RAW OR JPG? WHAT’S YOUR FORMAT? Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Raw

All of my cameras, including my pocket-sized cameras, are designed to shoot either jpg, which is the standard publication format for graphics on the Internet — or RAW, which is strictly data, but can capture subtleties of detail, color, and texture of which jpg is not capable.

I have always been advised to use RAW because it produces finer detail and gives you more room for advanced processing.

I don’t use it.

I did try it in the beginning when I got a camera that could handle it, my first Olympus. I was underwhelmed. Sure, you could process for those fine details, but since I wasn’t printing my pictures or publishing them in a book, the difference between RAW and jpg was invisible to most viewers and RAW files take up a staggering amount of room on ones hard-drive.

Red-bellied Woodpecker with a very pointy beak (jpg)

I finally asked a few people I knew well what they did with all that RAW data? Surely they didn’t try to store it on their computer — or even back it onto a hard-drive. Each raw image was at least triple the data quality for an equivalent jpg. The answer was the same, often a slightly ashamed and embarrassed “I don’t use RAW … there’s no point when you are using a computer and not printing.” Or, alternatively, “I transfer it into jpg then dump the RAW files.”

It turns out I was far from the only shooter who just couldn’t see substantive advantages to using that much memory. Memory may be cheap at the moment, but they will make changes to it and suddenly — again — we will all have to buy entirely new external back-up devices because the industry changes constantly.

Worse, RAW data is always changing. For me, that additional step of having to transfer the RAW into a processible image was one step beyond my time constraints. If I was doing this professionally, maybe.  But maybe not. I rarely — if ever — have images that profoundly out of normal range to work with and since I overshoot everything anyway, I always have another, a nearly identical image with which to work.


All these are jpg images.


For those of you who have grappled with this RAW versus jpg issue for years, there are tons of articles about it all over the internet. But consider how much time you already spend processing and ask yourself if you have the time to do that much more processing on top of what you already do. Get back to me on that. I’m genuinely interested. I doubt I will change how I work, but I’d like to know how other people feel about it.

So I don’t shoot RAW. Sometimes, I have a guilt reaction about it. Maybe I should be using the format. “Everyone says so.”

Except that everyone doesn’t say so. Everyone thinks everyone else is saying so.

THE NEW TOPAZ STUDIO 2 – Marilyn Armstrong

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely LOVE Topaz filters. I love them so much I totally panic if I think they aren’t working correctly.

One of the things I love about Topaz is if you buy a filter or a plug-in when they upgrade it — even if it’s a major upgrade — they give the new version to you for free as long as you owned the previous version. It’s a life-saver for me because I couldn’t afford to repurchase the filters.

Today they gave me a new version of Topaz Studio, or more precisely, Topaz Studio 2.

This involved a good deal of reorganizing all my Topaz filters and plug-ins. Although they provide complete instructions, my computer is not exactly standard. It’s not the “home version” of the operating system and Windows 10 has made more than a few changes to the system. So for the past two hours, I’ve been in a nightmare of “What am I doing? Will my filters ever work again?”

I think I’ve got them working but I haven’t gotten a grip on Studio 2 yet. Therefore, I installed both Studio 1 and Studio 2 and I think — but I’m not sure — that I may need both of them, for a while, anyway while they get Studio 2 sorted out.

The various plug-ins with which I’m familiar don’t seem to operate in Studio 2 — or if they do, they work quite differently. It’s going to take me a while to figure it out. If I know Topaz, before I figure it out, they will send me three more downloads which will fix the things that don’t seem to work as they should. Just when I think I need to get in touch with them, I get a fix from them. Each little fix is an improvement over the previous one.

Thus I want you to know no matter how completely confused I am at the moment, I’m sure somehow, Topaz will make it right. They always do.

That is what I call excellent customer service. They have always treated me well and in return, I think they are the best. I really don’t know how I could process pictures without their filters!

BI-WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE: THE INTERESTING EDIT – Marilyn Armstrong

Photo Challenge: Edit

Three pictures using impressionist, graphic, and HDR styling.

A pole in the water – Abstract Impressionist

And here it is again, Cezanne-style, though not looking all that much different.

Rope on a boat – HDR with some graphics

And a Cezanne-style version …

If Cezanne painted my garden

DINGY – NOT ALWAYS WHAT YOU EXPECT – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Dingy


I thought I knew this word. It could be a little boat, often a little boat that lives on a bigger boat and is used to back and forth from the shoreline. It can also mean a little bit drab, or perhaps not entirely clean. It also can mean a sort of grubby off-blond hair color … or a faded hair color.

