Wildlife Photography on the River Dart and Using Different File Formats for Photography

May 12, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

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Whilst working down on our nature reserve on Dartmoor I was cutting some of the brambles back and I accidently disturbed a Common Frog. This is another bit of wildlife to add to the growing list. The Fox seems to have disappeared which is a shame because I was hoping that it might have cubs. I love foxes, I know foxes cause a lot of damage and get persecuted, but humans cause a lot more and nothing happens to them!


I went out early on Saturday morning to my wildlife photography area that is the furthest away from my house. I went there to see if there were any Cuckoos about. The weather was supposed to turn wet but it was bright and clear so I decided to go. I walked around a bit with no luck with the cuckoos but I noticed a couple of Grey Wagtails on the river Dart that were flying around catching insects. I watched them for a while gradually inching closer. When they flew slightly down river I walked into the river and sat on a boulder which was quite low down. In fact the water went over my boots and I was only sitting about an inch above the waterline. I settled there waiting and hoping the grey wagtails would return, which they did. I started photographing their antics and the weather turned reducing my shutter speed to under 350th sec which does not stop a bird in flight. The rain started to get heavier and heavier so I undid my coat to cover and protect my camera gear. I must have looked a sight sat on a wet rock in a river with the water lapping over my boots and getting soaking wet but I was happy. The weather did not stop the grey wagtails and I was happy just watching their antics, am I sad? When the rain slowed and the light increased I resumed photographing them. I could not get any flight shots because a Canon 1dx + 500mm f4 lens + a 1.4 converter is just too heavy to handhold and move quickly. I will return next week with my tripod and gimbal head to try and get some flight shots, if they are still here.


You read in photographic magazines and hear from professional photographers and friends that you should not shoot in JPG you should shoot in RAW. But have you ever wondered why? When it comes down to it the choice is if you want to work on, manipulate, your photos in Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop or some other post processing software and enhance them, then you should shoot in RAW but if you don't and are happy with what the camera does to your images then shoot in JPG. There are pros and cons for both and you have to choose what works for you.


The JPG file format.

JPG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group and they are the people who created the standard. It is pronounced Jay Peg and it compresses your digital image file to make it smaller and take up less space on your hard drive. The way the compression works is that it takes similar tones of colour and makes them all the same colour, the trouble is you then get “banding”. Look at a JPG with an all blue sky to see what I mean. Because of this compression it is a lossy file format which means that every time you save it you will lose some of the data from the original image. Your camera can take your images in this format and you will be able to save more images (take more photos) to your card and because of the small file size you can also take more images when using high speed continuous shooting, my camera for instance can take up to 180 images in a burst compared to just 35 in RAW. To get the best out of this format you need to know how your camera works because your camera does a lot of the work, setting and getting the right exposure and white balance, because you cannot change them once you have taken the image. As it is an open standard format it can be viewed by nearly any web browser and image processing software. The exposure of your image has got to be spot on as there is very little post processing that can be done on a JPG image. One of the biggest cons is that a JPG image is only 8 bit which means you can only have up to 256 tones for each colour (red, green and blue). To get the maximum total amount of tones available in your image you have to multiply the three colours together which add up to 16,777,216 tones in your image which is about the same amount of tones a human eye can detect. Sounds good but read on.


The RAW file format.

RAW means it is the unprocessed, not manipulated, raw image file from that particular camera and all camera manufacturers make their RAW files different even different RAW files for each model. Because of this difference not all post processing software will be able to read the files until an update is available. This is a big problem for software companies especially with brand new camera models. The manufacturers get around it by giving their own post processing software with the camera. It is a “What You See Is What You Get” file, in other words whatever your lens sees you will get that information in the RAW file. If you try to have a look at a RAW file it will be a mess because it is just data and not an image but it has all the information there just waiting to be transferred into an image. Because it has all this information it will be a bigger file than a JPG file but could be smaller than a TIFF file. You do not have to be spot on with your exposure, if fact it could be off by up to 3 stops but I never post process beyond 1 stop as I find it introduces artefacts in your image. The file can be saved in your camera’s maximum colour bit depth. My camera is 14bit which means that for each of the three colours I can have up to 16,384 tones in my image compared to 256 in JPG. Therefore the maximum amount of tones I can have in my image is a whopping 4,398,046,511,104. This means I can have smoother blending between tones compared to a JPG. Remember a human eye can only detect 16 million tones, but I would rather start my post processing with 4 trillion tones than just over the 16 million tones. Just think if you just crop 50% of your image you are down to only 8 million tones in JPG but you still have 2 trillion in RAW. Once you have post processed your RAW file you need to save it and I save it as a TIFF file as it keeps all the data.


The TIFF file format.

TIFF stands for Tagged Image File Format and again is an open standard format similar to JPG. But it is a lossless file format which means that it will save all your image data and it's for this reason it is very popular with artists, the publishing industry and photographers. It can be saved uncompressed or compressed using a lossless compression but both files are large compared to a JPG. If you save all your images as TIFF’s then you will need several large hard drives. Some cameras can take images in this format but they will be very slow, it is best to take them in RAW and change them in your post processing software. Because the file format keeps all your image data, it is very good when you want to manipulate or post process an image. TIFF files can be 16bit which means that it can have up to 65,536 tones for each colour compared to the JPG 256. This is great but most cameras are only 12 or 14bit at the moment.


There is another file format, PSD, you can save your RAW files to but I do not use it because it has compatibility issues. Having said that it is great for keeping all your history: - layers, masks, blend modes etc. as it is Photoshop based.


So which file format to use? I always shoot in RAW and then download my images to Lightroom. I go through the images deleting the ones that are not sharp, have a problem with or I just don’t like. The ones I process in Lightroom are then sent to Photoshop for final post processing. (See previous blog for details http://www.robinstanbridgephotography.co.uk/blog/2016/2/how-i-post-process-my-wildlife---nature-photographs-part-1) I then save them as a 16bit TIFF file so I keep all the information. But I also save them as a JPG to put on my website. The most annoying thing about all of this is that us photographers are losing a lot of data because in the end you have got to save your image as an 8bit JPG to use it anywhere because Monitors, Printers and Projectors can only view JPGs! Photographic equipment has moved on but computers have not. Happy Hunting (with a camera).


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