October 6, 2014

Tricks Of The Trade - The Benefits Of Shooting In RAW Format Demonstrated

Back in March, I entered a photo contest for the first time. Well, it wasn't exactly a contest. It was an assignment on the National Geographic Your Shot community website. The site is a place for photographers of all skill levels and backgrounds to connect.

The NatGeo editors regularly create assignments for the online community similar to what they do with their professional staff for the magazine. They challenge members to take photographs of specific things, or in specific ways. They offer feedback along the way about what they are and are not looking for.

The images that best meet the guidelines are included in a collection, or story.

I found the Love Snap assignment during an online search. I had taken what I felt was an amazing photo of SB with my dad, and wanted to enter it someplace. I joined the Your Shot community and submitted my picture. And it was selected.

Not only was I honored; I was inspired.

I have always enjoyed taking photographs. And for years people have told me I have an eye for it. But I never had more than a casual interest before my selection by those National Geographic editors. My selection ignited a full blown passion in me. I have been working to hone my skills since.

Hubby has long been enthusiastic about photography. Through the years he has accumulated a collection of professional grade cameras and lenses, and the knowledge to use them well. I became determined to do the same.

I’ve been taking an online course presented by a renowned, long-time National Geographic photographer. I have seized every opportunity to take pictures, experimenting with our camera’s settings, different subjects and varying conditions.

By far the greatest impact on my photography was when I began shooting in RAW format and learned how to use professional photo editing software. It has taken my pictures to a whole new level, and I love it. 

If you are not familiar with the terminology, a RAW file saves all the information recorded by your camera's sensor. A JPEG, by comparison, compresses the information, processing the image in the camera and providing a file that has lost much of the original information.

JPEG is the format most commonly used for storing and sharing picture files. But, unless you start with RAW, you are stuck with what your camera has processed. Importing RAW files to your computer and working with editing software enables you to utilize the information and process the photo the way you want it to look. Which, most of the time, is how you SAW it when you took it in the first place.

Photography is an art form. The photographer interprets, processes and shares her view of the world.

This weekend I had the perfect example of how and why shooting in RAW format makes such a difference. We met friends at a local pumpkin patch, and of course I took pictures. There was one in particular I simply loved. Had I taken it in JPEG mode, it would have needed to be trashed. But with RAW, I was able to salvage it and end up with something beautiful:

Click on image for a closer view

This image was overexposed. However, with all the information captured by the sensor still available in the file, I was able to make adjustments. I worked with the exposure, white balance and highlights, for example, to bring out the details and make the tone more realistic and lifelike.

I did not take anything out of or add anything to this photograph. No effects or filters were used. I simply worked with what was in the file to create the best possible image with the information available. A JPEG file would have been a bust. 

Of course, I'd love to get the perfect shot the first time, no editing needed. I'm working toward that. And sometimes I do. I have images I do almost nothing with in the editing stage, because I got them just right. But there are always times like this. I would have been so bummed if I hadn't been able to salvage this shot (of SB's best friend).

But even pros take shots like the one on the left sometimes. Before editing software, they worked in dark rooms to manipulate images and create the best possible photograph. Today, we have different tools available. 

I continue to participate in the Your Shot photo assignments, each challenging me to capture images in specific ways, of specific subjects, at specific times. And had a second photograph selected by a National Geographic editor for a Your Shot story. Titled, "How Close Can You Get?" the assignment was to take a photo that captured moments of intimacy.

And last week, I received an email that read in part:

We are thrilled to inform you that your “Your Shot” photo included in the "Love Snap" story is being considered for publication in an upcoming National Geographic book, tentatively titled Getting Your Shot: Stunning Photos, How-to Tips, and Endless Inspiration From the Pros.
Shut the front door!

I'm very much an amateur, but I'm getting better and better every day. And I LOVE having an additional creative medium through which to express myself.

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