What I did not know is that it’s also a photographic term, meaning grainy and maybe a bit dark. Not shiny, maybe a bit fuzzy.

It is in the same category as grunge or grungy  — which is sort of like a softened version of HDR, but grainier and not as sharp. Also, things that are described as “chalky” frequently are also dingy.

It isn’t the same as “softened” because soft means taking the edge off the picture. Used a lot in photographs, especially of older people who don’t want to see every wrinkle and skin discoloration.

So these two are both dingy pictures. They look a bit antique and the light is subtly striated. Who knew, right? Yet another definition for a term you won’t find in the dictionary.

ORDER!

“Order in the court!” The judge banged the gavel and the audience sat up, almost at attention.

“There will be a quiz on Friday,” announced the biology teacher. The classroom came instantly to order.

Orderly chili bowls

My life is not orderly or it does not seem so to me. Life is organized insofar as I know what’s coming and when, but orderly? Is it the same thing but with a different title?

Spice – ordered?

I have a lot of shelves carefully laid out with various items, old, older, and not so old. But they are laid out by size, shape, and how well they coördinate with other things. I balance the pictures on the walls. I carefully place things on the mantel so they look “a certain way.” But orderly? I’m not sure I know how to put things in order. Does stowing all “important” papers in a big bin count?

Painted dolls – in order?

It’s worrisome. The books are in the bookcase, but attempts at creating order have never been effective. The same goes for DVDs and CDs. They are in the case … but order?

I know Garry and I tried to agree on what “order” might be. Do we  set things up alphabetically? Do we put items together by genre? All science fiction here and the westerns over there? What about all those “other” books that never really fit anywhere. Will we remember to put them back in the order from which they came?

Oh, wait. My kitchen is almost in order and my dishes are definitely in order. That’s it. Dishes. Got it.

I participate in WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge 2017

THINKING ABOUT THINKING

I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.

They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

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What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.

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Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.

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Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.

THE FIRST SNOW DAY – TOPAZ SIMPLIFY

Last week, Topaz had a 1-day filter sale. “Simplify” was available for just $20, so I decided to give it a whirl and see what it can do. It was snowing pretty hard when I got up this morning. Bummer. It was predicted, but the last one missed us. I had hoped this would miss us too. So, if snow is going to fall, I might as well take some pictures.

 

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It turns out, Simplify offers a good selection of ways to render a photograph as art. It includes many painting styles including, impressionist, oils, acrylics, watercolor and more. My favorites are sketch, pen-and-ink, and line art. If you have the right photograph — for line art of any kind, you need strong contrast– you can get some very interesting and fun results.

Here are two versions of the same picture. I’m loving the way they came out.

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TOO MANY BUTTONS

Some months ago, I bought a refurbished (read “used”) Olympus OM-D E-M5. I don’t think anyone ever really used it as a camera. Maybe it was a store demo or something like that, but it had all the plastic wrap still on it, so it was new. Except the there’s a newer version of it out, so probably this is one of the ways to offload leftovers of the previous model.

One of the things it didn’t come with is the User’s Guide. It came with no documentation at all, actually and an after-market battery charger.

I haven’t used the camera much. I haven’t been outside much or taken many pictures, so mostly, it’s has been waiting for spring when my interest in photography usually revives.

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This also means that I am not as comfortable using this camera as I am other cameras. In fact, because it came without documentation and it’s got a lot of dials and buttons, I’ve been shying away from it. But. You don’t learn to use a camera by not using the camera.

Today dawned beautiful. The sun was shining, the sky was bright blue and the air was sweet and warm. Garry said “Let’s go.” I grabbed my Olympus OM-D E-M5 and off we went to River Bend. We exited the car and we went our separate ways.

I had decided to begin using the f1.8 25mm “normal” lens. It’s very sharp and has a lens hood, good for shooting on such a bright day.

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I took a few more shots then decided to change to my 14-150 telephoto. Except something happened. After I changed lenses, I couldn’t see anything in the LCD screen. It was dark and for once, it wasn’t because I forgot to remove the lens cap.

