Sometimes a picture is just a picture

When I first began snapping pictures with my lovely, lovely Canon 40D (did I mention it’s lovely?), I horded every image file as if it were the only thing standing between me and certain death. Every image was a masterpiece of lighting, composition, framing, colour management, blah, blah, blah. Well……the truth is that most of those early pictures were, at best, okay. And that is being rather generous. But this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has moved up to a dSLR (or a super nice compact super-zoom) as there is a learning curve with the camera, forgetting completely about the learning curve that comes with the process of photography itself. But within a few weeks of blissful dSLR ownership I was struck by a certain problem: what do I do with all these image files?

For your consideration:

Wedding mausoleum (2)

A lovely picture, no? And no doubt it is a picture. And it was shot in both Canon’s RAW format as well as JPEG. So what do I do with these files once I get home and upload them to my computer? It was a keeper (as not all were from this particular shoot)….the JPEG version was good, but with the RAW file I could make some minor tweaks (to coin the phrase of a certain Flickr mate) and then convert to JPEG, thus making the from-camera JPEG moot. So what is one to do?

Well my solution was to delete the from-camera JPEG, edit the RAW image file, create a new JPEG from the RAW file and then upload that to Flickr. The nice thing about the RAW editing software I use for much of my workflow (Capture One 4) is that it doesn’t really alter my original RAW files, but creates a new file that tracks all my adjustments to each image file within a given folder. If I re-open an image file in Capture One 4 it displays with the afore-mentioned adjustments, but if I open the file in another app (say….Photoshop Elements) then I am once again working with the unaltered RAW file. Heck, if I want to start over completely all I need do is delete the Capture One 4 created file from the folder and there you go! But this isn’t really to what I was referring earlier. I really mean when do I keep the RAW file and when do I only keep a JPEG (either from-camera or generated from the RAW file)?

For me I look at my image files in the context of “What was my intent?” Was I trying to do something interesting or was I trying hard to make a better picture, or was I simply pointing and shooting and thus creating a record of a moment in time that I wish to have? I guess I could split this concept in a different manner….the creative/working hard for a better picture side wants to use the Canon 40D, while the record-creating side can use the 40D, but would have been just as happy with the Canon A630 point-n-shoot. I do not usually carry both cameras with me, so I often end up using the 40D for point-n-shoot situation photographs like the image above and the one below.

BBQ at Aunt Linda's (5)

Maybe it sounds like a bit of a strange way to do things, but I’m finding that it works well enough for me. I keep two folders on my computer: one for images that are simply records of a moment in time and one for everything else (hoping that ‘everything else’ are better or more interesting pictures). I really don’t know if this is such a great system, but one must have a system otherwise their picture collection will become completely unmanageable. And isn’t that the real kick in the head? Because even if you do have a system, if you find or discover one that may work better there isn’t much change of making the change because it could involve so much work as to make it unfeasible.

Isn’t that a warm and fuzzy feeling?


6 thoughts on “Sometimes a picture is just a picture

  1. Thing with RAW files is, as you now know, they offer much greater scope for “improvement” than working with JPEGs.
    I was persuaded to shoot in RAW by a mate, despite much resistance from me… his most persuasive argument being that I should shoot in RAW when I’m in “photojourno mode”.
    Well, I slowly made the transition (not without much grumbling and mumbling) and now I’m a complete convert. I don’t even bother with RAW + JPEG (can’t see the point). In fact, the main reason I don’t use my present point’n’shoot nowadays is cos it only shoots JPEGs and the options for “tweaking” them are just far too limited.

    Lightroom too works as a non-destructive editor (leaving original files untouched) as I suspect do most other RAW editors… at least, all the ones I’ve encountered.

    As for keeping files, I tend to keep all original RAWs (unless they’re absolute crap) cos you never know what someone else in the future may require/like… even if you think an image is crap. And RAW is obviously the best format to keep it in. Indeed, it was specifically developed for archival purposes.

  2. Well not doubt it was you, in combination with my local camera shop guys guidance, who steered me to start shooting RAW. Other than the extra time it takes to work with the files I have no complaints. I do continue to shoot in RAW & JPEG because it’s quicker for me to go through the pics for the first time and determine which to keep and which to delete. It’s quicker in that I can simply use the image viewer in my OS without having to open a more resource-hungry app. And since I do most of my shooting on an 8GB card I’m not lacking in memory space (plus I have both 4GB and 2GB cards as backups).

    I wasn’t certain if other apps were non-destructive of RAW files. I imagine it makes sense, but not having used them (other than Photoshop and Capture One 4) I wasn’t certain. And I won’t know anything about LR2 until I decide whether I’m building another PC next year or going Mac. No sense in buying the software now (and I would really like to) because I’d have to buy the PC version and if I go Mac I don’t want to have to buy the Mac version (or worry about using an emulator and a Microsoft OS).

  3. Makes perfect sense not to lash out on expensive software ’til you know which OS you’ll be committed to… just wish I could be as sensible!


    As for previewing/browsing the files, I prefer not to use Microsoft’s own embedded apps cos they all seem so damned resource-hungry. Much sooner use other dedicated (and preferably stand-alone) apps. The “quick & dirty” image browser I use is XnView. Its a freebie and also has the capability to read RAW files. Another good one (also free) is IrfanView.

    Think you’ve mentioned using 8Gb cards before. That’d be a bit too big for my liking. The max size I tend to use (reluctantly) is 4Gb which, as I seem to recollect, will hold something like 160+ RAW files from the GX20. And if using the GX10 or 400D I’m happier with 2Gb.
    Only problem is, the card always seems to get full precisely at the wrong moment! Damn perverse I call it.
    Reason I go for the smaller card size is predominantly paranoia linked to the type of stuff I do.
    There’s always a concern (when shooting protests etc) that the camera (plus card of course) will get seized or “confiscated” by the cops so best not to have all pics from a shoot on a single card. Well, that’s my reasoning anyway.


  4. I’ve considered using other software to perform quick & dirty viewings of the JPEG files, but Microsoft’s photo viewer seems just fine for me.

    I can see your reasoning for keeping smaller cards on hand, especially with your photojournalism work, but since I don’t have that particular concern I’m quite happy with a larger card for much of my shooting needs.

    Although I confess it is easy to forget about the card, fill it, and then find oneself working through an awful lot of image files!

  5. The advantage of jpeg files on your computer is that you can browse quickly through your photographs.

    And I still use the jpeg ones in a while. When the exposure was right, you often can’t beat the jpeg. And you can edit those non-destructive too in Lightroom.

    In the end it still remains a photograph. And I liked your Wedding mausoleum series on Flickr.

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