Paul Timpa Photography Blog Photography Tutorials and Tips from Paul Timpa Photography

22Feb/09Off

Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG

Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona

I often see questions in forums and magazines about whether to shoot in RAW vs. JPEG, and asking what are the advantages / disadvantages of each. I thought I'd tackle this topic since a lot of what's out there can be confusing. This post is long, but if you take the time to get through it, you will have a full understanding of RAW and JPEG shooting.
First, let me come right out and say it: if you're serious about your photography, you should be shooting in RAW. It's significantly better in just about every way possible. I'll explain:

As I'm sure you know, digital pictures are just a series of 1's and 0's collected together to form an image. There are many picture formats, such as JPEG, TIF, GIF, BMP, various RAW formats, etc. Each format stores the 1's and 0's in its own way. The most common picture format for viewing on the web, and even "general" printing is JPEG...that's what we're all familiar with. But let's backtrack a little and get behind the scenes to how we get to that final JPEG picture, and you'll see why shooting in RAW is so important.

When you take a picture with a D-SLR, the shutter opens and the sensor captures the picture. However, it does NOT capture a JPEG file. It captures a RAW file, which is a digital version of exactly what the sensor sees through the lens, no more, no less. It temporarily stores that RAW version in memory. Here's where the famous choice comes in...do you store the image on your memory card as the RAW file that was just captured, or do you store it as a JPEG? It is NOT the same thing. Here's why:

We know that JPEG files are the "standard" format for pictures, for posting on the web, emailing to friends, etc. We also know that "eventually" every picture we take will probably become a JPEG at some point for that very reason -- so we can share it with friends, put it on websites, and email it. However, when you're taking the picture, I recommend you shoot in RAW and not shoot in JPEG, and there are several reasons why. Firstly, a JPEG version of your picture has been compressed so that the file size is smaller, for purposes of emailing, posting to the web, etc. By compressed, I mean that actual picture information is thrown in the garbage. Picture information that you took the time to capture! When you take the picture, it's stored as a series of 1's and 0's. JPEGs are stored in such a way that a computer chip takes a look at all the 1's and 0's and tries to determine what is not important in your picture, and it throws away that data so that the file size is smaller. This results in loss of detail, subtle changes in color, brightness, etc. The problem is that the computer chip is deciding what to throw out. It may throw out more or less than you want. You may be saying to yourself, "well eventually the picture will become a JPEG and all that info will be thrown out anyway, so what's the problem?" I'll get to that, after I explain what a RAW file is.

A RAW file is an exact representation of what the sensor saw when you clicked the shutter. No information is thrown out. It's all there. All the detail, colors, brightness, everything. The only problem with RAW files is that the format is specific to that camera's brand. A RAW file cannot be viewed on a web page, or e-mailed to a friend for them to just double-click on it and view it. It must be...well...converted into a JPEG by you, manually, on your home computer. BUT...you say..."my camera could have just done that conversion to JPEG for me!" Here's why that's a bad idea:

A JPEG picture is a "final" version. It is the equivalent of a finished print you hold in your hand. That's the picture you show people and give to people. That final picture is going to have a certain level of sharpness, color saturation, contrast, etc, set to however you like it. If you shoot JPEGs in your camera, you're going to have set the sharpness, saturation, contrast in your camera's menus (that's partly what those shooting modes like "portrait" or "landscape" or "sports" are for...). You may also set the white balance to something like "Sunny" or "Cloudy" or "Candle", to correct the color of your photo for the lighting conditions. Once you snap the shutter, the RAW file is temporarily stored, the computer chip in your camera looks at the settings you've set for sharpness, color, white balance, etc., it converts the RAW file to a JPEG using those exact settings, it then compresses the file by throwing out information as described above, and THEN IT DISCARDS THE RAW FILE. The information and picture detail that the camera threw out: GONE FOREVER. That's it. It stores only the finished compressed JPEG, with the sharpness, colors, saturation, and white balance that you set in the camera. You're done at this point, and it's ready to post or email. There are several problems with this method when you compare to shooting in RAW. I'll explain below.

