Archive for February, 2011

RAW vs JPG, what’s right for you?

I follow a lot of photographers on Twitter and this is a debate that’s been rearing its head a lot of late, but is one really better than the other?

For the most part, it seems to be less experienced photographers that shoot in jpg with those who have a bit more experience making the switch to RAW. For my own part, I started off only in jpg, progressed to jpg and RAW and now 95% of the time shoot only in RAW.

So, what’s the big deal about shooting in RAW?

Quite simply, it’s all about the control you have over your image. Using RAW for your photography you can safely forget all about white balance, it’s easily adjustable in the RAW file. Blown out highlights? Not a problem, the recovery slider will get you out of that one most times. I’m not suggesting that RAW should make you lazy and you should digitally correct every imperfection, what it does is gives you a “get out of jail free card”. In other words, you take that shot of a lifetime but you forgot about the white balance, now in jpg this would be a nightmare to sort, in RAW, the shot is easily saved. It’s a great safety net, especially when you’re learning.

Of course making the switch to RAW will be slightly confusing at first until you get to grips with Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or any other RAW importer but the benefits of control over your final image rather than settling for the manufacturer process algorithm are massive. Once you get used to dealing with RAW files you will start to realise the creative control you have over your images and it’s this I feel is the trigger to make sure you never switch back to jpg. Once you get that level of control you won’t want to lose it again.

Your other big plus point of course is that RAW is the scene as the camera see’s it. Unprocessed and every last bit of image detail intact. It’s a lossless format, unlike jpg which after it’s gets processed and compressed loses a lot of image data, even at the highest resolution. If it’s the most perfect file you want, RAW and 16bit TIFF are your way forward. High quality jpg is fine in most situations but it’s nice to know, if you ever need it, you have the full unaltered best quality image. In some cases where I’ve licensed images the printer has specifically asked for TIFF rather than RAW, an option if you have the RAW file, not so if only a jpg.

BUT… jpg has its place.

I learned this one the hard way a few years ago. I used to do a lot of rally photography with my D70 and Sigma 70-200mm f2.8. Always shooting in jpg I would come home with hundreds of images that could be quickly downloaded, cropped and upped to the web. After a few years away from this I went to a rally again but this time shot over 500 frames in RAW. Process 500 RAW images? Not a hope. I know you can automate it but if you’re doing that, what’s the point? The next time I photographed a rally I used jpg which was the right choice for the situation.

I also switched to jpg when I was out and about the Royal Mile in Edinburgh photographing the Fringe acts performing. Again, it was a case of so many shots, processing the RAW was not going to be feasible so jpg again won the day. In both the cases though, the crucial element was that I didn’t need a much creative control over the scene as I did with a landscape or flower macro photograph, I was purely documenting what was happening at that particular time.

So, that’s my take on the debate. If you need the creative control, which I do most of the time, RAW is the perfect choice. If you documenting an event and it’s more important to rattle off shots on high speed drive rather than control ever last pixel then jpg makes a lot more sense.

I’m sure this is a debate that will run and run as long as cameras give us the option of which format to use, it’d be interested though to hear your thoughts on the subject!


Photographing the Forth Bridges – a quick location guide

Photographing the Forth Bridges is but like the old adage, of painting the Forth Bridge, i.e. it’s a never ending job. I’ve been photographing them regularly for the last 2 years and still find inspiration and new views every time I get down there.

With the size of the structures they are visible from many location but here I’ll deal with some of the closer spots to investigate both bridges, all with easy access especially if you have a car.

So lets start with the South Queensferry side first, if your coming from Edinburgh, simply head west and follow the signs for the Forth Road Bridge, once on the A90, take the turn off to South Queensferry and follow to road down into the town, you’ll see the bridges after approx 2 miles.

As you approach the bridges you’ll see the lifeboat station, to your right is a small single track road, head down here first and follow the road for about 100m. You’ll come to an open area with plenty parking and the rail bridge should be on your left. From there you can photograph it from the top of the bank or if your feeling fit and the tide is out, head to the left of the wall, there’s a gap here to let you down onto the beach. These are all shots taken from that location:

Forth Bridge Misty Sunset - Explored

Forth Bridge Spans

From here, head back the way to came and park more or less under the rail bridge, again some nice views from here on on the small beach in front of you. You can also walk down the pier.

Typical views from this location:

Forth Bridge Light Trail

Boat and Bridge

From here, head past the lifeboat station and you’ll get to the main promenade, loads of parking here but it gets very busy in the summer and at weekend. From here you can photograph either bridge or even both together with the right lens. With the tide out, down on the pebble beach here is a good location.

Forth Bridges Panorama

Forth Rail Bridge Long Exposure

Forth Road Bridge at night

Now, head into South Queensferry itself, you’ll come to a small parking area, from here you get a better wide angle view of the rail bridge.

Forth Bridge and fluffy clouds - Explored

Our final location of the south side of the bridges is just along the road. If you can, park up where the road comes to a junction, near the Orocco Pier pub. There’s also a small car park over the junction and to the right but it’s always very busy. Walk though and you’ll find a small harbour, you can either photograph from here or walk to the left and you’ll find the small car park where there are lot of locations to get either bridge.

