Raw vs JPEG: You Decide

raw verses jpegEver wonder whether you should you be shooting in Raw or JPEG? Damien Demolder explains the pros and cons of each to help you decide

Shooting in Raw format will allow you to get the very best from your camera’s sensor, but the benefits have to be weighed against the extra time spent processing and how involved you want to get with working in software. There is a lot of mystery about Raw files and what they are, but there really doesn’t need to be. It’s true that shooting in Raw means more work for the photographer, and that it gives those prepared to do that work in software more options and greater potential for better quality images, but that doesn’t mean this way of working is the sole preserve of the professional photographer. It also doesn’t mean that you have to shoot in Raw format to get good quality images, as with a modern camera set to save files in best quality JPEG mode, excellent pictures are more than possible.

Read more of Raw vs JPEG: which should you be using? here on the Wex Blog

 

Colour balance for fluorescent lights – Under Southwark Bridge

8413845800_34b7ff6238_cColour balance • Exposure compensation • High ISO

Daylight is the ultimate light source and its almost infinite combinations of characteristics and properties make it an endlessly variable, changeable and exciting type of illumination. And consequently it is by far the more popular form of lighting for most photographers. Your camera is set up to deal with daylight by default and all your systems expect it unless you intervene with a different manual instruction.
Photographers are so used to using daylight that when the daylight fades cameras are put to bed to await sunrise the next day, or portable sunlight is loaded with batteries and slipped into the hotshoe – a flash gun.
When you put your camera away after sunset you miss the opportunity to enjoy the multitude of different coloured lights humans use to brighten their world during the night, and to capture the atmospheres those coloured lights can create.

Fluorescent strip lighting

I shot the picture shown here early on a January morning under Southwark Bridge in London. The sky was just coming alive, but under the bridge the world was lit only with artificial lighting – in this case fluorescent strip lights. We tend to avoid fluorescent lighting because it can be ugly and it often creates a sickly green cast, but it is important to appreciate that fluorescents come in many different colours, from white to yellow to red, as well as green. The light here was old and dirty, and its bulb emitted a deep yellow glow that felt strangely warm at that freezing blue hour.
What I wanted to capture at this scene was the haven of warmth that the light was creating in contrast with the dank, wet brickwork and the wrapped up people using the tunnel at that time.
The obvious shot from the direction I approached the scene was from the other side of the road – shooting square to the wall, with a people walking into the patch of light.

White balance

Fluorescent lighting with fluorescent white balanceI know most people would have used auto white balance, or even switched to fluorescent, without recognising that the colour of the light is an essential element in the atmosphere. I had the camera on the daylight setting, as I do for 90% of my pictures. The first image shown here was processed from raw with the fluorescent setting selected so you can see the colours that most people would come away with.
In this shot wanted to make the most of the symmetry of the structure, and with the light striking the subject at such an acute angle we only get an outline of the front of the body. It’s not a bad angle, and I quite like that lit rim of head, face and trousers, but to engage an audience I think we need a bit more than just that.

A different angle with leading lines

I switched to the other side of the road, returned the camera to daylight, and tried to guess the difference in illumination value between the faces passing me by and the background. I set –1.3EV of exposure compensation so skin tones would be the right brightness and to control the camera’s desire to render the detail of the background. As the subjects were moving I wanted a shutter speed that would avoid a lot of blur, and I needed a depth of field that would allow me to guess and pre-set the focus, but balanced with a nice soft rendering of the background. I closed the 25mm f/1.4 lens to f/2 which, with the exposure compensation and an ISO setting of 3200, gave me a shutter speed of 1/200sec – enough to freeze most of the movement but without creating a completely static-looking image.
And then I just waited for someone interesting to come by.

Colour combinations

In the final image it is the warmth of the light that delivers the atmosphere. The deep yellows scream out ‘artificial lighting’ so we know immediately we are underground or working at night. I love the rich reds of the brickwork that is pleasing and comfortable without taking away the sense of the dereliction of the filthy water-soaked walls.
I was lucky with the greens, browns and blues of the two guys in the scene, and their poses that seem to echo their status relative to each other – the more confident becoming the dominant figure by his looking into the lens in a semi-challenging manner.

