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Dos and Don’ts in Photography

I composed this list of Dos and Don’ts after observing/experiencing certain practices in photography. I personally am guilty of doing some of these in the past or I’m still trying to kick off an old habit. Some things in this list annoy me more than they really should, some are mildly irritating and some I really like. Always keep in mind that photography is an artistic medium and you have the complete freedom to choose how your pictures turn out. You don’t have to please anyone else but you, unless you’re getting paid and then you have to please your client. What I list here are merely suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether you agree with them or not.

Disclaimer: This list is in no particular order. I didn’t group them into Dos and Don’ts. It should be pretty clear when you read them.

Extra memory cards

There is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t have couple of extra memory cards. They are dime a dozen these days. I think it’s good to have several memory cards than just one high capacity card because if your card get corrupted or lost or something like that (let’s be real, shit happens) you won’t be shooting until you get a new one. Plus you lose all of the pictures you haven’t downloaded so far. As of right now I carry three 8 GB cards. It’s more than enough for  what I do.

Don’t publish everything you take

My shutter count is nearing 40,000 now but I only have 287 pictures in my flickr account. Don’t be like those people who post a status “hanging out wit ma friendssssss!!!!” and 2 hours later “…. added 378 photos to the album College Freshman Yearrrrr <3 <3 <3”. It’s natural to take couple of shots of the same subject just to be sure. But nobody wants to see 50 pictures of the same subject from slightly different angles. Pick your favorite.

Develop your own style – know what type of a photographer you are

We all have other photographers we love. But copying someone else’s style completely does not help you to grow as a photographer. Being inspired or getting new ideas from other people are fine. It’s just that you can’t hope to reproduce every single thing they do. It also helps to realize what type of a photographer you are. It may take some time and you may even love several types of photography too. I personally enjoy landscape and wildlife photography. That does not mean I don’t occasionally do a portrait session though.

Shoot for yourself

Even if you’re a commercial photographer, taking some time to shoot some pictures for yourself can be very relaxing and rewarding. I don’t do commercial/professional photography (and by professional photography I mean I don’t get paid to take pictures). When you’re being paid to take pictures, you have to please your client to keep your business running. It’s fantastic if you have the complete freedom to be as creative as you want to be but sometimes you have to follow a specific set of instructions and you may not like the way pictures come out. If that’s the case, photography might soon turn into something that you have to do rather than something you want to do. Don’t let that happen to you.

Explore new areas

I know I said that it’s important to figure out what type of a photographer you are but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try out new things. I’m planning to try time lapse photography in the next couple of weeks and see how that turns out. It’s always fun to experiment.

Don’t compare “likes” or “favorites”

Likes, favorites, shares are big in social media. It’s unbelievable what some people do to get more likes and would do anything to see their pictures go viral. This does not limit to photography of course. Don’t try to compare how many likes you got on your picture and how many likes other people got. It doesn’t necessarily mean that your pictures are bad.

Ask for constructive feedback

This is one of the best ways to learn. Ask some experienced photographers what they think about your pictures. Don’t be discouraged by what they say. Some photographers hesitate to say anything bad about other’s works because some beginners take it the wrong way. Let them know that you want to hear what they really think. Give them the complete freedom and let them completely shatter your work of art into pieces (figuratively, of course). You learn so much more this way.

Leave constructive feedback

It’s important to leave constructive feedback whenever possible. It not only helps another person grow but it also helps build a better relationship with a fellow photographer. I almost always try to say what I like and don’t like about a picture rather than just saying “good shot”. Something I’ve seen recently in photography groups is that people say “nice try” and it’s usually the same person leaving that comment on all the pictures. What the heck does that even mean? For some reason “nice try, a**hole” comes to my mind. But other than that, does that mean it’s a good try but unsuccessful? It’s a good for nothing comment. Please don’t do that.

Don’t forget to say thank you and be respectful

While in most countries you can take pictures of anything you want as long as you’re in a public place, it’s a nice gesture to say thank you if you take a picture of a stranger, especially up close. If you behave disrespectfully somewhere, you might just ruin that place for all the future photographers. If someone asks you not to photograph something, try to abide by their request even if it’s in your right to take the picture. This of course depends on the situation.

