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.


Huage said...

I do agree with you that the difference between a good piece of photograph and a lousy piece is the photographer.



A Great Photographer's Guide to Excellent Photography


Nicole Barczak said...

Amen! I shoot jpeg only, and have been told by many other photographers that RAW is the only way to go. I tried it, but didn't see any difference. So, jpeg I stay.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the photographer makes all the difference in the world, yet a lot of accomplished and seasoned photographers do prefer RAW anyway for more creative control. I am just a beginner but, as a beginner, I find that RAW is more useful for me because with JPEG if I messed something up, that's it, the photo is lost. With RAW I usually can recover from my mistakes and - what's more important - learn from them without losing that precious shot.