Panasonic Lumix G5 with Leica DG Summilus 25mm / F1.4 ASPH  – ISO 3200 f/2 and 1/200sec

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Making the most of fluorescent lighting

Fluorescent lighting with fluorescent white balance

 

Using a neutral density graduated filter – Beltany stone circle

• Using neutral density filters • white balance for dawn light •

Neutral density filters help to control brightness differences.

Neutral density filters help to control brightness differences.

Balancing the brightness of sky and land is a regular problem at any time of day, but first thing in the morning, when the weak sun has still to cast its rays across the landscape, showing the detail in the foreground requires drastic action. On this morning I wanted to capture the atmosphere before the sun had really got up and started to shine. With a fine cover of cloud in the east the sun was up but only as a giant red ball with no real power, but its influence was enough to add a golden glow to the heads of grass in this late summer field.

I had been pointing the camera skyward to place the stone circle at the bottom of a frame of ‘big sky’. From the many times I have visited this place I knew there is only one angle from which to shoot this stone circle that allows it to be shown as a ring rather than a fragmented collection of rocks. It’s unfortunate that the only shooting position is in a dip in the land, which means it’s impossible not to be looking up at the subject. But with a wideangle lens aimed upwards to place the stones at the bottom of the frame the picture just looked like many others I had shot before. I was shooting ‘big sky’ because that is what I had in my head before I arrived, but I had to look a little harder at the scene when I realised the ‘big sky’ composition wasn’t going to work.

Looking afresh made me realise that I was missing an important and interesting element of the scene – the grass heads. The naturally low angle also meant I could include the grasses without tilting the camera down – so distortion would be kept at bay as the camera would be absolutely level.
While including the foreground solved one problem it introduced another. In the unlit morning, the grasses were much darker than the sky, and even the stones in their elevated position. The answer in this situation is to use a neutral density graduated filter to reduce the intensity of the light from the sky while allowing the light through from the lower parts of the scene. I used a 0.6 ND grad, and picked one with a ‘hard’ transition from clear to dark as the horizon is pretty straight in this shot.

It’s important in scenes like this, where you want to capture the natural colours of the morning light and sky that you set an appropriate white balance on your camera. I always use the normal ‘daylight’ setting, as this produces colours closest to what our eyes see, and will show those pinks, peaches and reds in all their glory. If you use auto white balance (AWB) the camera will do it’s best to neutralise those colours.

Canon EOS 1Ds lll with EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens and Lee 0.6 ND graduated filter. ISO 100, 1/3sec @ f/16.

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Neutral density filters help to control brightness differences.

Neutral density filters help to control brightness differences.

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A single bold colour – red umbrella on a snowy morning

Using bold colours · making a colour stand out · low light photography · having patience · shooting raw

Red umbrella in the rain. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. The Bank, London. By Damien Demolder

I’m not a great fan of black and white images that use a spot of colour. It seems a little forced to me, and the effort that goes into this sort of picture post capture is rarely rewarded with an attractive image. Well, that’s just my taste, anyway. I do like images that use limited colour, so long as the setting is natural or realistic looking. And, in fact, I actively go looking for this sort of thing – not just to show a black and white scene with a burst of colour, but rather to show how some colours can stand out against others.

I took this picture outside the Bank of England, in a square I cross everyday on my way to work. The place has a great atmosphere about it and it’s a favourite place of mine. I like to shoot the commuters as they emerge from the underground station, as they come out well lit into gloom of the morning. On this morning the wet snow added to the gloom, but it also created the luck that had this chap appear with his rather buckled bright red umbrella. While usually this is a monochromatic type of scene, the bold brolly really broke the formal grey and upright structures with it burst of jollity.

As always when I’m shooting at night, or in dawn or dusk situations, I had the camera set to raw+jpeg so I can choose which light source to balance for afterwards. In this case I took a custom white balance sample from the white tiles of the underground tunnel, the light of which matched that shining on the man and his brolly. Doing this made him look normal, while the cold of the sky could be brought out with its blue.