Don’t wait for new gear to be “inspired”

Unfortunately, I know more than few people like this. Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to start taking amazing pictures as soon as you get that one lens you really want. Don’t fall into this trap. When you finally get that lens, they will come up with a new that you’d want. There is so much you can do with a simple camera. If you don’t believe me, ask Google to show you some pictures taken with mobile phones and compact digital cameras.

Avoid clichés (like the plague)

Clichés are rather popular among beginners, and for a good reason too. The first thing you do when you pick up your DSLR for the first time is look for subjects. Hmmm what should I take pictures of? Flowers in the garden of course. We all know flowers are pretty and it’s okay to take pictures of those. But it gets a little old very soon. Everyone does this. I did and the photographers you admire probably did it too. It is very easy to be mesmerized by the shallow depth of field your camera can produce. It is probably the first change you’re going to notice if you’ve been shooting with a point and shoot. It is much easier to achieve a shallow DoF with a DSLR. It is not limited to flowers of course. You will see tons and tons of pictures of small objects with blurry backgrounds. This is the period where the photographer thinks he or she is an amazing photographer. Don’t get stuck there. Get out of that phase as soon as possible. You will learn much more and actually will become an amazing photographer. This does not mean that you should avoid the said subjects completely. It’s a good place to start and practice your techniques. Just kind of not so good when you keep posting hundreds of similar pictures.

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I took this picture a while ago. You might have seen billions of pictures like this. There is nothing new or special about it. It’s fun but photographically worthless.

Know the right tool and the technique for the job

Different situations call for different tools. For instance, zooming in is not the same as walking closer. Sometimes it’s good to use a long lens to capture an intimate moment if you think that your presence might ruin the moment. But sometimes it’s good to walk closer to capture the details. Planning what you intend to capture ahead of time will save you a lot of time.

“Bro, this is the best camera”

It’s natural for people to ask help before they buy a camera. But why is it that there is always someone who has a definite answer for this question even before whoever asked the question explain what his or her intentions are? More often than not, the same person cannot contain the excitement and has to say “bro” after every other word. Always give unbiased advice (even if you’re a fan of a certain camera brand) and avoid the people who give you these kind of advice.

Fake lens flare, textures, and vintage filters

If there is no lens flare in your pictures, it probably doesn’t belong there either. Adding fake lens flare with photoshop looks, well, fake. It is rare to see a picture looking good with fake lens flare. Textures are very tricky. I’m not talking about taking pictures of textures but using textures as overlays. Only a very few people can actually pull this off properly. It takes a lot of practice to blend the light just right. Vintage filters are overused everywhere. Not all of your pictures have to look old. I admit, it’s fun to play with filters. I do it too. But those pictures end up in instagram not in my portfolio.

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Hey look that’s a cartoonized version of myself. Ended up in instagram.

Selective coloring

This is again one of those things that rarely works well. I have like two or maybe three pictures I used this technique. Needless to say, they didn’t turn out well. I’ve seen a lot of prom pictures especially with selective coloring. When you desaturate the image and mask out the tie and the vest and the flowers, that’s where you focus your attention on. Not the important part.

Over done HDR

It is evident that most people don’t really understand what HDR actually is. This technique demands a significant technical knowledge. Sure it stands for High Dynamic Range but that doesn’t mean they HAVE to look grunge and over saturated. If that’s intentional, it’s okay but that’s not what HDR is supposed to look like. I’m talking about the pictures with a lot of ghosting, misalignment, and still considerably over exposed. That defeats the purpose of HDR. 

Too much vignetting

All your pictures have a little bit of vignetting naturally which can easily be removed using Camera RAW. I add a very small amount of vignetting if the edges look like they are burnt out. But when you push it to the extreme it looks like you’re looking through a scope.

Not everything looks good in black and white

We use the term “black and white” very loosely. Almost all the picture we call black and white are actually grayscale pictures. B&W pictures should only contain black and white just like the name suggests. Anyway, there should be a reason for you to convert your pictures to black & white. Usually high contrast pictures look good in B&W but not all.

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This doesn’t look good in B&W. The picture itself is rather ordinary.

