Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Why am I shooting RAW?

Going through shots today in DXO, editing them for distribution to a client from a mess of RAW files requiring cumbersome editing, I came across a few JPG images captured in tandem and had a weird sort of epiphany. Why exactly am I shooting RAW?

Perhaps it's simply a facet of DXO Optics Pro's preview rendering, RAW files are clearly sub-sampled and look like garbage next to a JPG, but even exported none of the adjustments I make with a majority of my real estate work tend to benefit much from the latitude offered in RAW. Olympus is notorious for their stellar JPG processing engine, and most of the time I end up liking the JPG images I render in-camera from RAW files better than the RAW files themselves with editing. There's a quality to the in-camera tonality that I've never been able to reproduce with so much going on behind the scenes that even a Lightroom camera profile isn't able to completely reproduce. So why am I taxing myself, spending so much time massaging RAW files to create a deliverable image when patience in the process of the capture and smart manipulation of color profiles effectively accomplishes the same thing?

Were more of my work on the higher end of real estate and interior design, I would be investing the time to work images heavily, taking advantage of the dynamic range otherwise buried deep in the shadows and highlights of RAW file data. But that is not my business model. I've built value in my business by being quick in my turnaround of images, not for sake of post-processing prowess. I'm not particularly convinced there is any recognized value perceived in the processing I run my work through. So why am I even doing it when I'm adept enough with the manipulation of the JPG engine in-camera to produce an immediate high grade product? Barring superstitious wariness associated with the remarkably unlikely "what if" scenarios wherein a RAW would be beneficial, I don't really know.

Ultimately, I've come to this dumbfounding realization that I should perhaps back away from shooting RAW for absolutely everything. Or at least I should migrate to JPG + RAW capture, but I'm pretty convinced the only function of those RAW files will be to ensure I keep the likes of Seagate and Western Digital in business buying mountain of hard drives on which to store heaps of useless data. I'm firing off hundreds of thousands of frames annually and consuming terabytes of disk space with files inevitably saved as JPG images anyway, so why am I not being smarter about my process and simply getting rid of the middle man? I have neither the time nor the interest in massaging hundreds of RAW files weekly in futile attempt to massage low-end real estate photography into passable works of art. That's just stupid, these are images for business, not art.

This next weekend I'm dedicated to this idea of getting the image effectively perfect straight out of the camera. I'm tired of this shot-by-shot editing process sucking up hours of my time to accomplish effectively the same thing before default RAW profiles rub away all the work invested in getting the shot right when taken. These are houses and apartments I'm photographing, they hold still and I have nothing but time to ensure they present in a photo the way I mean for them to present, vastly different from laborious artistic processing or needed latitude in captured data for sake of massaging the imperfections out of a candid portrait. The FOMO (fear-of-missing-out) attitude does not realistically apply here, and the benefits to my mental sanity for reduced processing time, as well as benefit to my customers in the form of even higher turnaround times in product delivery, present no downsides. It's simply a matter of confidence. Confidence that I am, in fact, skilled enough to get the image right at the very moment of the taking (which I have), and the confidence that I will not fall victim to supposed "what if" scenario considerations (which I need to build).

I want to say it's a gamble to commit to this headfirst dive into process change so sharply, but it's hard to even quantify or present rationale for what I'd supposedly be gambling. I'm reclaiming personal time for personal work, enhancing the primary benefit of my business model for my current client base, and saving hundreds on expansive backup systems by not constructing mountains of under-utilized RAW image data. This may be the most important business decision I have ever made, like a legacy company moving away from paper copy for the enormous benefits of soft-copy-only workflows. Efficiency in its most basic form.

Sharp, clear, balanced toning. What else could I have been looking for in RAW?