Monday, November 17, 2008

Confession Day Monday: I'm Out Of the Closet -I'm A RAW Shooter and My New Economic Stimulus Package

Good Morning Everybody,
Well, we arrived, safe and sound, albeit, a bit jet-lagged, but we’ll be fine by later today. We are here this week with many friends from the Cincy area to see the opening of a play in London’s West End – more on that later this week. Anyway, I love visiting this country – so much history, beauty, and adventure. I’ll keep you posted as the week progresses. In the mean time, let me offer you…

I'm Out Of the Closet -I'm A RAW Shooter
Okay, I have to admit it, I've come kicking and screaming to the RAW side. I've been taking flack for shooting JPEG's for the last eight years. The flack has come from my fellow professional photographers, fellow trainers in the field, and several thousand attendees at my seminars.

I had the images to prove that you can indeed produce a great print off of a JPEG. I was showing 24 x 36 inch images at every presentation I gave. I had it figured out - my exposures were dead-on 99% of the time, I was able to shoot quickly and keep within the tight exposure parameters that being a JPEG shooter demanded. I loved the fact that I could backup a wedding in only five gigs of space as opposed to 50 gigs of space if I shot it in RAW.

RAW Image tweaked in Lightroom:

JPEG Image tweaked in Lightroom:
That's where I was. I was ready to stand my ground. I had a whole slew of jokes that I gingerly tossed back to the RAW shooters in the crowd. Things like, “RAW was for sushi and oysters only.” Or “It takes a real photographer to shoot a JPEG. We've got a nail the exposure every time.” And, lastly, “What does RAW really stand for.... R-eally A-wful W-orkflow?” I’d stoke the crowd, encouraging the JPEG shooters to join me - cheering my remarks.

In my heart I knew all this was really just in good fun. I always thought, if you get a great image shooting JPEG then, go for it. If you prefer to shoot RAW, then fine, shoot raw. For me it just wasn't much of a religious argument. And you know, there are three religious digital arguments out there.

1. Mac versus PC;
2. Canon versus Nikon; and
3. RAW versus JPEG.

For me, I always just wanted to get the best looking image I could. I was a film shooter - I always worked for dead-on exposure. I brought that over to my digital shooting and JPEG's filled the bill just fine.

What changed my mind? Was caused me to come out of the closet after shooting RAW for the past eight months and keeping it a secret? What made me switch? It was Adobe’s Lightroom. Check out the two images posted here - I wish you could see the difference more clearly, but on my 27 inch monitor, the first image just sizzles with detail and color. The second - a Jpeg - just doesn't. Playing with these two images in Lightroom was the start of the turning point for me.

When I opened the RAW image, started to play with the Lightroom sliders, and my eyes opened wide-eyed and my jaw dropped low when I saw all the results I was getting with my RAW image. In all honesty, I was really surprised at the range of control I had over my RAW image and how I could make the colors and details pop! The ability to recover the highlights easily in Lightroom, to add the fill light were needed, and to give the image that added vibrancy tweak is what really made me think much more seriously about shooting RAW.

I can remember kind of smiling to myself when I decided to shoot raw for the first time, that is, to shoot the entire event and RAW. I kept thinking myself, do I have enough cards. I mean, normally I'm shooting about 3000 to 4000 images on the job - see Related Links below.

Shooting that many images at a much higher file size, that meant I was going to be packing a whole lot of pixels in my camera bag when I came home. I did the math, bought some new flash cards, and resigned myself to shoot at first wedding and JPEG raw format.

I also have to admit I was really concerned about the hard drive real estate I was going to use up one I downloaded these cards. Anyway, I lived through my first experience and I wasn't too shaken by it. In the beginning, I did find myself shooting more slowly – 11 megs a shot, you know.

The final straw for me was when Adobe introduced Lightroom 2 Beta and made it available for general download. I had been wonderfully surprised with the results I was getting in Lightroom 1 when manipulating my RAW file. But with Lightroom 2 Beta and the added feature of the adjustment brush, all things changed for me. It was the ability to adjust this RAW file with two stops latitude either under exposed or over exposed and be able to do this selectively if need be and much easier than in Photoshop, that convinced me to be a RAW shooter.

Let me say again, it's not just the versatility of the RAW file that convinced me to change. It was the versatility of the RAW file TOGETHER WITH Lightroom 2's new features of the Adjustment brush, Spot removal brush, and the Gradient tool all being used together to produce a final result and being able to do it so effortlessly without my requiring to jump through those too many digital hoops of Photoshop.

So folks, there you have it I'm out of the closet. I'm a RAW shooter - even for my vacation photographs! Will I ever go back to shooting JPEG, the answer is probably not. With the prices of flash cards dropping like a rock and hard drive real estate getting so inexpensive these days -- a terabyte drive for about $140 -- really makes it a “no-brainer” to be shooting RAW.

I still shoot pretty much the way I did when I was a JPEG shooter, trying to nail the exposure every time, checking the histograms and highlight alerts on my viewfinder, and always trying to get the best image I can first in the camera. I only have one problem. I've got to come up with a whole bunch of new jokes now ;~)

Related Links:
DPT - 4000 Images In The Workflow - How Do I Do It?
DPT- 4000 Images, The Rest Of The Story

Point of clarification from last week's post
Regarding last week's post about the Canon 5D; I did shoot all those images in JPEG mode. The simple reason I chose JPEG mode in this instance was because Adobe Camera Raw had not released a version yet to support the new Canon 5D Mark II.

