Why we don't shoot and edit jpegs / Why don't we shoot and edit jpegs?

A different approach

I edited and published the photo above recently. It was a shot I took a few weeks ago at the Peka Peka Wetlands just south of Hastings in Hawke’s Bay.

I thought it would be a good shot to write a blog about, and show the before and after of the shot, and to show just how much the look and feel of an image can be changed in post processing to create the look that actually existed on the day.

Below is the image straight out of the camera.

A different approach

The scene in front of me at the time I shot this did not look like this image above.

There are many reasons why camera struggle to get the ‘feel’ of an image correct in camera. The main reason is that cameras are designed to capture an image of an ‘average’ situation correctly ( ie good daylight and good contrast ), which normally means they struggle when the scene being captured is not normal, such as a dull misty winters morning about 1/2 hour before sunrise.

And this is the main reason why the world of post processing images exists: cameras do not always get the photo looking right without additional help from a human brain.

And for this reason most online guides, and so called experts, will insist that the way to get your images looking the way the scene looked on the day, or to create the ‘feel’ in the image that you want to portray, is to shoot photos in RAW, ditch the image that the camera creates, and create a new jpeg image for sharing using your editing software of choice.

The main reason for shooting a RAW file, they say, is to have all of the information that the camera captured at the time and to make it possible to get the image you want at the end of the post processing. I won’t go into the details of a RAW file vs a jpeg, except to say that RAW files contain a lot more information about the scene being captured, at least 60 times the amount of information..

But I thought it would be interesting to challenge that thinking, and rather than edit the RAW file from the camera I would intentionally throw away the additional data in the RAW file and process the straight out of camera (SOOC ) jpeg image to see if I could get that image to match the scene that I saw when I took the photo, with less effort.

And I thought it would be more of a challenge to edit an image that looked so different in tone and ‘punch’ to the scene I was trying to capture, such as the jpeg above.

As I said above the RAW files my Fujifilm cameras produce have at least 60 times the information contained in the jpeg that is produced in camera for the same shot, but I have always thought that most of that extra information was never used by the post processing software ( for most images ) when creating the final image, and effectively was wasted.

And while the amount of data in a RAW file is larger than the camera produces in a jpeg, there are some things that the camera adds to the jpeg that are arguably done better than you can add in post production ( such as noise reduction and sharpening ).

So I was confident that I was going to be editing an image that a better starting position than that provided by the RAW image.

For this image I imported the SOOC jpeg into Lightroom and tweaked the image to get the look and feel that recreated the scene at the time, and then exported using my normal process.

So below is my SOOC jpeg and the processed SOOC jpeg side by side so you can see the differences between them.

And just for the record I also edited the RAW file from this photo, but to get the same look that I got below took a lot more time and effort than I used to edit the jpeg.

So why don’t we edit jpegs? Just because ‘the experts’ say we shouldn’t? I say why not edit jpegs, if it gets the image you want at the end of the day.

More changes than normal

Through the Great Gate

I am not normally a fan of altering a photo with lots of photoshop, but sometimes I think it needs it.

Like this image of the Taj Mahal that I took a year ago ( almost to the day ). The main building was just in the last phases of 4 year cleaning project and there were 2 domes on the building that had scaffolding on them. While I was happy with my original shot, when it came time to print the image to hang on my wall I wanted the building to look it’s best.

So I set about digitally removing the scaffolding, and some 10 hours of photoshop work later ( mainly using the stamp tool ), this is the result.

Through the Great Gate

And if you want to see exactly what has changed below is a “before and after” of the 2 images, with a slider between them.

Astrophotography in Hawkes Bay

I clearly remember my first attempt at Astrophotography in 2012. I had seen photos of the night sky and was amazed that modern day cameras could effectively see in the dark, so I headed out one cold clear winters night to capture the night sky; the results were pretty poor but I captured enough at that first attempt ( I actually managed to accidentally capture a portion of the Milky Way in some of the shots ) to ensure that I was hooked. Please excuse me for not showing those images; they were an important stepping stone to understanding astrophotography, but that doesn’t mean that I want anyone to see them!

After moving to Hawke’s Bay in 2008 I am pretty sure that I saw more stars in the sky in the first few weeks of living here than I had ever seen in my life before, so I was pretty sure that with a a bit of learning and a lot of practice I could capture photos similar to those that had got me interested in astrophotography, but with the beauty of the Hawke’s Bay night sky in my shots.

As a region Hawke’s Bay is blessed with many things that contribute to great astrophotography: settled weather ( especially in the winter months ), large areas of open dark countryside within a short drive, relatively low light pollution levels ( especially given the fact we have two reasonably sized cities within 30kms of each other right in the heart of the district ) and we have sea to our east ( I will explain the importance of that later).