I got my hyper-ventilation and panic reaction under control and looked through the viewfinder. I could see through it. See the menu settings too. Which meant my camera was working. This could mean only one thing: I had inadvertently, accidentally, unintentionally, and unknowingly pushed a button.

I had no idea what button I’d pushed. No idea where to look for it. Before I’d done whatever I’d done, the camera had been automatically switching between viewfinder and LCD screen. But I had done something.

Eventually, I found a tiny button near the collar of the lens. I pressed it. The picture returned to the LCD screen. All was right with the world. This is not the first time or the first camera on which a previously undetected button got pushed with disastrous results.

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There are too many buttons. On everything. Cameras. Televisions. Remote controls. Computers. Tablets.  Telephones. Convection ovens. Too many settings for software. Too much. Of everything.

I wanted to buy a rice cooker that cooks rice. I don’t need it to also bake cakes, steam fish, and do my laundry. Just cook rice. White rice. It cost me more to get a rice cooker that does this one thing well, than to buy something with 13 configurable programs to all kinds of stuff I will never want or need.

I understand to sell things, you have to improve them. After all, who would buy a new version of Photoshop if it’s exactly the same as the one you already own? So, for good or ill, you have to change stuff.

But I didn’t buy my Olympus OM-D for its bells, whistles, or little buttons. I bought it because it’s water-resistant, fast, has great resolution, a bigger sensor … and at long last, a built-in viewfinder, something for which Olympus users have been yearning since forever.

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All those extra bells, whistles, and buttons are not a sales plus for me. Do you even know what the menu options in your various system menus mean? What all those buttons do? Or even where to find them?  There are too many buttons. Too many options.

Maybe the next upgrade to our equipment will be … (wait for it) … simplicity. Now that’s an upgrade I would embrace.

A HOW-NOT-TO GUIDE FOR SENIOR SELFIES

Two of my cameras, the Olympus PEN E-PL5 and E-PL6 have flip screens.  You can turn them 180 degrees and aim them at yourself. Advertised as “selfie-friendly,” I felt obliged to personally test the function for myself.

My results were traumatic and be forever engraved in my memory. All else may fade, but I will still shudder when I think about those hideous pictures.

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From this test, I reached a few conclusions that I will share with you.

THINGS TO CONSIDER BEFORE YOU TAKE THAT SELFIE

A few guidelines, as it were, about who should take selfies. Who should not. Ever. Take. Selfies.

  • If you’re over 65, it’s a bad idea. On principle.
  • If you don’t own a real camera and have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “flattering angle,” “portrait lens,” or “good lighting,” selfies are a very bad idea.
  • Just because your camera (or phone) is “selfie-friendly” does not mean your face is. Have a friend take your picture. Preferably a friend who knows how to use a camera.
  • Wrinkles and selfies go together like oil and water. Actually, oil and water go together much better than wrinkles, wattles, liver spots — and selfies.
  • Your arms are too short. I don’t care who you are. Your arms are still too short. If you are over 50, you would need to be ElastiGirl (or Guy). Otherwise, your arms are too short.
  • Nothing will compensate for the bags under your eyes, the deep folds of your throat. The furrows where your chin droops. It isn’t about fat or thin. You can be young and fat and look pretty good in a selfie. You can be slender, fit, and 75 … and look like a zombie who hasn’t eaten a good brain lately.
  • Touch up tools are not enough. If the picture is awful, there’s only so far Adobe’s Healing Tools … or even the Glamour Glow filter … can take you. If the picture is horrible, touching it up will make it a touched up yet somehow, still horrible, picture.
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SUGGESTIONS?

If youth is a faded memory, don’t take selfies. If you cannot resist the temptation, filter the hell out of them. Whatever you’ve got in your photographer’s arsenal of touch-up tools? Use them. Liberally.

What? You don’t have photo touch-up tools? You are a senior citizen taking selfies using your mobile phone? Are you deranged?  If you are not outright traumatized, you will be at least saddened by the experience. It will make you doubt yourself.

Don’t do it. You will look bad, even if you are really attractive. The camera is cruel and it lies, no matter what anyone says. It emphasizes wrinkles, spots, flaws, fat, bags, and bald spots. It doesn’t see you with an overlay of love.

I see selfies posted on Facebook. Most are awful. I cringe when I see them. What are the people who post them thinking? I don’t need to know the individual to recognize an unflattering picture. These shots aren’t merely unflattering, they are cruel. Why would someone post a picture which makes him or her look terrible?