When you shoot in RAW, you click the shutter, and the RAW file is stored on your memory card. The RAW file is simply an exact representation of what the lens saw. No compression is done, no information is thrown out. None of the in-camera settings for sharpness, color, contrast, white balance are used -- they are all ignored. You have a perfectly pristine copy of the scene on your memory card. Now comes the next step. We already know that in order for the photo to be viewable by other people on the web, or emailed, it must become a JPEG at some point. This step is called RAW conversion. It must be done manually, by you, on your home computer, by a piece of software called a RAW converter that comes with your camera (you can also use 3rd party RAW converters). And THAT'S the beauty of it. YOU are now in complete control of what the final JPEG will look like. Not the camera. There are many advantages of doing the RAW conversion yourself on the computer. Firstly, when you convert to JPEG on your computer, the RAW files stays in-tact and remains unchanged. You can make a hundred different versions of the JPEG from your RAW file, each one tweaked a different way, and you'll still always have the original RAW file to use again. That's why RAW files are sometimes called "digital negatives". It's the equivalent of a film negative, where you can make many prints off of one copy, and make some darker, some brighter, some more colorful, etc. Also, when you convert a RAW file on your computer (vs. in-camera) your computer processor is much more powerful than the chip in your camera. It does a better job of analyzing your picture and deciding what to throw out. You also have control over the compression-level, meaning you can compress it only a little bit, keeping a lot of detail (but resulting in a larger file), or compressing a lot, and having a nice small file to email. You make the choice. The same goes for all the settings like sharpness, saturation, contrast, white balance, etc. You can look on the nice large computer monitor and decide on exactly how much sharpness you want, how much color, etc by simply moving some sliders on the screen. You can see instantly how each slider affects the picture. You can change the white balance AFTER-THE-FACT so that when you get home, you can see that maybe the "Sunny" setting looks better than the "Cloudy" setting after all. Once you have the picture looking exactly how you like it, you press the "convert" button, and voila, you have your final JPEG exactly as you want it. And if you change your mind about the saturation or sharpness a week later, simply go back into the RAW converter, tweak the settings, and make a new JPEG. You always have the option of having the photos exactly how you want them. JPEGs have all this information permanently burned into the picture. If you shoot in JPEG, and accidentally had the white-balance set to Sunny and you took pictures at your daughter's birthday party of her blowing out candles in the dark, that picture is ruined, and the moment is lost. The wrong white-balance would have been permanently burned into the JPEG. Sure you could try to rescue it in Photoshop, but it's not the same, and the quality will be terrible. If you'd shot RAW, you just change the white-balance in the RAW converter to Candle, and the picture is perfect.

In addition, you can use the RAW converter to convert to other formats besides just JPEG. For example, I convert to TIF files for editing. I use the RAW converter to make a TIF file which I can open in Paint Shop Pro. TIF files, like RAW files, are not compressed -- no information has been thrown out. So I convert to TIF and then edit in Paint Shop Pro to do my cropping, converting to Black & White, etc. on the TIF file. This way, I'm working with ALL the information and detail that was in the original picture. When that editing has all been done, then I convert the TIF file to the final JPEG to be used to post to the web or emailed or printed.

You may ask, well why would anybody shoot JPEG then? It's simple. Time. It's quicker. If someone doesn't have the time or desire to do the RAW conversion, then they shoot JPEG. (It also used to be that because JPEGs were smaller than RAW files, you could get away with buying smaller memory cards, but prices have come down so much on memory this is not really that much of a factor anymore). My question is: if you took all that time to set up and shoot the perfect picture, don't you want to take the time to get the best end result? If so, for all the reasons above, RAW is the way to go.

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

If you have any questions or comments, please let me know.

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

Best,
Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa


21Feb/09Off

Photographing Lightning Storms

A few people have asked me about how to shoot lightning storms, so I thought I'd put up a post with some pointers. The good news is that you don't have to have super-fast reflexes and try to press the shutter when you think lightning is about to strike, and it doesn't require any expensive special equipment like a lightning trigger. The only thing you'll need is a remote shutter release, which you can pick up for $20 or less, and you'll probably want one anyway for all long exposure shots whenever you're out shooting, day or night. Here's the procedure for lightning:

* First and foremost, the process simply involves keeping the shutter open for a long time, and closing it once you see a lightning strike. That's really it. Now you just have to work out the settings so the picture will actually be exposed correctly.

* Set the ISO to 100.