The Milky Way

So a bit of information about astrophotography for those just starting out ( it has been described as the nerdiest form of photography so bear with me if this gets a little technical ). Our galaxy, The Milky Way, appears to us on Earth as a band of stars encircling our planet. Some portion of the Milky Way is always visible to us in our night sky, but for reasons of the way our planet rotates and wobbles we see different parts of the Milky Way in our skies at different times of the year. Due to Earths location within the Milky Way we have two distinct areas that we can see; our view towards the centre of the Milky Way is densely packed with stars and areas of interest, and is therefore main part to feature in astrophotography, whereas our view towards the outer edge of the galaxy is less densely packed with stars but still forms a visible band in the sky.

In the southern hemisphere we are lucky to be able to see the core of the Milky Way through our winter months, with it’s long nights making astrophotography much easier than in the northern hemisphere where the core of the Milky Way is only visible through their summer months, so for many people living in northern parts of North America and Europe the almost 24 hour daylight makes capturing shots of the core very difficult.

During our winter months ( or more February to November ) the core of the Milky Way appears in different parts of the sky, and has quite different orientations, depending on the time of year and the time of day ( or night ). In early February we normally get our first look at the core of the Milky Way for the year as it starts to move away from the area of the sky that our Sun occupies, and it appears in the early morning ( about an hour before sunrise ) as a near vertical band of stars stretching from the eastern horizon ( this is why it is good to be on the east coast ) up to and through the Southern Cross, which quickly fades into the daylight as the sun appears. Both of the photos below were shot just before sunrise late January and mid-March respectively, looking east.

As the ‘astro season’ progresses this vertical line of stars which make up the core of the Milky Way is visible earlier and earlier in the night and by June is visible just after sunset. As the core ‘rises’ earlier and earlier through the year then that core is also visible for longer parts of the night until again around June it is visible through the entire night, starting as a vertical band in the early evening and progressing across the sky to form a near horizontal band of stars on the western horizon just before dawn. After June the vertical view starts to be wiped out by the setting sun to the west before it has a chance to be seen in the night sky, and the horizontal western view is visible earlier and earlier in the night, until around November when it is visible just after sunset and is only visible for a short time before the rotation of the Earth drags it below our western horizon.

The photos below were both shot looking west but the first one was shot in June just before sunrise and the second one was shot in October just after sunset.

So for the ‘beginner’ astrophotographer the easiest time to take photos of the main part of the Milky Way is around June about an hour after sunset to catch the rising Milky Way to the east, and in October at around the same time to see the setting Milky Way to the west.

The easiest way to determine where the core of the Milky Way is at any time is to find the Southern Cross ( which sits within the band of the Milky Way ) and whichever side of the Cross has the 2 Pointers on it is the same side as the core of the Milky Way.

Settings / Equipment

Getting good shots of the Milky Way, or the night sky in general, is unfortunately one area of photography where the gear does matter to a degree. The average phone or ‘point and shoot’ camera doesn’t have the range of adjustments to allow it to capture good photos in the dark, so normally a DSLR / Mirrorless camera will be required, and coupled with that a lens with a large aperture ( a low f number like f1.8 or f2.8 ) is preferable to let in as much light to the camera as possible. Also because you will need to shoot photos which take a few seconds to exposure a tripod is also essential to hold the camera steady.

The technicalities of choosing a camera, setting it up and shooting the Milky Way is a whole other topic in itself, which I am planing run some workshops on in June, so feel free to check out the workshop page on my website, www.ankh.co.nz, for more information.

South Island : March / April 2019 : Days 3 and 4

Day 3 - Geraldine to Dunedin, Fine, 24°C in Geraldine, windy and cloudy in Dunedin

Up at 7:30am and drove back to near Woodbury to shoot the sunrise. No clouds in the sky so not the most exciting shoot, but it was pleasantly warm ( about 15°C ) so it was nice to have a wander around.

Back to camp to pack, have some breakfast and check out. Drove west through the back roads then joined SH1 and south again, turned off at St Andrews and headed up the Esk Valey to St Mary’s Church for a look. Church was locked so looked around then back to SH1 at St Andrews and carried on south.

Stopped at Oamaru for lunch ( cheese rolls ) at 12:30 then onwards to Dunedin, and checked in at the Dunedin Beach Camp in St Kilda ( $60 for a small basic cabin ). Rested for a bit then headed in to town to the Meridian Mall for a coffee and then back to the camp. Headed back into town at sunset to shoot the Railway Station then to a Turkish restaurant for tea and then back to camp.

Day 4 - Dunedin to Middlemarch, Cloudy, breezy, 14°C

Up at 7:15am and drove along to St Clair beach to shoot the poles ( the same ones I shot 6 years ago ) which are now in bit of a sad state. The weather wasn’t great ( windy and cold ) but we met a few other photographers ( some chattier than others ), then we grabbed breakfast at the Esplanade Cafe, then back to camp. Packed and left at 10am, and drove into town to get some clothes at Kathmandu then headed south ( after a brief petrol stop ), turned off at East Taieri and then through Outram and up into the hills towards Middlemarch. Really rugged country through here, full of rock stacks, tussock and Marino sheep.

