Saturday, November 7, 2009

JPG vs RAW: What Would Ansel Adams Do?

That’s annoying. If one searches the phrase, "What Would Ansel Adams Do," Google returns 264 results. So I have not come up with an original phrase.

In those results, of course, others have weighed in on the theoretical question of what digital file format Ansel Adams would use, were he to be photographing today. For example, Mike Stensvold at the Outdoor Photography website has the following theory:

If you shoot RAW images rather than JPEGs, you’ll have more and better material to work with in the computer, including richer tonality in highlights and dark tones. You can double-process a RAW image, once for the highlights and once for the dark areas, then combine the two perfectly registered images in Photoshop to get a greater range of detail. And RAW images can be processed to color or black-and-white—you’re not locked in to one or the other. Adams would have shot RAW.

Well, in this I have to agree. The analogy I use is that JPGs remind me of Kodachrome slides—great if exposed perfectly, but if not . . . um, there’s not that much you can do to rescue them. (And, actually, my Olympus C-8080 took JPGs that were, mostly, exposed perfectly. See above photo.)

RAW files remind me of negatives (Adobe has created a common RAW file format they call DNG: digital negative.) They’re for the tweakers out there in PhotoShopland. As a tweaker, I like to say, "The negative is the score, and the print is the performance."

Oh, that’s right, that’s not my saying: it’s another wonderful Ansel Adams’ phrase. That’s annoying.

Photo: Hali & Tuffy—Marin County, 2006

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