You Must Always Shoot RAW. Or Maybe Not…

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Among photographers, it’s almost universally considered conventional wisdom.  Among this Father and this Son, it’s an ongoing debate.  Son says you have to shoot RAW whenever quality is job 1.  Whenever you hope to preserve the latitude to continue the creative process after the shoot and onto the computer where a larger screen and capable software allow you to truly fulfill your artistic vision.  Whenever the stakes are highest and you have to deliver the very best.  Father says… eh.  I’m not so sure.

First, it’s worth pointing out that I fondly recall the days of film shooting, when you chose your film style and ISO and then everything else you did happened in the field and at the moment of capture.  Sure, I went into the darkroom and could brighten, darken, dodge, burn, and crop the finished print… but more often than not, I was working against a pressing deadline and needed to produce… and fast.  So, other than making sure the exposure was nailed, I did not labor all that much on the final version.  I knew when I was out shooting that getting everything right then and there was vital.

In the digital era, we have way more flexibility.  We can spray and pray with the camera firing like a jackhammer, we can nudge ISO up and down to our heart’s delight, we can even use film simulations to get the look we want.  Wasted clicks can be deleted in a heartbeat and so the cost associated with mistakes is low.  Very low.

The conventional wisdom about shooting only in RAW makes great sense… but I’d like to suggest that capturing in the field with the goal of minimizing or even eliminating post processing is not child’s play, for hackers… or even, shudder, consumers.  I’d like to suggest that there is great artistic challenge and merit in shooting JPEG and using all of the capabilities of modern cameras to nail it at capture.  As a Fujifilm shooter, it’s the JPEG film simulations, particularly Acros on the newest iteration of the X-Trans sensor, that pushed me to this conclusion.

I have often shot RAW or JPEG plus RAW with the goal of extending the creative process all the way to post.  I also knew I could correct exposure, white balance and other maladies more easily there.  Lifting up the shadows or tamping down on highlights is better done on a full high resolution RAW file than a JPEG.

But heading out into the field, as I did recently to capture the long and dark shadows of a late day setting sun (see images above), I set my camera to the Acros film simulation and told myself that whatever I captured was going into this post.  Whatever I captured.

With that mindset, I paid more careful attention to composition – knowing no cropping later would be allowed.  I looked at shadow detail and adjusted exposure compensation accordingly.  I played with Fujifilm’s Acros filters (red, green, yellow) based on the amount of contrast I wanted.  I dialed up or down on grain.  I slowed it way, way down.  I shot the way I did when I was a film photographer.

I’m all for retro when it works (such as Fujfilm’s use of an aperture dial on lens) but not when it’s a hindrance.  Their film simulations work.  They bring me back… but they also inspire my creative instinct.  And that’s refreshing.

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