Posts Tagged ‘raw’

Taking a look at the most popular shots over the last week, this low-angle shot of a sugar cane carriage on a railway track sits top of the pile at the moment.

Sugar Cane Railway Carriage

A sugar cane car, full of produce, sits on a cane railway track in Queensland, flanked by its neighbouring cane cars.

Story Behind the Shot

Criss-crossing Northern Queensland, Australia, is a network of narrow gauge railway tracks that serve the vast sugar cane plantations in this sticky, humid environment. The railways are clearly king here: even the main road artery in this neck of the woods – the Bruce Highway route 1 – is carved by diagonal and perpendicular railway, slashing its way as it sees fit across the tarmac and bush. Road traffic is at the mercy of the Cane Trains. Sandwiched between the ferocious ocean waves of the Coral Sea and the sudden mountainous folds that keep the outback at bay is territory owned by sugar as far as the land is flat. In every one of the harvest seasons, empty cane carriages are deposited by fields, waiting to be filled with produce before rolling heavily to one of the giant sugar mills nearby to be chopped, boiled and refined into packages big and small for onward sale.

I like the rawness of it all. There is no prettiness here, no neat ordered lines as you would find on a passenger railway, or even a freight railway in a built up area. No sweeping curves to navigate around long-standing buildings or outcrops, no impressive engineering and artistry creating bridges and tunnels to carry the trains smoothly through busy cities. It is the simplest and quickest way of getting cane from point A to point B – raw cane, transported the raw way. I like that the carriage is a dull, dirty kind of mustard yellow – not dissimilar in colour to the cane it carries, and certainly not prettified or scrubbed up for anyone else’s benefit. I like that the cane has just been dumped into the car – no pretty levelling off at the top, no nice lid to keep the contents hidden. The rusty undercarriage is clear, as is the unkempt sidings and rails running alongside. This is functional and minimal.

Some technical and artistic notes

I wanted to provide a single clear subject that captured the raw functionality of the ‘blood vessels’ of Northern Queensland, and loved the pale browns and yellows of the recently harvested cane. When driving past this train of carriages that seemed to be painted in the same rough and ready ‘cane colour scheme’, I wanted to create the uncluttered, single-subject image, but also be aware that this is one long network: a rail system that snakes from one plantation to another; from one mill to another; from one community to another. This network is the circulatory system of a huge area of Queensland, and that sinewy outstretching feel should not be discounted in the name of creating a ‘clean’ shot. It was important to include hints of the neighbouring carriages when framing the shot. They allude to continuity, to the long stretching veins of the cane industry, without drawing focus from the dirty rough colours and lines of the single cane car. The inclusion of the foreground rails reinforce this notion of never-ending networks – and highlight the raw untidiness of the bush around the train. A wide angle was used to distort the rails – a similar image with level, flat, parallel lines did not make the grade simply because it appeared too contrived; too perfect, for this whole area of Australia.

What do you see? Rough and rural, or an unclean inefficiency? Remind you of something else?

What is RAW?

Many cameras now offer this option: once the reserve of expensive SLRs, it is now available on mid-range compacts too. It is basically the setting that captures all data that the sensor ‘sees’ without processing or compressing into an alternative file format, such as JPEG. When shooting in a JPEG (also called JPG) mode, your camera takes all the data from the sensor and processes it before saving the file. In order to save on file size, this process cheats with colours, by merging adjacent similar colour pixels together into the same hue, saturation and brightness.┬áHere’s 5 reasons why I use RAW, plus one reason why I occasionally don’t!

1. Edit the exposure, as though you were at the scene

Because the RAW file includes all data captured by the sensor, you can change the exposure on your computer at any time without degrading the quality of the image. When changing the exposure settings on JPGs, you are actually losing quality – especially if increasing the exposure. When doing so on a RAW file, you are effectively overwriting sensor information (on a copy of the file – not on your camera!) pixel by pixel, ensuring that degradation does not occur at post-processing level.

2. Edit the white balance, as though you were at the scene

If you’ve ever looked at a photograph and wondered why the colours were not how they appeared in real life, or that the deep blue sea has turned out a pale grey dishwater shade, or the snow is dull and flat – you were either looking at the original scene through eternally optimistic rose-tinted glasses, or more likely – you had the white balance wrong. Most modern cameras are pretty good at automatically guessing the white balance, so you can be absolutely forgiven when they occasionally get it wrong. If you shoot RAW – you can edit this later on the computer as though you were editing it at the scene. The beauty of doing it at your computer rather than at the scene is that you can take your time, and are not relying on the inferior camera preview LCD (which is often displaying a temporary JPG anyway).

3. Non-destructive editing

When you open a JPG and re-save it, you are also degrading the image a little bit. If you make changes to that JPG, the changes themselves degrade the image quality, and of course cannot be undone once the JPG is saved (copies of files aside). With RAW files, any opening, saving and re-opening does not result in any quality loss – and any changes you make to the RAW file don’t actually overwrite anything on the original file; they are simply instructions on how the next export to JPG or whatever should be handled. At any time, these changes can be reset to revert to the original file.

4. Finer colour handling

RAW handles many more colours than JPEG – with many more levels of brightness within each tint. For each colour tint in JPEG, up to 256 levels of intensity can be applied. With RAW, there can be up to over 16,000 levels of intensity. This means that banding and streaks (called posterisation – often seen in low quality skies) are far less common, and certainly infinitely easier to treat, with RAW. This is a hugely important consideration when printing images.

5. Raw is Power!

For two reasons. Which is cheating slightly, I know – but 5 was a nice round number. Firstly, if you hold the RAW file and only display and distribute exported JPEGs or whatever other image files in public, you have a clear ownership claim should you ever need to – special software is required to view RAW files, and so they cannot be used as images embedded within a webpage. Secondly, if you are lucky enough to be selling the rights to your image to a publication – a picture editor may wish to use your RAW in order to get the best output for the page they want to print. If you’re selling the exclusive rights to an image permanently, the RAW files are kind of like the title deeds to your house. Your buyer will certainly appreciate the raw sensor data rather than yours or your camera’s interpretation of how that sensor data should be processed and presented.

1 Reason not to use RAW

OK, I am being a little biased here, as there are a few reasons why you would not want to use RAW, but then there are a few other reasons why you would want to, so there.

RAW takes up a lot of room on your SD, CF, HD, SSD or whatever other acronym you’re using to store files. Because it takes up a lot of room, it takes longer to deal with them; from how many shots per second you can fire off on the camera, to file transfers, to loading an image to tweak on your computer. Because RAW files have to be processed using software before they can be shared or displayed on the web, there is another necessary step in the workflow. If you are taking lots and lots of shots in a day, or need to quickly get the images to a client (I’ve had weddings where I am leaving the country the following day, and so simply did not have the time to process RAWs) – JPG may be the only possible option.

Unless I’m firing off tons of action shots, or need to turnaround a large number of images extremely quickly, I shoot RAW – and you should too.