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored

Boats and Bridge

If your really lucky, there might be a cruise boat in and moored up near the rail bridge:

Westerdam at the Bridge
Ok, so now you have a mass of shots from the south side of the bridge, it’s time now to head to North Queensferry and get the bridges from the other side.

Head up the hill out of South Queensferry and turn right at the top of the road, go round the roundabout and onto the Road Bridge. Cross the bridge and take the first exit after you cross it and follow the signs to North Queensferry. Follow the small road down into the village. Keep following it and and eventually just past the junction for Deep Sea World you’ll see a small pub, head off to the left towards the rail bridge. You can park here near the entrance to the bridge works.

From here you can get either bridge:

Forth Road Bridge from the North

Forth Rail Bridge

Forth Road Bridge and South Queensferry

Once your done here, head back the way you came and at the junction turn left towards the pier. You’ll be able to park near the anchor statue. You can get the rail bridge here or walk down the pier (at low tide) and get the road bridge.

Anchor and Bridge

Forth Road Bridge Sunset

From here, head back out the village and on the way up the hill on your left after you pass under the road bridge is a turn off that takes you up the the Bridges Hotel. Drive in and park just as you get into the upper bit of the carpark. Just to the side of the door/conference area there is a path heading up to the right. Follow this and you’ll get to the bridges viewpoint. This is a perfect area to photograph the road bridge, especially at night.

Forth Road Bridge Light Trails

Forth Road Bridge

While you’re here, you can take the stairs to the left and go under the road bridge and back up on the other side, access is restricted on this side but you can get a view over North Queensferry to the rail bridge. It’s also possible to walk along the road bridge on the other side from this location.

Forth Rail Bridge from the Road Bridge

So there you go, a quick snapshot of EASY locations to photograph the bridges. Of course with a little scouting around there are hundreds more but there are all easy to get to with (usually) plenty parking. You could do the whole lot in a couple of hours if you felt the need!


In defence of HDR photography

Let me, from the start; make it clear that I’m a huge fan of HDR photography. I love it, I love the effect it has and I very much enjoy creating HDR images. What I’m less keen on is the way HDR is heavily frowned up by some more experienced photographers.

For those of you who don’t know, HDR photography is High Dynamic Range photography. Put simply, you will take at least 3 images, one properly exposed, one over exposed and one under exposed. Then using software such as the newer versions of Photoshop or Photomatix Pro you combine all 3 exposures to create an image that contains so much lighting information that you could ever achieve with a single shot.

Not quite an accurate technical description but enough to give people who don’t know HDR a fair idea of what it is.

From the first time I ever seen an HDR image I loved the technique. It can make, in some cases, a very average photograph something special. It can rescue a shot taken in dull light and give it life and vibrance. And it’s this, which some people object to.

Me however, I cannot see anything wrong with taking an average photograph and making it a stunning photograph via a fairly simple digital technique. There are times when HDR just works and others that you should use a more traditional technique.

I’ve spent the last 5 months learning all about proper filters having invested in a p-series filter system and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. It’s also been, at times, frustrating as I tried to get to grips with this new technique. This is how the HDR doubters will take their shots and while I can see some advantages is it right to restrict yourself to only using the filter techniques when you have the creative advantages of HDR at your disposal as well?

Let me give you an example. This was a shot taken in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh. It was taken with a circular polarising filter and a ND0.6 soft graduated filter, and to me this shot was near perfect.

Princes Street Gardens

However, the day before I was at the same location and in more difficult lighting conditions I took another shot, which I eventually turned into an HDR.

Princes Street Gardens - Explored

Now, I much prefer the first shot of the 2. BUT, I was recently approached by a greetings card company looking to licence some of my images, I gave them both of these for approval and which one did they want? The HDR one.

Let’s take another example. The famous Calton Hill in Edinburgh shot at sunset, firstly, taken with a circular polarising filter and a 0.9ND soft grad.

Calton Hill Sunset 11 October 2010 - Explored

And now for an HDR version of the same shot:

Calton Hill Sunset 31 August 2010 - Explored

Guess which one the greetings card company wanted from these 2? Yes, the HDR one.

Now, I’m not saying that EVERY shot you take you should take with HDR in mind but why can it not be part of your photographic armoury just the same as taking a stack of filters out with you? What’s SO wrong about enhancing an average image with HDR, don’t we enhance every image we take in photo editing software somehow?

If HDR isn’t your thing, then fine, that’s your right but please, don’t dismiss the technique as a lower art form.

I’ll leave you with a few of my favourite HDR images of Edinburgh and I’d love to see what everybody else thinks about HDR in the comments?

Dean Village in summer - Explored
Dean Village, Edinburgh, Spring 2010

Forth Bridge Spans
Forth Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Cramond sunset
Boats moored at the mouth of the River Almond, Cramond, Edinburgh

Calton Canon Sunset - Explored
Calton Hill Cannon at sunset, Edinburgh

Forth Road Bridge sunset - Explored
Forth Road Bridge, South Queensferry, Edinburgh

Union Canal boathouse - Explored
Ashley Boathouse, Union Canal, Harrison Park, Edinburgh