Overlooking the Un-obvious

Squirrel6-Original JPEG     Squirrel6-JPEG-Levels

Initial JPEG view of RAW file                    JPEG Adjusted in Photoshop Levels 

Virtually all digital photos contain more detail than can be seen in the image that comes out of the camera. This statement is neither exaggeration nor overstatement, it is a provable fact. When these original images first appear on the monitor (JPEG or RAW) they are the digital equivalent of one-size-fits-all garments. They cover the essentials but rarely reveal significant detail.

JPG files are simply ballpark or “stock” interpretations of the RAW files. Initial JPEG algorithms are blind to the tone and color contents of the image; they simply apply the very same interpretation to the RAW data. If the file is either slightly over or underexposed, the JPEG formulation is applied indiscriminately, causing many “good” images to be assumed “bad.”

Even when you view a RAW camera file, you are only viewing a stock JPEG interpretation of the detail captured by a digital camera. Even within the RAW interpreter, this initial image seen is only a rough starting point. There is always more detail just below the surface of the visible file; more detail than even professional photographers realize.

Squirrel6-RAW Interpreter

RAW file adjusted in RAW interpreter software (Lightroom, Camera RAW, etc)

There are five basic tonal areas to be adjusted and modulated in both a RAW and a JPEG file, though the 16-bit arena of tones lets you push these ranges around amidst many more tones. JPEG files are 8-bit files containing only 256 tones of each RGB color. RAW files contain between 12 and 14 bits of information, depending on your camera’s image sensor. 12 bit files contain over 4,000 tones, and 14 bit files have over 16,000 tones of each RGB color. It’s all about elbow room. In the case of image editing… more IS better.

So here’s some common-sense advice. Since your camera shoots all images as RAW data anyway, save your files in RAW format and enjoy the nearly limitless latitude of tonal adjustments. It will make a major difference.

Visit the http://imageprep.net website to get a fuller picture of how to improve your image(s).Imageprep banner

If you really want to understand what makes color work, you must understand how light behaves. And I’ve developed a very entertaining and easy-to-understand video series that will teach you these fundamentals and get you on track to capture and produce amazing color.  http://gottaknowvideos.com

About Herb Paynter

I'm an author, photographer, and digital imaging consultant living in Ormond Beach, Fl. I've been in the color game for more years than I care to admit. In that time I have picked up some insights and experience that I like to share.
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