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This one on the other hand looks better in B&W

Don’t use the on camera flasher head-on

I’m not completely against flashers. I use a flasher too. But using the on camera flasher head on usually produce unflattering results. It’s true that sometimes you can’t help it. It’s good to take the picture than not having a picture at all. If possible, invest in an external flasher. You can get a third party flasher for very cheap and you can easily bounce the flasher off of a nearby wall or a ceiling. That would give you much better results. When you use the flasher head on, it flattens the image and you lose the sense of depth. If you have to use the on camera flasher, use a diffuser. You don’t need special diffusers. You can even use a tissue paper to diffuse the light or if you don’t want to hold a tissue paper all the time you can cut out an old film reel case to fit your on camera flasher. It works wonders.

Don’t shoot under direct sunlight

When you take pictures under direct sunlight, you get washed out colors, harsh shadows, and squinty eyes. Look for a shade when possible. I know you don’t always get to shoot during the golden hours. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of the surroundings. Using reflectors can help even out the light and prevent harsh shadows.

Pay attention to details

It’s amazing the level of details you see when you get a little closer. You don’t always have to fill your frame with the entire subject.

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Details are important

“I’ll fix it later in photoshop”

Photoshop is a very powerful tool. But that doesn’t mean you always have to rely on it. When you look through the view finder and see something out of the place, don’t think that you’re going to fix it later. It’s much easier to compose your shot differently if possible or just make the necessary adjustment. Sometimes you have to use photoshop to fix something you weren’t able to manipulate physically but not always.

Do print your pictures

I believe I said this multiple times. Print your pictures, preferably large and thank me later.

Don’t shoot too much

I don’t mean taking a lot of pictures in general. That’s a good thing. I mean taking 100 pictures of the same subject just to be sure. If you spend a little time before you click the shutter button, you will save a lot of space and time going through those pictures later. I used to take a lot of pictures. I mean a LOT. I went on a 3 day vacation couple of years ago and I took around 8000 pictures. I ended up with a handful of useful ones. Last year I travelled to Las Vegas, Arizona, and California but only took less than 500 pictures in total. Cutting back the amount of useless pictures is very important. We all take bad pictures, even the most experienced photographers do.

Noisy is better than blurry

Don’t be afraid to crank up your ISO if you don’t have enough light to take the picture. Trying to handhold a camera in very low shutter speeds almost always cause camera blur. Noise can be fixed but blurry pictures will always be blurry. I think I saw a plug-in recently that claims it can fix blurry pictures though I don’t know all the details yet.

Do carry a tripod and a remote release

You won’t even realize how much these two simple things can improve your pictures until you start using them. Tripod and a remote release open up a whole new level of creativity.

Know when to ignore technicalities

While it’s very important to know how to properly expose a picture, it’s so easy to get lost in the technical details. I’m guilty of this and I often forget what’s really important in a picture. As a result, I end up with high quality crap more often than I like to admit.

“Unedited”

I don’t know why some people tend to publish pictures with the caption “unedited”. You chose to publish it that way. Is the viewer supposed to imagine how it would look like if it was edited and stand in awe? Publishing unedited pictures is completely fine but that caption is unnecessary. It feels like the photographic equivalent of publishing a picture with the caption “I’m so ugly”.

Composition is the key

Yes, rule of thirds and rule of space. But there’s a lot more. Changing the composition even slightly can have a significant impact on the final product.

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These two pictures were taken merely seconds apart. Look how different they are!

Do learn to use post production software

Learning how to use post production software is vital. Instead of trying to master all the available software out there, it’s more productive to stick with one or two. They basically do the same thing in the end. They should be used as tools to further enhance your pictures rather than as a fall back to save terrible snapshots.

Never trust your LCD

Your camera LCD can be very misleading. It appears brighter and has more contrast than there really is. Instead learn how to read a histogram. That is a very powerful tool and it represents your pictures very accurately.

Bracket your shots

When in doubt, bracket your shots. This gives you a greater range to work on later. You might even be able to combine the shots later to an HDR image. Having a tripod comes in handy here.

Filters and hoods

It’s important to protect your expensive lenses. The main reason why I have filters and hoods on is for protection. As a bonus, they also prevent stray light from hitting the image sensor. When buying filters, invest in high quality filters. You can buy very cheap UV filters but they usually cause ghosting (light reflected from the lens bounces back to the filter and reflects some of that light into the image sensor).