This wasn’t the first picture I took at this spot that day – I’d probably shot four or five other people as they emerged from the tunnel, and while they looked pretty good I reckoned that by hanging on I could improve my chances of getting something extra. It paid off – and it usually does. I spot a scene with potential and frame it up – then just wait for the right person to come along and walk right into the picture. It takes a bit of patience, but that’s the whole point. You need to be able to recognise when you haven’t quite got the best shot that could be had, and that by waiting a little longer you could improve it.

As with the other pictures I took before hand, without the brolly this is a picture of a man coming out of a tunnel. With the brolly it becomes something more exciting. And that’s what you get when you mix luck with patience.

Samsung GX10. with Rikenon 28mm f/2.8 lens, 1/30sec @ f/2.8, ISO 1600

 

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See more of Damien Demolder’s recent photographic posts here

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Red umbrella in the rain, London. By Damien Demolder

Red umbrella in the snow. Bank of England, London. By Damien Demolder

 

 

Simple pictures – Blue Bay
Creative white balance – simple composition – previsualisation – looking

Blue Bay, by Damien DemolderThe sun had well and truly gone at this stage, and its setting had not brought the spectacle I had been hoping for. Nice enough, the colours hadn’t played across the sky as there were simply too many clouds. I was determined though to go home with something in the bag, so I sat down to take a rest and to have a think. I had brought a folding chair with me to do this, as I was beginning a faze of purposeful looking and contemplation. I figured that rather than rushing between locations and snapping what occurred to me first, I should try to slow down a little and spend more time looking. The chair thing would help me do this, as by sitting I would be more likely to stay in one place for longer. This wasn’t a trekking sort of day, as I knew I wasn’t going anywhere other than on this stretch of beach. I could carry the chair, dump it down and work around that as a base.

I had been to this location so many times before, and although I had taken plenty of nice, and even good, pictures there, I never felt that I had quite captured whatever it was that appealed to me about it. In actual fact, the issue was that I hadn’t actually identified what it was that appealed to me – which kinda makes it difficult then to capture it in a photograph. The idea of the chair was that I would sit for a while looking at the scene to try to unravel the mystery. If I sat I wouldn’t be bothered by the weight of my camera bag, or the urge to move on you get sometimes when you stand, so I could sit in comfort until the answer came to me.

I’m not sure that I really did find the answer to the question I had in my head, but I did find an answer to a question I hadn’t thought of. As the sun went even further below the horizon and the land areas became silhouettes against the sky and its reflection in the sea I realised part of the attraction of the place is the curved line of the shore around the bay. In the simplified form of the monochromatic moment I saw the light. Where I live we don’t see much sky, as there are houses and trees all around, but here the sky is massive, stretching right down to the ground – so the big sky is one factor. And the shape of the coast line is the other.

Waiting until the sun had gone the sun turned a cool blue that showed up perfectly in the daylight white balance of my camera. My eyes were seeing grey, as my brain filtered out the evening shades, but the camera was able to help me see the reality.

I tried plenty of compositions, but what worked best was when I just concentrated on the principle elements of the curve and the sky. With the camera angled upwards slightly I got rid of the foreground shingle and plants that were fighting for attention in the dim lighting. Removing those details simplifies the scene and makes it clear what I am trying to draw the viewer’s eye to. And exposing for the sky has brought out its detail, and kept the land mass to a basic silhouette.

I don’t think I have really captured the essence of this place yet, as this shot is a bit of a side track. I’m actually quite pleased as it means I can still go back and carry on trying – it’s a wonderful place.

