Saturday, February 9, 2013

JPEG Adventures In New York City

Looking up.

The first day of my trip in July started normal enough, I did some light shooting and captured all the images in the RAW format. I photographed my favorite subject, flowers, that I had found while out and about during a leisurely walk through some of my favorite neighborhoods downtown in the city. The day was not about photography and I had not taken enough photos to worry about storage space at that time.
But on the second day of my last trip to New York City I was confronted with an issue frequently experienced by travelers. Although I use a camera with a relatively low pixel count and have numerous cards, it never seems to be enough. This is especially true if I wish to shoot the RAW file format. So I had to make a decision: shoot RAW and have to purchase more cards or shoot JPEG. Ok, so cards are cheap these days. But between what I was spending on travel and food, plus some spending I did before the trip on clothes and cosmetics I decided to save my money & time and opted to shoot JPEG.
So I set my camera to JPEG and embarked on my first major photo adventure of the trip. I knew that it was going to be a photo intense session, and decided that it was better shoot JPEG than to feel limited in my photo taking. With my JPEG settings in place, I knew I had more images available to me to shoot than I was likely to need on the whole trip and I felt free to photograph anything that caught my eye rather than obsessing if it was worth the click or not. I went up onto The Highline and walked it as far uptown that it went and then I walked back downtown via 12th avenue along the Hudson River. I shot over 1,000 photos that day. That would have used most of my cards if I was shooting RAW. I opted for median exposures, knowing that to a degree I could always "fix it in the computer later." I did wish that I had my polarizer or neutral grad filters with me, but accepted the fact that I didn’t and moved on.
This post briefly discusses what camera settings I chose and what post work techniques I used to work around any of the issues that I had while working with the JPEG format. Some of these techniques may help you the next time you choose record your images in the JPEG format, either due to necessity or just because you may want to save yourself the extra processing time of RAW.


Day 2: My first day of JPEG shooting on the trip. The settings I chose for my adventures were as follows: White balance 6000.

Aperture Priority with ESP matrix metering mode.

ISO and apertures varied according to subject and needs.

I went up onto The Highline and walked it as far uptown that it went and then walked back down via 12th avenue along the Hudson River, taking photos all along the way. The light was high in contrast and very harsh, as expected on such a clear sunny day. A polarizer and a neutral grad filter would have helped greatly, but I managed to capture some nice images without them. I seeked out subjects that were in good light or choose a median exposure for any high contrast scenes. Some of the techniques I used are discussed here: All Pros Shoot Only During The Magic Hours.
View from the Highline.

Brooklyn Bridge & Manhattan Skyline. I chose to convert this
image to black and white in Photoshop Elements. I carefully
tweaked the sliders using the "convert to black & white"
command in order to make the clouds pop. I also increased
the contrast for further visual impact.

Day 3: South Street Seaport. I took the A train to East Broadway and began my next photo adventure. The original plan was to go to Fulton Street but an unclear announcement on the train had me unsure of the weekend train schedule so I opted to get off the train rather than take a chance of finding myself in Brooklyn. Not entirely sure of where I was exactly, once I saw the Manhattan Bridge I quickly regained my sense of direction and found my way. Mesmerized by the Manhattan Bridge, which is a better looking bridge than the Brooklyn Bridge in my opinion, I headed east in the right direction taking photos the whole way.

High contrast light combined with a subject

with a strong silhouette, such as the
Manhattan Bridge as shown here, make
for great black and white images. As a
color photograph it didn’t work. The hazy
blue colors obscured the cloud detail
and the bluish gray colors of the bridge
rendered its silhouette not as strong in
the color image. I carefully crafted the
black & white photo in Photoshop
Elements using the black and white
command (Enhance>Convert To
Black & White) and adjusting the color
sliders until the image had the right look
that I had in mind at the moment of capture.

A seagull eating fish on the beach

With my "snap happy" pics of the East River, Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges in "the box" I was ready to head downtown towards Pier 17 – tourist central. Along the way I got distracted by some seagulls, pigeons, and geese. I especially enjoyed photographing a few seagulls that were able to catch some fish. I am thrilled to have been able to capture those images. The best I had hoped for was a few photos of them eating some seaweed.

The light was very contrasty here, but I was
able to pull up a bit of detail in the hull of
the boat by using an "brightness" adjustment
layer in Photoshop Elements. A RAW file
may have offered even more detail hiding
in those shadow areas, but I was able with
what I was able to do with the JPEG file.