Add movement

Waterfalls, light trails, and start trails are popular but those are not the only occasions where you can add movement to your pictures. Even a picture taken with a high shutter speed can still give you a sense of movement.

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A slow shutter speed is not always necessary to achieve a sense of movement.

Know when to accept defeat

Unfortunately not all of your pictures are going to turn out exactly how you intended. I know it can be frustrating but be satisfied with what you managed to capture rather than thinking of what you missed. You can always try tomorrow. There are many times I waited hours and hours to take pictures of something but came back empty handed. That never stopped me from trying again the next day.

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I took this picture of my baby sister when she was dancing outside. I would’ve loved to capture more of her hair but this is what I got in the moment. I could’ve asked her to pose but that would look fake.

Take a self portrait

Not #selfies. I mean a real self portrait. I personally hate to be in front of a camera. But I still managed to take some self portraits. When you’re your own subject, you get to learn a lot of things.

Watermarks and frames

I used to have a very small watermark and a frame but I gave up on them. I think they are distracting. None of the pictures I published within the last couple of years have a watermark or a frame. That’s my personal taste though.

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I didn’t really like the watermark anyway

Get high and low

Not with weed. That’s none of my business. Sometimes ordinary things seem more interesting when shot from above or below.

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Get high, if you know what I mean.

Sneak in a candid

There is no reason why you shouldn’t sneak in a candid shot or two even when you’re doing a planned portrait session. You might just be pleasantly surprised by what you get.

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Candids are the best

Ethics

Ethics in photography should be a post on its own but always keep in mind that specially when you’re photographing nature not to interfere with nature. Sure a spider web looks much more dramatic with water drops on it. If you want to take that picture, wake up early. Don’t spray water on it. You might be destroying someone’s home. Birds and other small animals make their nests somewhere predators can’t find or reach. If your actions expose those animals to their predators, I believe those pictures are worthless no matter how ‘good’ they come out. Leave nothing but footprints.

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RAW vs Jpeg – Which one is for you?

I think almost every photographer (including me) is at least a little bit guilty of telling people to shoot RAW. While learning how to shoot and process RAW is of utmost importance if you are to exploit the most out of your RAW capable camera, it may not be the best option for every situation. Let’s get straight down to business and see what these two really are.

RAW files are not really image files that can be viewed directly without a special software and the files are usually a proprietary format (the exception being Adobe’s DNG format). Canon’s RAW files have the .CR2 extension while Nikon’s RAW files have the .NEF extension. It is difficult to say how long these file formats will be supported by RAW reading/processing software. However, it’s safe to assume that whenever you buy a new camera, it will include a software to read its RAW files. The problem is that newer software may not support old RAW formats. Adobe claimed that they will always support their DNG format. So some people convert their RAW files into DNG files, which is a lossless conversion (no data lost during conversion, unlike JPEG compression). This can be easily done when you import your pictures into your computer if you’re using Adobe Bridge. Adobe also has a free DNG converter available. You can think of a RAW file as a digital negative. Thus it has to be developed (processed) in the same manner that you would develop a film negative. RAW files contain all the data captured by the image sensor which gives the photographer a wide range to work with during the development phase.

JPEG on the other hand is a universal format. You don’t need any special software to open them and they are readily available for printing straight out of the camera. They are fast and easy to handle but they lack some of the advantages that only RAW files offer. 

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Adobe Camera RAW 7.0 – The picture you see there is a RAW file straight out of the camera without any modifications. I sincerely apologize for cat pictures! I’m a dog person. It’s not even our cat but I digress.

