Skip to main content

My 1st big camera mistake

I remember the first couple batches of coffee I ever roasted myself. You learn. And last weekend, there were some ugly-looking sheep that I sent off to the pens with what I called "starter sweaters" still on them. Rather than baby-smooth fuzz balls, they looked like poodles with tufts of wool here and there. I'd been hacking through the debris-filled top layer instead of next to their hides where the wool comes off easily. (You have to keep the comb and blade directly against their skin.)

Photography is the same way.

I'd been reading guide after guide about the merits of shooting in one format vs another. And many, many of the experts where I'd been following their advice on other matters suggested using raw files for the ability to edit later. (For Nikon, it's actually a .nef) It's a bigger file which means you can shoot fewer photos on one memory card, but it gives you the flexibility to process each image yourself...if you want to. The key word being "if."

For those of you not hip to the world of digital photography, the camera essentially takes in light and--depending on your camera--you can do one of 3 things to it. Save the data directly to storage without any adjustments, let the camera do in-camera processing before storage (jpeg), or you can do both. Think of the raw data as a digital negative and the jpeg version as the print. The theoretical problem with letting the camera do the print is that it throws away whatever data it didn't use. So it's harder to do post-camera editing. Of course, my camera is capable of storing both a raw + jpeg file at the same time for each photo. But imagine the space that eats!

With me so far? Good. I get the logic. Shoot in raw and you have an original to work with via your computer's photo software. It sounds lovely. So I took my camera out to a local architectural district and did some absolutely gorgeous, sunny day photos of homes and some squirrels in the park. Great shots I was excited to share! But then I put my memory card into the computer. Nowhere in all those "shoot in raw!" expert opinions did I get a warning that all your photos would turn out dull, colorless, and each one needing major adjustments.

After a few minutes of attempted editing, I did some Googling to try to educate myself about the problem. If only I'd read the alternative views first! Turns out, I'm definitely not the type who wants to meticulously sit on my computer with 100 photos and fix the shadows and brightness of each file. It also turns out that most raw files need an average level of editing to get them to the same level of fine detail your camera probably would put on in the device. Especially when you've put up the money for a nice camera, I'm personally of the opinion that you should let it do the work it was designed to do. I get the utility of raw data for a certain kind of shooter. That's just not me.

Right now, I'm especially focused on my technique and building skills as a photographer WITH the camera. I'm not trying to build my editing skills. That may come later. But I'm firmly coming down on the shoot in jpeg side of the debate and already switched the camera settings over. Maybe I'll change my mind down the road and want both? We'll see. All I know is I was awfully disappointed and learned a powerful photography lesson that day.

Hang in there, I'll have some photos eventually. But rest assured, they won't involve an hour editing each batch. That's not fun.