It is advised to shoot raw, always. Although many think that is a wise thing to do, a lot of photographers still shoot JPEG only. For those group of photographers I have 10 tips for better photos, and it has nothing to do with raw.
Since the moment I used raw files, I never wanted to go back. It has a lot of benefits, like the increased dynamic range, flexibility, and you can recover exposure mistakes up to a certain point. Still, despite the benefits, there is a large group of photographers that don’t use raw at all. They chose to shoot in JPEG only, for their own reasons. And I respect that.
I don’t want to try to change their minds with this article. If you want to shoot JPEG only, be my guest. And yes, it can and will produce good results if great care is taken. I have gathered 10 tips for the JPEG shooter, things that can help to produce the results that are wanted. It will allow you to control the results up to a certain level.
1. Use In-Camera HDR or Filters
Because a scenery can have a larger dynamic range than a JPEG image can capture, something has to be done to prevent the feared blown out highlights or blacks. There are two options a JPEG shooter can choose from. Well, three in reality, if you are willing to accept pure white or black in the image.
The first option is the build-in HDR capabilities of the camera. By turning on this option, the camera will produce a HDR image from three different exposures. It allows you to capture a larger dynamic range without the need of software on your computer.
The second option is the use of gradient neutral density filters. This will reduce the dynamic range of the scenery, as we all know. With a bit of luck, and the right gradient filter, you can prevent those white or black parts in the image.
2. Set Your White Balance Manually
Although the white balance can be set on auto, sometimes a custom white balance can be the right choice. I remember a participant of my masterclass, trying to photograph a violet flower. It kept on showing blue because his camera was set to auto white balance.
I advised him to use a custom white balance, to turn it to a lower color temperature. Suddenly the colors in the photo became much more realistic. The auto white balance can easily be fooled by the colors and light situation. By changing the color temperature of the camera, you can manipulate the outcome exactly to your own needs.
3. Make Changes to Contrast, Saturation, and Color
You can change the contrast, saturation, and color in your camera. Did you know? This way you can manipulate how an image will look. Of course you have to set these things before you take the photo.
By changing these settings to your liking, together with the white balance as mentioned in point 2, a lot of possibilities emerge for turning your JPEG photo into something very personal and unique.
4. Make Your Own Custom Setting
Yes, we all know the camera presets like landscape, portrait, neutral, and vivid. Or unique settings like Astia, Velvet, and Classic Chrome. These presets will give the image a certain look.
Use these settings if you find one of them very beautiful. Perhaps it is possible to use these settings as a starting point, and fine tune the setting to make it year very personal setting. Perhaps more than one setting can be used, depending on the situation or type of photo you want.
5. Don’t Use Exposure to the Right
For raw photography it is wise to expose to the right. It gives you the maximum amount of image information to work with in post-processing. But if you are a JPEG shooter, don’t use exposure to the right. It will harm your image, making it bright, perhaps even washed out.
JPEG shooters should try to keep the histogram within its boundaries. Learn how the histogram looks like for the different type of images, like large contrast, low contrast, low key, and high key. It will help to get the right exposure for your JPEG image.
6. Use the Enlarged Dynamic Range Setting of Your Camera
Every modern camera has a special setting to maximize the dynamic range. This option is especially for JPEG shooter. I know it is called DR100, DR200, and DR 400 for Fujifilm cameras, or Bright Tone Priority for Canon. This function will prevent over exposed parts in the image as much as possible.
The use of these settings comes with a small prize. Because the camera is using the ISO levels for this goal, you may not be able to shoot at ISO 100 anymore. Often this won’t be a problem at all.
7. Use the Build-In Lens Correction
Most lenses have small optical defects. This is very normal, and often this can be corrected in post-processing. With most modern cameras there is a build in lens correction function, that will correct any optical defects. This is very handy for JPEG shooters.
The option often corrects distortions, vignette, and certain chromatic aberrations. But always be careful when using third party lenses. I know of an example with a Sigma ART 85mm f/1.4 lens on a Canon EOS 5D mark III. In-camera lens correction would produce large optical circles, making the lens correction function useless.
8. Use the sRGB Mode and Not Adobe RGB
JPEG images are often used for prints and the internet. For this the sRGB color profile is the best choice, even though it has a slightly smaller amount of available colors.
If you would choose Adobe RGB, the images can have strange colors on social media, in prints, and on the computer of friends and family. With the sRGB there is no problem at all.
9. Use the Fine JPEG Quality
This may be obvious, but always choose the Fine JPEG quality. JPEG files are always compressed. It means you will lose detail. The Fine JPEG Quality will have the best quality.
You may be tempted to choose a lower quality, because you can fit more images onto a memory card. But since memory cards are very cheap, and available in amazing sizes, it shouldn’t be any problem if you use Fine JPEG.
10. Prepare Settings When Speed is Necessary
If you love to shoot in situations when speed is important, you need to make some test shots before the action is there. By preparing exposure, white balance, and other settings, you are ready for the action. This will minimize the risk of wrong exposures, or the wrong custom settings. This way you can have a nice custom JPEG look, and still shoot action.
Every camera sensor will produce raw image data that has to be processed. If you are a JPEG shooter, you will leave the processing of this data to the computer inside the camera. As a matter of fact, as a JPEG shooter you will post-process your image in the camera itself by choosing the settings on you camera. These settings are often very limited, and you have to make the settings before you take the image. By saving the raw image data as a raw file, you can perform the same post-processing afterwards, on a laptop or personal computer. It even gives you more possibilities.
This article isn’t about trying to change your decision to shoot JPEG. I respect everyone who makes this choice, although I don’t always understand the reason why. With this article you have ten options to manipulate the way your image looks, without the need for post-processing at home.
Are you a JPEG photographer? If so, could you tell me why in the comments below? I would love to read and understand the reason why. Please add more tips for JPEG shooters if you know any.