Pros and Cons of Shooting RAW

  • You get all the possible data from the camera sensor.
  • If your white balance is off, it’s much easier to change it later.
  • Higher bit depth. Without going into technical details, this allows smoother transition between colors. Most DSLRs take 12 bit or 14 bit RAW whereas Jpegs are 8 bit.
  • Non destructive editing. Anything you do to a RAW file will be saved in a ‘sidecar’ .XMP file. However, when you’re editing Jpegs, you have to save an addition copy if you want to keep your original.
  • RAW files can be used as evidence. If you ever find yourself in a courtroom and need to prove that a picture belongs to you, providing the RAW file pretty much ends the argument in your favor. Let’s just hope it never comes to that.
  • Higher in dynamic range. If you shoot RAW, it’s much easier to recover underexposed or overexposed areas than shooting Jpegs. Although severely overexposed details are lost no matter what.
  • Pseudo HDR – This is where you make several different files with different exposures using a single RAW file and combining them together to achieve a better result. Of course real HDR will look better but sometimes we just don’t get the chance to bracket our shots the way we want. It’s good to have a fall back option. This is a task which could prove difficult for JPEGs to achieve.
  • Easier to battle with image noise.
  • RAW files take more space. A RAW file from a 15 MP camera would roughly take 15 MB. This of course depends on other settings like ISO etc. But with storage options being dime a dozen now, this shouldn’t pose much of a threat.
  • RAW files fill up the camera buffer faster. This may become a problem when shooting in the continuous mode. Since RAW files take more space, your camera buffer will be filled after you take a certain number of pictures. Then your camera has to stop and write those files to the memory card before you can shoot again. My camera clocks in at 9 RAW files before it needs to stop. This of course depends on the camera.
  • Requires special software to view and edit and is not suitable for printing directly. RAW files need to be processed before you do anything with them. You do need a relatively faster computer to edit RAW files since they contain a lot of data. Any modern computer should be able to handle RAW files with ease though.

Pros and Cons of Shooting JPEG

  • Smaller in size.
  • Can be printed directly.
  • No special software needed.
  • Can shoot a significantly higher number of Jpegs before it fills up the camera buffer.
  • JPEG is a universal format.
  • Camera does some processing for you.
  • Lower in dynamic range.
  • White balance data, color spacing data etc. are embedded to the JPEG. It’s difficult to correct white balance later with a JPEG than with a RAW file.
  • Some data are lost during the compression. Each time you open a jpeg and save, it goes through the compression process over and over again. It is advised that you keep the PSD file and export a jpeg whenever you need and if you want to make further changes, you can always fall back to the PSD file to prevent jpeg compression multiple times.
RAW vs JPEG

RAW vs JPEG comparison. These two were straight from the camera. On the left you can see the RAW image and on the right you can see the JPEG. It is obvious that when you compare these two images, the JPEG looks better. The camera did some processing for you. It appears a little brighter, sharper and there’s more contrast. So if you are not planning to process your pictures at all, shooting JPEG seems to be the better option. These two pictures were taken using the RAW + JPEG option which means they were taken at exactly the same time using exactly the same settings. The RAW file is 19.52MB compared to the 5.75MB JPEG. Click on the picture for a better view.

RAW vs JPEG 1

RAW vs JPEG processed comparison. The processed RAW image is on the left and the processed JPEG is on the right. Once they were loaded into Photoshop, both pictures went through exactly the same work flow. The only difference is that the RAW file was tweaked using Camera RAW before loading it into Photoshop. If you look closely, you might see a very subtle perspective difference too. This is because I applied the ‘lens correction profile’ to the RAW image. Whenever you take a picture, there is some distortion due to the lens. Shorter your focal length, higher the distortion. It can be easily corrected using Camera RAW. Since this was taken at 300mm, there is almost no distortion. You should be able to open your JPEGs using Camera RAW too but for some reason Adobe wasn’t letting me open it. I kept getting an error message. I did some research and it seems to be a common problem. While Camera RAW offers some control over your JPEGs, it won’t offer all the controls it does a RAW file. The processed RAW image is 9.53MB whereas the processed JPEG is 6.15MB. Click on the picture for a better view.

Now, after I processed the RAW files, I converted them to JPEGs to upload here. However, when you do, you lose the advantage of higher bit depth as it goes to being an 8 bit image. If you’ve noticed on the first screenshot up there, I loaded the RAW file into Photoshop as an 8 bit image (where it says Adobe RGB (1998); 8 bit; 4752 by 3168 (15.1MP); 240 ppi – you can click on this and open it as a 16 bit image) since I knew I was going to save it as a JPEG anyway. If you want to retain the higher bit depth, converting to a TIF file is the better option. Most professional printing services use TIF files (they will print JPEGs too of course). But if you’re getting your prints done in Walmart or printing them very small or both, don’t bother. So all of this depends on your needs. 

