Saturday, January 27, 2007

It's The Photographer ... Not The Format

I recently discovered that one of the leading celebrity photographers of the current generation, Lionel Deluy, is doing something that many "know-it-all" photographers claim is the worst sin a professional photographer can make. Deluy photographs the vast majority of his work using (GASP) the JPEG digital image format.

Over the years as digital photography has replaced film many photographers discovered that JPEG (the same standard image format used in most digital cameras) causes a loss in image detail and color ... and creates JPEG artifacts (essentially pixels that shouldn't be in the image). The reason is that JPEG is a compressed or "lossy" format. When an image is saved as JPEG the image is basically "squeezed" into to tiny file and some image information is lost as a result of the "squeeze." Professional photographers quickly discovered the RAW format: essentially a huge image file containing every last bit of information captured by the digital camera's image sensor.

As a result, a large number of working photographers started using RAW because they were told it was the only way not to lose part of their images. Some clients even started to demand that photographers supply them with RAW images rather than JPEG. It doesn't matter that RAW files are several times larger than JPEG files, that the files often cannot be opened by various image editors, or that when the images are opened they take longer to process than a JPEG file.

So why is Lionel Deluy (and the overwhelming majority of amateur and professional photographers) using the JPEG format rather than RAW? Because the human eye will never notice the difference.

The simple fact is that during the various printing processes used to create photographic prints or display images on a monitor there is a great deal of image data and detail that is lost and never seen by the human eye. In fact, we often tend to see details in images that aren't even there because our brains "fill in" details that we aren't seeing. More to the point, many photographic printing methods require that the image be used in JPEG (or another compressed format) before the image can be printed.

What is the point to using a huge RAW image file if it has to be turned into a JPEG sooner or later? As Lionel Deluy said in a recent issue of Digital Photo Pro magazine, “I don’t see enough of a difference, and it takes so long to process." Bottom line, the difference between a bad photograph and a great photograph is the photographer ... not the file format.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Beauty of Light

It's not too often that I find photography related blogs that aren't focused on reviews of the latest camera or accessory, so I was pleased to find the Strobist blog while browsing of the Web.

Strobist is written by David Hobby, a photographer for the Baltimore Sun whose hobby (bad pun not intended) is spreading the good word about using off-camera hotshoe flashes for professional lighting.

Rather than use huge, heavy and expensive portable studio lights, Hobby uses simple flash units on portable lightstands with basic light modifiers. The truth is I'm probably making it sound more complex than it is. The bottom line is that Strobist teaches people how to get professional lighting results in quick and easy steps ... for a fraction of the cost of traditional equipment.

If you're interested in learning how to give your subjects the quality light they deserve (and making your photos into something spectacular) I suggest you stop by the Strobist website and read some of the many free how-to articles.

It's called "photography" (or "light writing") for a reason. Light matters.