* The first step is to determine the best aperture to use for the ambient light wherever you're shooting. The aperture setting will be very different in a city environment where there is a lot of ambient light vs. out in the desert in Arizona, where there is virtually none.

* You're going to want to set the Aperture closed down enough so that you can have the shutter open for about 20 seconds before the ambient light overexposes the whole photo, but open enough that you still get some foreground picked up after about five seconds. For example, in NYC, from a balcony in a high-rise building, if you set the aperture to about F7.1 to F8.0, you can keep the shutter open for about 20 seconds and the "city itself" will look pretty good. It doesn't have to be perfect, since the primary subject will be the lightning, but you want it to be "good". With an aperture any wider than 7.1, too much light enters the camera and you're overexposed in about 10 seconds, which is too quick. If the aperture is closed down more than F11, the picture will be too dark and you won't capture any of the city, unless you keep the shutter open for 30+ seconds, which is too long. The sweet spot around F7 is just enough to allow you to keep the shutter open for about 20 seconds. To do your testing to set the right aperture for your location, first set the camera's shutter speed to "B" or "Bulb" mode. Just about every D-SLR has bulb mode -- you usually get to it by setting to the longest shutter speed you have, and then going one more. That's Bulb. Once your camera is set to Bulb, this is where the remote shutter release comes in. The remote probably has just one button. When the camera is in Bulb mode, you press the button once to open the shutter, wait as long as you want while the shutter stays open, and you press the button again to close it. Set the aperture on your camera to about F8, press the remote button once, wait about 20 seconds, then press the button to close the shutter. Take a look at the picture on the LCD. Is it dark? If so open the aperture to F5.6 and repeat the process. If it's too bright, close down the aperture until the setting you're in looks good at about a 20 second exposure. Now you're ready for the lightning...

* This is the easy part. Use your widest lens and point in the general direction of where you see lightning strikes. Press the remote button to open the shutter and wait. If you see lightning strike, immediately close the shutter and you're done. The best result will happen if the lightning strikes between 10 and 15 seconds after you've opened the shutter, so that some ambient light will have entered the camera and you'll have captured the location, but the sky will still be dark enough to show off the lightning. If no lightning strikes after the shutter has been open for about 20 seconds, press the button, erase that frame, and start again (if you have enough space on your memory card, you may want to erase all the shots at the end, so you don't miss a strike while you're busy erasing). If the lightning is particularly far away, you may need a wider aperture, and then you'll have to keep the shutter to shorter speeds (10 seconds). These settings are meant to be a general guideline, and to get you familiar with the "procedure", rather than to specify exact settings. All situations and locations will be different, and you'll have to adjust the settings as necessary to get the best result.

Lastly, don't forget to always be safe when in storm conditions. You'll always have another opportunity...

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

Best,
Paul

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa


21Feb/09Off

Choosing the best Focal Length for a photo


Tropical and Coastal Stock Photography - Images by Paul Timpa

Today's discussion revolves around focal length. While most of us are familiar with "zooming in" or selecting a longer lens to make our subject larger, or zooming out to "go wide" there is actually a more subtle, but in my opinion far more important effect of focal length, that should be thought about every time you take a photo and select a focal length or lens:

From a "photographic" perspective, it is focal length that determines how much distance appears between two objects that are at different distances from you (such as a flower in front of you and a mountain behind the flower). The actual distance between the two objects in "real life" is irrelevant and has no bearing on the photo. Through the "laws of optics" it is entirely up to you to set the distance between two objects, and you can set it however you like. That's why it's so important to recognize this every time you take a shot. Let's use a real life example to make it clearer:

