The RAW and the cooked – or possibly both

I’m not the greatest photographer around; I have many friends and colleagues who are far more talented, who can make the most mundane subject look exciting, and furthermore, get it perfectly exposed and in pin-sharp focus every time. I, on the other hand, work on the principle of take lots of pics and at least some of them will work out.

That said, I do occasionally have the opportunity to have photos published here and there, and most publishers still want high resolution images. This was an issue with my old point-and-shoot camera,  which only stored photos in the popular but compressed JPEG file format, which is generally not sufficient to produce full page photos in a glossy magazine.

Digital SLR (and many other newer) cameras have the option of saving image files in RAW format. Without going into detail (on which I’m hazy, and there are good explanations on the Gizmodo Australia and CNET websites), RAW format keeps a lot more of image data intact and in a format that can be readily manipulated and then used for higher resolution reproductions. To create a JPEG image, the software in the camera makes a guess at what sort of result you’re going for and adjusts the image accordingly, then deletes a lot of this additional data to reduce the file size.

This may have been desirable in the days of limited storage, but as I’ve written earlier, storage and backup is plentiful and cheap these days, so file size, along with the number of photos being stored, is less and less of an issue. The downside of saving photos in RAW format is that they generally need to be edited or tweeked in photo editing software before they are used, as they tend to look a bit flat compared to the optimised JPEG versions. It turns out that today’s cameras are pretty good at making those guesses about how we want our photos to look.

This image shows the same photo in JPEG (left) and RAW (right), as uploaded straight from the camera without any furhter editing.
This image shows the same photo in JPEG (left) and RAW (right), as uploaded straight from the camera without any further editing.

The other complicating factor is that the RAW format is not a single standard, but varies from one manufacturer to the next; however most modern image editing software now support RAW formats for all the major makes of cameras.

My new camera offers the ability to save photos in both JPEG and RAW formats, which is handy, as the optimised JPEG versions can be uploaded to my mobile devices and shared immediately, while the RAW versions are there if needed for publication at a later date.

Since arriving home, I’ve been struggling to work out how to manage all these files. As I’ve mentioned earlier, this last trip generated around 2,000 photos, each of which was stored in two formats.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my photo library of choice is Google’s Picasa, which keeps the original file safe, while exporting JPEG copies in one’s choice of resolution for distribution, so it makes sense to generate these from the highest quality original file. The sensible thing to do (and indeed what I have been doing since my trip with smaller shoots) is to delete the JPEG versions as soon as they are loaded onto my system, then go in and edit the RAW copies.

I just need to find a rainy day or two to go through those 2000-odd photos from my trip, delete all the dross and edit up those I want to keep. Still, that’s just part of the joy of travel in the digital era, isn’t it?

I’d be interested to hear how you save and store your photos. Do you use RAW versions, or JPEGs or both? Or do you just keep them on your phone and on Facebook? Drop a line in the comments – I’d be fascinated to hear from you.

For the technically-minded, here’s a more technical explanation of the JPEG format.

And this explanation of the relationship between image file size and the finished printed image is from Joel Friedlander.

6 thoughts on “The RAW and the cooked – or possibly both

  1. There only certain situations that I shoot in both JPEG and RAW, but generally I only shoot in RAW and use Lightroom for my processing and then maybe Photoshop for some situations. I use Lightroom for my filing as well and it does a great job.

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      1. Lightroom is great for just tweaking your photos quickly and easily, all I use at home. Plus can do bulk processing if need be.

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  2. Lightroom and RAW is a revelation. Some great plug-in filters too from folk such as Nicolesy, who I think from memory has passed thru Tassie on one of her journeys with hubby. Use ‘paid’ Dropbox to Cloud store. Just started dabbling like you.

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  3. Hey Andrew, yes I shoot raw and have used use Lightroom since… well before it was Lightroom actually (it was called Raw Shooter back then). It handles all the files in a database manner, that’s fully tag-able and searchable, very spic. It’s a much simpler app to use compared Photoshop and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I recommend downloading a trial version and giving it a spin, happy to get you going with it if you want to call in and have a look sometime, bring some raw files with you.

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