While during ideal situations where you have control over most elements (like studio lighting etc.), RAW offers little advantage over JPEGs. The further you drift away from ideal situations, and when speed and space is not a concern, shooting RAW is the best option in my personal opinion. In practice, you will be taking a lot of pictures in non ideal situations. I’m not going to go up to an angry charging elephant to hold up a gray card against it to get my white balance correct in camera. I seriously doubt he would be happy about it. I’d much rather spend an extra 30 seconds to correct my white balance during post processing. 

pseudo HDR

Here’s an example of a pseudo HDR I was talking about. On the right side you can see the original RAW file I used to make the pseudo HDR on the left. There was absolutely no way I would’ve achieved this level of details with a JPEG. I did not have a chance to bracket my shots here either as I took this shot while I was in a moving car. Click on the picture for a better view.

Which one is for you?

By now you should have realized that photography is a very subjective field since I mentioned it over and over again. Thus there is no one right or correct way to do things. Whether you will benefit from either RAW or JPEG depends on your needs. If having absolute precision is critical, RAW is the way to go. It offers a wide range of possibilities than JPEGs. This also means that you will probably have to sit and process through copious amount of RAW files. When you keep doing it, you will find easier ways, short cuts and it will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend with one RAW file. RAW is both the holy grail and the downfall of a beginner. As a beginner, you’re likely to make a lot of mistakes when shooting and that’s okay. But if you shoot RAW, much of that can be corrected during post processing. Now, this does not mean that horrible snapshots can be magically converted into world class photographs though. I know there’s a ‘get-everything-right-in-camera’ group. Sure, if you can get everything right in the camera, that is absolutely fantastic and you will get there eventually. But I personally am not there yet. So I shoot RAW. The reason why RAW could be the downfall of a beginner is because the work flow can appear overwhelming at first and even your processed RAW files may look worse than your camera processed JPEGs. But don’t be discouraged. You can only learn by doing it. A while ago, Adobe released a free version of CS2. So if you don’t want to pay a lot of money for software, that may be a good starting place. You are going to have to make a free account with Adobe to download this or you can pick it up from numerous links available throughout the internet. I’m not entirely sure what type of RAW files are supported in CS2 however.

If your pictures are only going to end up in social media and you don’t intend to make and large prints, shooting JPEGs may save you a lot of time. If you’re taking pictures for a craigslist ad, there’s no need to shoot RAW either. Some action photographers resort to JPEGs to save the camera buffer from clocking in early. Some wedding photographers shoot JPEGs just because they don’t want to sit through 2000 RAW files. An untrained eye won’t be able to tell the difference between a properly shot JPEG and a processed RAW image.

As you can see both formats are useful in their own way. I set my camera to RAW couple months after I bought it and it hasn’t been changed since. But that’s my personal choice. I prefer the range it gives me to work with. I make large prints from my pictures for exhibitions and RAW files give me exactly the controls I need over an image. Shooting RAW however doesn’t make you a ‘professional’ (whatever that means) over night.

Modern DSLRs offer the possibility of shooting RAW + JPEGs at the same time. Why don’t people use this and end the debate once and for all? Because it takes a lot more space and while it may be the best option when it comes to the range of possibilities, it can be confusing as hell at times. You will have two files with the same file name and can be difficult to organize your files etc. This is a good option if you want to compare RAW and JPEGs because it will make the both files exactly the same time using the same settings like my examples above. It also comes in handy if you want to display/print something immediately but still want the option to process them in your leisure. This is however a terrible option when shooting in the continuous mode.

What do other people think?

Ken Rockwell says why he “never shoots RAW” and Petteri Sulonen makes his point on shooting RAW. It seems like much of Ken’s examples are rather old. He mentions how his friend was filling up his 256MB card so fast because of shooting RAW. I doubt anyone is using 256MB cards anymore. You can still buy them for like $5 from Amazon but at the same time, a 16GB card is only around $10. So why would you? Like I said before, space is no longer an issue. Ken also mentions something I disagree on; “Which should you shoot? If you have to ask then just shoot JPEG”. Unfortunately most of us were not born with all the photographic knowledge. I know I was not. I learned everything I know today by talking to experienced photographers, reading, and practicing. Nonetheless, both are interesting articles and I will leave it up to you to decide which one is best for you.