Say you're in a field and there's a beautiful sunflower about 10 feet in front of you. Behind the sunflower, about a mile back, is a mountain. It is only to your eyes that the distance between the flower and the mountain appears to be a mile -- the camera can see that distance however it wants, longer or shorter, depending on how you set it. (FYI, if you put a 50mm lens on your camera (that's 50mm in 35mm format...it's about 30mm in a non-full-frame D-SLR), that 50mm lens will cause the distance in the photo to appear about the same as your eyes (about a mile). That's why the 50mm lens is often called the "normal" lens -- because it sees distance the same as you would "normally" with your eyes. Now here's where things get creative -- any other lens besides 50mm will actually completely change the appearance of that distance between the flower and the mountain. The wider you "zoom out", the more the distance between the flower and the mountain is visibly "stretched". The more you "zoom in" the closer the distance between the two. The key here is that you must move your body by walking closer or farther to keep the flower the same size in the frame. For instance, if your starting position is 10 feet away from the flower and you zoom out, the flower will get very small, so you'll have to walk closer to the flower to keep it the same size in the picture. However, because you've zoomed out, the optical properties of the lens will cause the distance between the mountain and the flower in the photo to have greatly increased. While the photo taken at 50mm will have it appear that the mountain is a mile away, the exact same photo taken at 10mm will have the mountain look many many miles away -- but the flower will be in the exact same spot. In fact, the mountain might be tiny, perhaps smaller than the flower now. Similarly, if you zoom in, there is the opposite effect. Let's say you decide to shoot at 200mm. Of course, you will need to step pretty far back from the flower to keep it the same size in the frame. Maybe many yards/meters away. When you look at the final photo, the mountain that previously appeared to be a mile away when you shot at 50mm, may now appear to be right on top of the flower, perhaps just behind it by a few feet. This is the magic of focal length. This may come into play in almost any photo you take. If you're taking a picture of a friend or spouse, it is entirely up to you to decide what you want behind your subject. If you're in a city, you can make it appear that an entire cityscape is behind them by zooming out and stepping closer, or you can zoom in, step far away, and put them practically inside one building! It's really up to you. My advice is to think about this every time you click the shutter. Think about the subject and the background, and how you want each to appear, and make a conscious choice. That's what photography is all about!

FYI, you can try this right from your living room. Place a glass of water on a coffee table and stand so that whatever is behind the glass is at least a few feet away. Zoom to your widest lens setting and frame the shot so that the bottom of the glass is as the bottom of the picture, and the top of the glass is about halfway up the frame. Make sure you can see what's behind the glass and re-adjust your position in the room as necessary. Take the shot. Now we'll take a 2nd shot. Zoom in to your longest focal length and frame the picture the same way by putting the bottom of the glass at the bottom of the picture, and the top of the glass about half-way. When you're zoomed in, you may have to step quite a ways back, probably up against a wall. If you can't get back far enough, just zoom out a little until the glass is halfway up the frame. Take the shot. Now compare the two shots on your LCD. The glass of water should look exactly the same, but the background in the second one will be much much closer.

Fun Fact: Did you ever wonder why professional photographers who shoot models (say for Sports Illustrated calendars or advertisements) shoot with these incredibly long lenses from half way across the beach? It's because "zooming in" and shooting with a long focal length as described above compresses distance...and they're actually compressing the model's face. By shooting at a long focal length like 200mm, you are making the tip of the nose appear closer to the rest of the face (than it is in real life), making the nose smaller, which is usually considered flattering. That's why the "portrait lens" is generally 85mm to 135mm (way more than 50mm!). To use this to your advantage, always try to take photos of people from a reasonably far distance at one of those longer focal lengths (zoomed in). It makes a big difference!

I've also created an app for iPhone, Android, and iPod Touch which teaches you photography -- more info can be found here:

Photography Trainer for iPhone and Android

Photography Trainer iPhone app

Photography Trainer iPhone app

If you have any questions, please feel free to let me know...

http://www.timpaphotography.com/

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

Best,
Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

21Feb/09Off

Welcome to Paul Timpa Photography's Blog

Snorkeling in Moorea, French Polynesia

Snorkeling in Moorea, French Polynesia

Welcome to Paul Timpa Photography!  This is my Wordpress blog for TimpaPhotography.com.   http://www.timpaphotography.com/

I’m a New York City based photographer who captures high-impact images of travel and architecture for advertising, publishing, and corporate clients.  My style often incorporates long exposures, dramatic lighting, and unique viewpoints to bring out the beauty of the locations I shoot.

I'm also the designer of the iPhone app Photography Trainer for iPhone and iPod Touch

Thanks for visiting...

If you'd like to purchase prints or stock photography licenses for my photos (for advertising and editorial use), please visit:

http://www.timpaphotography.com/purchase

To keep up-to-date with the latest photo additions and other topics, you can also become a fan at my Photography Facebook page at:

Paul Timpa Photography's Facebook Page

Best,

Paul

Copyright 2009, Paul Timpa

   






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