Waves raging under a sea arch

Shoot RAW

Shoot Raw … a Rude Reminder


Long breaks from shooting have proved to be bad for me. This is following my Failure To Focus post from last month. This next lesson came from an entire shoot that was mostly of un-useable images. Such a drag since the location I walked to was a couple miles along a treacherous terrain. Hopefully I won’t make the same mistake again.

12 years ago I made the change from shooting all JPEG to shooting all RAW images. It didn’t really matter if the subject I was shooting needed to be RAW because it was going to be shot RAW anyway. Well now I have become so custom to developing RAW images that I forgot what the difference really was. Well I learned the difference today.

My camera is getting old. The last photo shoot I had was underwater at Mahaiula beach. Unfortunately the housing leaked and when I removed the camera, although the camera worked fine, the settings began to change on their own. ISO, focus, white balance, and PASM; I just didn’t realize the RAW capture settings changed as well. I had thought something was different when I noticed the 1250 number on the screen, but it didn’t dawn on me what that number actually represented. The 1250 was the available images I could shoot on the memory card, where that number usually is around 200. Thinking it was the ISO I went to adjust the settings, but it was already at 100. It was at this moment I should have stopped to figure it out, but of course I didn’t and proceeded to shoot the new location.

I left thinking I may have gotten some great shots… I was wrong. Once I saw the JPEG at the end of the files while loading them on my hard drive I was mortified. “Maybe they will be fine” I thought to myself. That was until I began to work on the images.

The first thing I began to notice was the amount of artifacts in under exposed areas. Then the minor adjustments in the highlights and shadows really started to make the images look fake. Instead of having the ability to fine tune these areas, small adjustments would completely blow them out or flatten the image. Then there was a lot of blotchy areas where the pixels try to make up the detail in dark and highlighted areas. Followed by the objects in the distance at the far end of focus had a weird sharpening look to them. Almost like the objects were wrapped in plastic. These camera compressed images were total crap. All flexibility for development is gone. The only way this JPEG setting worked is if the image shot was technically perfect and in a tight focal range.

The shot I posted needed very little development and for the most part worked. With a little bit of loss in the shadowy areas I am fairly happy with it, but as for the rest, it was a sad night.


One comment
  1. Hey Chris,
    Sorry your camera is breaking down. I too, have had the misfortune of accidentally shooting in jpg only to be very disappointed when attempting to process what I thought were going to be killa images. In regards to replacing / up-grading your camera, I think you should do so. Your skill level and ambition is limited now by your gear. However, speaking from my personal experience with “gear envy”, the desire to possess the latest and greatest photo gear should be tempered by reality. You are a working man with a young family. Such priorities and responsibilities must trump the desire to spend wads of cash on shit you don’t really need.

    My own example: Like you, my skills and experience have grown. For the last year or so I’ve wanted to make the move to full frame with a body that can produce images that will allow me to take full advantage of my newly acquired post–production skills. I speak in particular of the ability to squeeze every last pixel out of low-light conditions. About eight months ago I said fuck it, I need to buy the $2K Nikon D750 and several thousand more dollars in full-frame glass. Hell, I convinced myself that I deserved this!

    But a funny thing happened. Being the frugal, broke-dick working man I am, I decide to do one more round of comparison justifying before spending thousands I could ill-afford. I had already made the decision but I needed just one final example to justify my ambition to be the next Marc Adamus. I ran across a local well-known “Pro” photographer (un-named here because this is a public forum) who likes to shoot the same reef-pukas in the same style that I do, but with a “Pro” D750 and not the old, “enthusiast” D7000 that I use. I found an image of his that was nearly identical to one of mine: same location, same light, same processing intent. I thought for sure that when I viewed and compared his image side-by-side with my own, it would clearly demonstrate and thereby justify my desire to upgrade to the semi-pro camera he used which I thought I needed. But when I compared his image to mine, mine blew his away! And not just in my own conceited mind. I asked a couple friends for their opinion which confirmed my own: My image shot with old gear, costing thousands less, was clearly superior.

    Do you know why I think my image is better? Ironically, it’s because I was shooting with less-superior equipment. In an effort to compensate for my less-than ideal, less-than up-to-date equipment, I have been forced to really focus on shooting fundamentals (subject, composition, exposure, etc.) and greatly improving my processing skills (particularly in the use of Luminosity Masks). For sure, if I had shot that image with his gear, it might be even better. But the point I learned was that I don’t really need that gear to produce superior images. Better I spend my time improving my skills and using that money for inspirational travel trips.

    I still have gear envy. I still want that camera and lenses. But I’ll get it only when I can truly justify the expense knowing I’ve reached the end of my capabilities with the camera I have.
    Anyways, sorry for the long rant. You’re a good photographer and are ready for an upgrade. Go buy yourself a new camera if you can afford it.

    BTW, your Keauhou Arch image is great – even (especially!) if it was shot and processed from a jpg! Great, composition and exposure and I love the light and detail in the rocks and water.

    Happy Shooting,


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.