Nikon D3 with 28-70mm f/2.8 ED-IF AF-S NIKKOR at 28mm. 1/4sec @ f/18 and ISO 200, and daylight white balance

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Blue Bay, by Damien Demolder

Picture element relationships – skinheads and eyeballs

Seeing relationships • using humour • the importance of straight edges • catching a moment

Hair dressers window in Warsaw, Poland. By Damien Demolder. Pentax K10D DSLRThere is nothing new in street photography about targeting how the world of advertising compares with reality, but it remains a rich stream of original-looking and visually exciting images. It is not just the contrast of the advertiser’s dream world with that of the everyday existence of those these adverts are intended to influence, but this type of picture often has some significance as a document of social trends, wants and aspirations of the time.

Adverts and posters have a very short shelf life and can often really tie a picture down to a specific period in our history.

I spotted this scene in Warsaw, Poland, through the window of a hairstylist shop in the city’s smartest shopping street, Nowy Swiat. I couldn’t tell for sure what the young lad was thinking, or what his motivation was for having a haircut, but obviously he was shelling out a bit of extra cash for this upmarket treatment and I’d say he was expecting to get more than just shorter hair. The ad in the window says it all really – get your hair cut here and you’ll score with a hot chick like this.

I love the way it appears as though the stylist is giving the lad a haircut just like his own, and that the haircuts are so extreme. A skinhead is a proper teen statement, a sign of rebellion – as though shaving your head demonstrates that you have taken full control of your own destiny. Shaving your head is the first step to becoming a man, and attracting a beautiful woman with that strong sense of your own identity. Of course, we can all see that there is no strong identity at all, only a passage of conforming to a series of stereotypes that starts with the beautiful girl aspiration, as though that is what we all want, and ends with the idea that a hairstyle can define a personality.

Bizarrely, there is a certain amount of sexual suggestiveness in the curly bamboo canes as well. The way in which they twist around the girl’s nipples somehow demonstrates what the lad will want to be doing once his hair-do is completed. The look in her eyes suggests that we could all get a slice of the action – so long as we get that all important haircut.

When I took the picture I couldn’t possibly have identified all of these elements, but in a glance I could see there was something quite funny going on. It’s the same with composition – you don’t have to sit and analyse the leading lines to know you are seeing something powerful. On these occasions we need to go with our instincts and analyse later – shoot first, ask questions after.

I know I go on about keeping the camera straight and upright, and not allowing sloping lines or drunk horizons, but in this picture the viewer is allowed on concentrate on the subject because there is nothing to distract the attention away from it. The picture elements are in their own neat boxes and the lines are all parallel. Had that central poster edge been slanted I’m certain the picture would have lost some of its impact.

Although I usually keep my white balance settings to ‘daylight’, whatever the conditions, on this occasion the tungsten balance proved to be a better choice. Again, this is because by neutralising the colours they become less of a distraction, so we can concentrate on the people and their relationships. In fact, I shot the picture in raw and converted it using the tungsten setting, but if you are a jpeg shooter you’d need to be thinking about white balance at the time of the shoot.

Pentax K10D, 135mm manual focus f/3.5 lens, ISO 1600 and f/5.6 @ 1/125sec.

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Hair dressers window in Warsaw, Poland. By Damien Demolder. Pentax K10D DSLR

White balance for atmosphere – Dubai friends

Recognise the importance of colour • Use ambient colour casts to demonstrate atmosphere • communicate emotions to your viewers

Daylight white balance setting brings out the atmosphere in this street scene from Dubai, by Damien DemolderWhat we see and what the camera sees is not always the same thing. Our eyes adjust indoors to the yellow warmth of domestic light bulbs, so we hardly notice they’re light is not daylight, but film can only record what is there. Thus if you shoot with film indoors at night you get very yellow pictures.

Digital cameras have a way of compensating for the colour of different light sources, so you can take the yellow out of the tungsten bulbs in your dinning room, and the green out of the fluorescent strips under the kitchen cabinets. The light on an overcast day can have some warmth applied to compensate for its blue-ness, and there is even a custom setting that can be used to deal with the oddest coloured light you could come across.

White balance control is a brilliant thing, especially the custom setting, and is, I’d say, one of the best features digital photography has given us. Being able to record colours accurately under different light sources is a dream for professionals and amateurs alike.