Selfies are usually extreme closeups — which by itself is a reason to shy away from them. Anyone who has ever worked in front of a camera will tell you: extreme closeups are for the very young. With makeup. And excellent lighting.

Everyone else? It will look like a prison intake photo in which even youth may not be enough to save the picture.

Some parameters as the first picture, but I tilted my head and remembered to add the hint of a smile.

Meanwhile, the friends of the folks in these godawful photographs tell them that their beautiful soul is shining through, another way of saying “Omigod you look horrible, but I can’t say that because it would hurt your feelings.”

I have a hot flash for you. Your beautiful soul is not shining through, but your wart with the bristly hairs is. Photographs do not capture your soul, just your image. If you need a picture of yourself and there is no one on earth you can ask to hold the camera a decent distance away, have you heard of a mirror? Step back, get some perspective. Maybe turn your head so you get rid of that “America’s Most Wanted” look. Do not use a flash.

How about some makeup? Do you own a hairbrush? Would you consider using it?

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Don’t wear white. If you have an unfortunate neck, wear a scarf. Jewelry can help. Earrings can work wonders.

Guys? Shave. Trim the beard. Remove the nose hairs. How about putting on something attractive? That wife-beater shirt might not be your best choice for a self-portrait.

Why do people think it’s cheating to look good for portraits? Is there some law which requires full, naked disclosure in photographs?

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I delete ugly pictures of me, Garry, family and friends who look grotesque in pictures. I use all the tools at my disposal — filters, healing brushes, soft focus — to make the subjects of my portraits look attractive. Not necessarily young. Just nice. Because we all deserve it.

Putting your best foot forward is legal. It’s good. Try it. It will make you smile. Oh, and that’s another thing. Smile. A smile makes everybody look better.

Now, put down that cell phone. Back away. Don’t make me hurt you.

PHOTO FUN WITH FILTERS

I gave in and bought a couple of Topaz filters. They’ve been sending me tempting emails for months … maybe years, come to think of it. But they are expensive and I have other filters. Finally, I gave in and bought the Clean filter — which really ought to be called the “Cartoon” filter — plus the gigantic Textures filter.

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Textures works as either a standalone or as a plugin. It works better as a Photoshop plugin than as a standalone — which doesn’t make sense. I think I’m actually going to have to watch one of the tutorials because there’s a lot to it. But I’ve been saying that about Photoshop for about 20 years and I still haven’t done it. I used to write manuals for software, so I’m the kind of user I hated, the one who never looks at the book and just wings it.

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On a more positive note, the things I have done with it have come out pretty well.

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It took more than an hour to download and another hour to install. As I said — it’s big.


 

Clean is not a standalone. It only works as a Photoshop plugin.

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The other day, my talented granddaughter gave me a makeover. I’ve been messing around with selfies and hated all of them … until I “cartooned” them with Clean. Voila!

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It’s a bit intense for skin on portraits, but it’s a bundle of fun if realism is not your goal. The colors remain true. This last picture is about as realistic as I could make it.

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CCY – HORIZONTAL LINES AND THE HORIZON

CEE’S COMPOSE YOURSELF PHOTO CHALLENGE: WEEK #6 – HORIZONTAL LINES AND THE HORIZON

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Looking down these stairs makes me a bit dizzy. And not only when it’s part of a photograph, but standing on the top of these stairs in the real world is a bit unnerving. They are on a rather more abrupt angle than normal stairs and the photograph emphasizes it.

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This combination of dam and the old mill building presents a challenge, especially since I’m always shooting from an angle. Whatever else is going on in the picture, the river has to be flat. It can be tricky finding the horizon line. It usually takes me a few tries before I get it (more or less) right.

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Quincy Harbor … lines of docks and boats. Lines and more lines. Find the one that’s should be straight! I think I got it. I used the top line of the harbor water — and let the rest fall into place.

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This was all about that front window. If the window was crooked, the whole pictures would have been off kilter. Everything was relative to that line.

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I use Photoshop. The straightening function is very good. Not perfect, but very good … better than any other tool I’ve got. It usually takes a few tries to find the angle.

My Pentax Q camera has a built-in gyroscope, so most pictures taken on that system come out fairly straight (if I’m paying attention while shooting). Having the gyroscope in one camera has actually made me more conscious of holding the camera straight all the time. I tend to drop my left hand a bit and I’m more conscious of it now.

