. It doesn't bother anyone else, but I would just kill to have a little more highlight recovery for the main light on the porch. It doesn't ruin the shot, but it gnaws at me—like losing a prized neg.
I would never, ever, ever not shoot Raw. Good shots for me are like pulling teeth; they come only rarely, sometimes when I least expect. When the good shots happen, I absolutely want the best possible file to work with.
But Ken's absolutely correct—there's no right and wrong in personal photographic decisions, and no one should feel tyrannized by anyone else's choice. If shooting JPEG suits his needs, I have absolutely no problem with that. Each person should do whatever he or she wants to do, for their own reasons, and to suit their own needs and style.
*And being in command of the bully pulpit, here in my own tiny domain....
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.