There are times, though, when the colour of the light provides atmosphere, and we should not forget how important this is to us. We turn the lights down low, or light candles, to create a romantic atmosphere at home because we like the warmth of this kind of light. The blue haze of a cold day lets us know it’s cold before we’ve even gone outside, so removing the cast with white balance settings can actually produce a false idea of what the day was like.

In the shot shown here I wanted to keep all the colours of the street in the picture, as they are half of the attraction. In any case, no single setting could have compensated for such a wide range of light sources. I set the camera to the daylight setting – the one I use almost all the time – and let the colours live.

Street scene from Dubai, shot with the tungsten white balance setting. Much of the atmosphere has been lost. By Damien DemolderIn the second example you can see what the shot would have looked like had I used the tungsten setting. The composition is still there, and there are hints of the warmth of the light, but the blues and greens have cooled the atmosphere too much, and I can’t feel the heat of the Dubai night any more.

Colours play a massive part in our life – we all have strong reactions to colours and we associate meanings to all of them. Would you drive a pink car, wear a bright blue shirt to a funeral or feel cosy in a fluorescent green room? Appreciate how much of a part colour plays in our responses and our emotions, and use it in your photography. Don’t automatically kill colour casts from artificial light, or that which is created by certain weather conditions unless colour accuracy is important to what you are trying to do. When atmosphere is important use those colours, so those who look at your pictures have double the chance of understanding what it was like to be there.

Nikon D80, 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 set at about 70mm.
ISO 3200 1/20sec @ f/4.5

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Daylight white balance setting brings out the atmosphere in this street scene from Dubai, by Damien Demolder

Daylight white balance

Street scene from Dubai, shot with the tungsten white balance setting. Much of the atmosphere has been lost. By Damien Demolder

Tungsten white balance

Using exposure lock – Beach Boys at Sunset

Boat Boys refueling their speed boat on the beach at sunset, Skiathos, Greece. The correct exposure. Cameras are machines, and although they do feature a certain amount of artificial intelligence, ultimately they can only do as they are told. Knowing how your camera is likely to react in any given situation is the key to understanding when it is destined to get things wrong and that it is time for you to take control.
In a situation like this, where we are shooting into the light, and the sun is reflecting off the sea, the camera’s metering system will assume it is looking at a very bright subject – which it is. The camera will try to render the sea and sky so that we can see the detail – so it will aim to create a mid-tone of them. Only you know that it isn’t the sea and sky that you want to see the detail of, but it’s the people and the boat that are the subjects.

Finding a mid tone
To produce a final picture that looks the way we want it to we have to take control of the exposure and so over-ride the metering system. Instead of letting the camera measure the light reflecting off the sea, which is what it would do if left to its own devices, we have to direct it to an area we think is important. To get the right exposure for this scene I took a reading from the sand on the beach by my feet and then locked this reading into the camera, using the exposure lock button. I used the sand to take a reading from as it offered a good compromise between getting an exposure that would show the details of the faces and keeping the idea of silhouettes against the sky.

If you are going to take lots of pictures using the same exposure it can be simpler to transfer the exposure settings into manual exposure mode so there is no danger of the lock coming ‘unlocked’.
This reading has preserved enough detail in the boat and the people to show what they are doing and the expressions on their faces, while still holding on to that backlit sunset atmosphere.

Refueling the speed boat on Big Banana beach, Skiathos, Greece. Underexposed by the camera's multi-segment metering system.

Had I left the exposure up to the camera the picture would have turned out something like this. Although still an effective image, I prefer the version that shows more detail in the subjects.

White balance
Another important aspect of the shot is the colours of the sea and the sky. I kept the white balance set to ‘daylight’ to make the most of the natural warmth of the sun at that time of day. Had I left the camera in auto white balance (AWB) mode the camera would have tried to compensate for the warm, taking it out, which would have defeated the object of shooting at that time of day.

Samsung GX10, Samsung 18-55mm at the 35mm setting f/3.5-4.5. 1/30sec @ f/11, ISO 100

 

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Boat Boys refueling their speed boat on the beach at sunset, Skiathos, Greece. The correct exposure.