One question came up in the comments section of the post asking if I had noise reduction turned on or turned off during a shoot. The noise reduction was turned on during that shoot.

DigitalProTalk Economic Stimulus Package Announced!
As I read many of the comments from my readers, which I appreciate very much, many of you are saying that you hope to attend our next Digital Master Class scheduled for April 27 – May 1, 2009.

I know the economy has been a roller coaster these last several weeks, and may stay that way for several more. Many of you, I know, are considering attending the upcoming class and have said as much in the comments. I’ve talked it over with my staff and we've agreed to hold the price to only $795 till the end of this year for anyone who wishes to attend the spring session.

The class is about half full at this point, so if you want to save yourself $100 on the tuition, then give the studio a call at 800.292.2994 within the next six weeks to reserve your place in class. You can get all the class info over at Anyway, we always have a great time and I hope to see many of our Digital Pro talk readers at the spring session of my digital master class.

Hey everybody, that’s it again for me today. See ya’ tomorrow for Technique Tuesday where the topic will be, Lightroom 2 Adjustment brush or NIK Viveza? See you then, Adios, (Are you allowed to say that in Great Britain) -David


  1. There is a 4th digital argument, now that you're shooting RAW: CR2 versus DNG.

  2. Shooting your vacation snapshots in RAW... That is a total conversion!

    I deal with the RAW space issue by deleting the RAW folder off the server after the client receives their album. At that point I'm comfortable with keeping the JPGs only.

  3. First, thank you for you generosity. You are one of the most gracious photographers I know.

    I'm happy for you that you are now a raw shooter!
    Question, have you tried playing around with your canon's picture style capabilities? Better yet, played around with the picture style editor?


  4. You can't stop the change any more than you can stop the suns from setting. RAW is just the next step. Who knows what it will be in the future??? Great post. And good to see that you have joined the RAW-side of things.

  5. I am happy for you, that you finally have seen the sun :) RAW and Lightroom just shines.

    If you want jpgs, the I saw a script that can extract jpgs from raws, ok in a smaller version, but with all the picture styles.

    Thanks for your article on 24-105 that was an eye opener. I just ordered that lens together with the new 5D2 even though I have the 24-70 2.8, because the IS is very usefull during the wedding day. Then I can switch in the evening.

    Thanks also for a great blog. It really rocks. Hope to get the time to join your seminar.

  6. Luke, I'm your father. Only when you come to the dark side will you achieve your true potential.

    We're glad you came over!

  7. I thought you would stick with RAW. It's just so nice, especially with LR.

    Gavin Seim

  8. Hey David,

    Thanks for the fantastic post !!! I always enjoy your insights, I had my 40d on the shelf for several months after seeing the fantastic resuts you get with your, I've just started using it again, but I just have not been able to find good settings for it.

    I've used portrait picture style and right now I'm using Standard with +2 clicks of sharpen and -2 clicks of contrast.

    I'm really curious to know what settings you use on your 40d, your images look really good !!!

  9. David. Welcome to the dark side :). Now that you decided to start shooting RAW just wait to see the fun you are going to have when you see the difference between the different RAW converters available out there. I used Lightroom and to be honest, for the Raw file produced by Nikon D700, I found the result produced by CaptureNX way better.
    I wrote a little something regarding the RAW vs Jpeg and the RAW Convertors here
    Now lets talk about RAW 12Bit vs RAW 14Bit :).

  10. Yeah,
    Raw is a no-brainer. I used to shoot large format, not because I wanted to grow a beard and look like Grandpa Ansel, but because it gave me the BEST photograph possible. I even used my 4x5 for set up shots during a couple weddings (not anymore).
    But it comes down to obtaining the highest quality you can achieve at the present time.
    I started shooting Raw for everything, including weddings back in 2003, and I would use Capture One back then as my workflow program. It was the Lightroom or Aperture of it's day. It's amazing to think that we've come so far in 5 years...

    Now that you have graduated to using Raw, you will have to upgrade your VCR for a DVD player...

  11. Hello David,

    I am currently trying to convince my wife to let me go over from NYC for a few days to take your Spring Class. Any words of encouragement.

    BTW, I too went from JPEG's to RAW mostly because of LR.



  12. It gets better, my friend, when you get a camera that does DNG RAW files.
    To my joy, I found that my new Pentax body saves directly to DNG, thereby eliminating the whole 'convert to DNG' process that lightroom is so fond of.
    However, let me say this, DNG actually load as fast or faster than comparable JPG files in lightroom. As other camera makers begin adding in-camera DNG, it's going to get better and better.

  13. When I dove back into digital a couple of years ago I started in RAW and never looked back.

    RAW is like freedom in a communistic country. Once freedom was tasted they never want to go back.

    I wonder if that makes me a RAW freedom fighter?

  14. Thanks David for your openness, especially for being a jpg shooter for years. I too started shooting RAW recently. I shoot RAW about 50% of the time at weddings, though I am seeing myself get more and more comfortable with the RAW files my D700 produces. Thanks for inspiring us with your work and blog.
    //Otto Rascon

  15. The problem with having so many images stored in various 1TB drives is making sure that they are connected together. I do the usual backup of all my RAW images and then transfer only the best images to my 4TB Drobo for subsequent access.