We arrived in Middlemarch at 1:00pm and checked into the Middlemarch Holiday Park ( $50 for a cabin ) and relaxed for a bit ( we were both feeling a bit poorly with colds ). Out for lunch at the Tap & Dough at 2 and then a wander around town. Grabbed some supplies at Maggies ( seems to stock everything ) then back to camp.

Went for a drive at 3pm to Hyde, stopping at the Rail Disaster Memorial ( where 21 people died in 1943 due to a train derailment ) on the way then back on the back roads east of the Taieri River, and back to Middlemarch at 3:30pm. More rest. Amazing landscape with piles of schist scattered everywhere.

I headed out at 6 to shoot the landscape before the sun disappeared below the Rock and Pillar Range to our west. I headed down some of the back roads around Middlemarch, nearly collected a few stray sheep, and got back to camp around 7pm.

We headed to the Strath Taieri Hotel ( the only option in Middlemarch ) for a couple of steaks then back to camp at 8:30pm

South Island : March / April 2019 : Days 1 and 2

We are on another road trip to the South Island, but this time we do not have a camper van, we just have got our nomal car and no real plan, except that we are cycling the Otago Rail Trail from Day 5 to Day 9.

The other decision I have made is to shoot all photos in B&W just for a challenge; this doesn’t effect the final photos that I process, but it means that all the photos in these blogs will be black and white ( and being straight out of camera they may be slightly off the level too!)

Day 1 - Wellington to Kaikoura, fine 23°C

So day one of the trip started n Saturday 30 March from Wellington. We had driven down the night before from Napier to Wellington and stayed overnight.  We were up earlyish to catch the 9am sailing of the Kaitaki, which meant a 8am checkin with the car.

Wellington Harbour and Cook Straight were as calm as possible ( not a common sight ) and the sailing was very pleasant, and heading into Picton through the Marlborough Sounds was stunning.

We arrived on time at 12:30, jumped in the car and after a wait in the queue we hit the road and headed south.

After stopping for petrol and supplies in Blenheim we carried on south on State Highway 1. We turned of to have a look at Marfells Beach at 2:30, a stunning piece of beach, then back to the main road and carried on.

Our destination for the night was Kaikoura, which after a major earthquake in 2016 had been completely cut off by road for a while. So the roads on all sides of Kaikoura are open but still undergoing major road works to repair the damage.

We stopped briefly at St Oswalds Church in Wharanui but it was closed due to earthquake damage so we took some photos and moved on. The road between Clarence and Kaikoura was still undergoing major roadworks so it was a bit slow, and we stopped to watch the baby fur seals on the rocks below the road for a while, before carrying on.

We arrived in Kaikoura at 5pm and checked in to the Top 10 camp and got a basic cabin for $95. We dropped our bags and walked in to town ( about 5 mins walk ) and had a look around the place. Again there had been a bit of damage in the quake so things are still being repaired in places but the main area of town is full of life and some new buildings.

After walking back to the camp we rested for a bit then headed out at 7 o’clock to shoot the sunset. We went around to an area of rocks which faced west to the setting sun and the mountains that lie just to the west of Kaikoura. I managed to find some rounded boulders ( similar to the Moeraki Boulders in shape and size ) and we stayed until nearly 8pm shooting.

We drove back into town and grabbed dinner at the Garage Groper bar and then back to camp at 9:30pm.

Day 2 - Kaikoura to Geraldine, fine 26°C

Up at 6:30am to catch some sunrise only to find a thick blanket of fog over Kaikoura.  We headed around the coast to see if we could find anything to shoot, then up onto the peninsula to see if we could get above the fog ( it was actually thicker on top of the hill ) and then back to the spot we shot the night before to wait for the sun to come up.  It came up but we couldn’t see it at all so we headed over the hill to look at the boat harbour then back to camp for breakfast.

We packed up and checked out at 9, then went exploring Kaikoura and up to Hapuku ( the fog was patchy away from town, with patches of clear blue sky, but thick fog in others).  At 10am we went to visit a local photographer Neil Protheroe, who we had randomly bumped into on a previous South Island trip.  We had a quick coffee and a chat then headed back through Kaikoura at 11am and then south on SH1, again along the broken coast road and then up through the hills and eventually we dropped down into Cheviot, where we stopped for a bit of lunch, and then onwards down to the Canterbury Plains and then bypassing Christchurch and off south again.

We turned off SH1 after about an hour and a half and headed north into Geraldine, which was our stop for the night, at 4pm

We checked into the camp ( Top 10 , basic cabin $75 ), then went for a walk into town, then through the gardens and river walk, and back up to town.  Grocery shopping again then back to camp.  Time for a rest.

Out again at 6:45, drove to Woodbury to shoot another stunning little country church ( this area seems to be full of little villages with churches ) which has the dual names of “St Thomas Church” and “Tripp Church”. We were wandering around for a while outside when a head popped over the hedge and said that the church was unlocked and we should go in and have a look; so we did. Wow.

After shooting for a while we headed back into town for some tea at The Village Inn, and then back to camp at 9pm