It’s always something!

TOO MUCH TECH

I went to the dentist. Discovered I’m not (no longer?) dying of infection (antibiotics), but I need a $1200 crown. If I plan to keep the tooth, that is.

Olympus PEN PL-5

At which point, I noticed how lovely was the late afternoon sun. Trying to forget about dental issues, I grabbed my camera to snap a few pictures.

My camera had lost its date and forgotten how to focus. And was making double and triple exposures. I was sure it was not broken, that I had inadvertently pressed something. Clicked something. Turned a dial and changed a setting. Lacking a viable manual, I’d have to go through every menu, setting by setting, until I figured out what happened.

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Every year, cameras have more settings. More menus, bells, and whistles we don’t need and probably don’t understand. Extra techno junk is no problem when everything is working as it should, but if it  goes wrong, I’m lost in technological la-la land.

One accidental pressing of a button, a glancing touch on a dial and your camera is a useless hunk of metal.

Unable to figure out what happened, I reset the camera to its default settings. After which, it was fine. I’ll never know what happened. Just one of those things.

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Did the memory card go belly up? Was it me? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve unset, or reset something without knowing what or how. Each time it happens, whether it’s a camera, software (Photoshop is particularly prone to going weird), or the computer itself … it makes me crazy. It requires a lot of deep breathing and mumbling to myself to straighten out the mess.

People say “extra bells and whistles” do no harm. I think they are tiny electronic land mines waiting for the unwary to step on them. Not that anyone listens to me, but I would love it if whoever you are, don’t add things, change things, complicate everything because you can. Not a good enough reason.

Stop fixing what isn’t broken. If you can’t improve it really, whatever “it” is, leave it be. And make dental work affordable.

NANCY MERRILL’S PHOTO A WEEK CHALLENGE – ART EFFECTS

A Photo a Week Challenge: Artsy

I was delighted to see this challenge … until I realized that I often — okay, usually — don’t remember how I made a picture look “that way.” I wing it because, in Photoshop, I don’t know what I’m doing most of the time.

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I’ve never studied Photoshop. Never taken a course, or been tutored. I’ve doped out how to do the things with occasional kindly tips from other photographers. I know how to do the things I need to do often. And I’ve worked my way through a lot of years and many iterations of Adobe’s software.

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I can crop, sharpen, re-balance color. Now, thanks to Bob Mielke, I can adjust specific areas of a picture, zeroing in on a particular section I want to fix.

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It is a bit haphazard, I admit. The negative side is reproducing results sometimes impossible. The good news is I discover all kinds of nifty stuff. It’s a new set of toys every day!

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I’ve been messing around with art effects for a long time, even before I had Photoshop. Back when I used Corel (because Photoshop was out of my price range), it had good effects. I did a lot of experimenting. I called the results “artographs” because they have photographic roots, but are no longer true photographs.

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Personal taste is the overriding consideration in this sort of thing. I like painterly effects, poster effects, solarization. I like outlining, turning things into “drawings,” and toy camera effects. For me, art effects are playtime. I hope you like some of them too.

IN-CAMERA DIGITAL ART EFFECTS

These days, pretty much every camera you can buy has art effects built in. Surprisingly, some of them are remarkably good. Better than you will get using Photoshop. If you haven’t tried them, give it a shot or three. I had never used them until I recently tried them by accident. I liked the results very much.  The first two pictures in this post were done using the Art Effects Bracket on an Olympus PEN PL-5.

SNOWY CRYSTAL MORNINGS

Picture window snow morning analog

It snows and then snows some more. It has been snowing almost every day for a couple of weeks and there is no end in sight. Well, that’s not true. There is an end. Almost in sight. We call it spring. About 6 weeks away, in the future. We can see it on the calendar. We hold it in our hearts.

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In the meantime, we live in a land of white and snow. Deep snow and drifts. Icicles that hang 20 feet down from the roof. If I was to pick the moment when even I — tired though I am of snow and utterly weary of cold — stop and catch my breath from the sheer beauty of snow, it’s early in the morning after a storm.

Not a blizzard. Blizzards have wind that keep flakes from settling gently on every surface.

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A quiet snow where the flakes fall straight out of the sky and stick to every twig and branch leaving a frosted world. It’s the perfect picture of a New England winter. Elegant. Ephemeral. Gone in an hour — or less — as the sun melts the thin coating away. But for that brief interval …