After a bit more walking I finally reached Pier 17. If you are there to hang out with friends to eat and drink, and maybe catch a water taxi, it is awesome. But as a photographer attempting to capture some nice photos during the harsh midday light, it was a bit of a flat experience. Again I found myself wishing I had my polarizer and neutral grad filters. I still managed to capture a few shots that I was happy with despite the harsh conditions. The temptation for beer and food was quite strong at this point. But not wanting to blow my diet, it was now decision time on where to go next. Head to South Ferry? I considered it, but figured it would just be more tourist temptations in the harsh sunlight. I decided that I would like to walk back to my mother’s apartment in Chelsea instead. Not a short walk, it took me about an hour and a half, but most definitely a good workout and a wise decision. It could have been a shorter walk had I walked a bit faster and not took photos or had a slice of pizza on the way, but then what fun would it have been?

The way the sun was glinting off this building’s
mirrored windows is what attracted me to the scene.
A bump in exposure and saturation was all that was
 need in Photoshop to bring out this image’s full potential.
A small boost in saturation during post work
made this scene pop.

I chose what ended up being a photogenic route through the financial district. Once back at home base, I was quiet shocked to see that I had only taken 513 photos. Wow! I could have shot RAW. Regrets? No, not really. Simply because by not shooting RAW I was able to stick with the birds and not feel like each photo needed to be perfect. Those ended up being amongst my favorite images of the day and I would have missed out if I had felt pressured to hold back my captures in order to save memory card space. Plus I was able to also take a few snapshot type images that I love for the memory even if they are not exactly images that I would consider posting online or printing. Not every photo needs to be a prize winner, sometimes you just need to take some snapshots for yourself to enjoy.

Day 3’s settings varied. Mostly they were Aperture priority and manual modes, ESP matrix and spot metering modes, and white balance of 6000. Apertures and ISO varied greatly as needed.

A butterfly feeding on some flowers. JPEG or RAW? Your guess is just as good as mine here, I shot some of the series RAW before switching over to JPEG. A properly exposed JPEG should be near impossible to distinguish from its RAW counterpart.

And another one of the only 2 images in this 
post that had been captured in the RAW format.
But I could have just has easily captured it in the
JPEG format. The soft lighting and easy to meter
scene did not require any fancypost work techniques
for enhancement. I did increase the color saturation
a bit and darkened the background a touch.

Day 4 and Final Day. I decided to head to Central Park for this final day. As I had lots of empty cards still left, I originally planned on shooting RAW. But since I did not know how long I would be in the park or how many photos I would be shooting I decided to switch between JPEG and RAW on a whim. I did not keep notes on which images were taken JPEG or RAW, and quite truthfully could not tell you which images were shot in which format. Properly taken, it is impossible to tell the difference between an image captured in the RAW or JPEG formats unless you have taken the images in both formats and directly compare them to each other at high magnifications. And even then, the differences would only be minute as long as the images were exposed correctly in camera. It ended up raining and I only shot 381 photos that day. But I am still glad that I opted to shoot some images as JPEGS. Settings varied, but most were shot with a white balance of 6000, I used aperture priority and manual modes, along with ESP and spot metering patterns. Apertures and ISOs varied according to needs.

And that concluded my NYC photographic adventures. I had hoped to venture out for some nighttime shots but since walking for health was part of my goal for this trip I had actually ended up doing much more walking than I could really handle during the days. Evenings were spent relaxing, writing, and reading. Nonetheless, I was thrilled with the images I captured and never for a moment regretted shooting JPEG. I ended up having some empty cards when I went home, and that was great because then I didn’t need to offload the cards from the trip right away. I had plenty of memory space left to photograph any birds and flowers that I wanted to once I returned home.

Once home for a couple of days, I tackled the project of sorting and editing my photos from the trip. I separated the RAW files from the JPEG captures. Once I did my standard adjustments to the RAW files, I then I added the processed files in to the folder with the JPEG captures for the final edit. Most of the adjustmenst made to the JPEG files consisted of levels, brightness, and color saturation boossts. You can read about my post processing techniques here on by blog:

From RAW to Fully Cooked

You Can Always Fix It In The Computer Later

Is JPEG for you? Only you can decide. RAW provides the best quality and most post processing options, see "Raw, JPEG, or TIFF?" I have since bought more memory cards and am most likely going to be shooting RAW on my next NYC trip. But I think I may add experimenting with JPEG to my list of techniques to experiment with this year. Its unforgiving nature make capturing a high quality JPEG image a skill worth learning. I will be experimenting with it to master making better exposure and white balance choices.

Also it just is sometimes better to make sure you have enough free memory for the most possible images. That may be necessary either if you are on a tight budget or if you are unable to find a store to buy more memory cards, such can be the case if you are shooting in a remote location. I hope this blog post encourages you to experiment with capturing JPEG images.

Seagull in flight and looking for food. 

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