First Steps On Your Journey In Photography

Many of you are just beginning your journey in photography with cameras you received or bought for yourself over the holidays. 2011 may not go down in many record books as a banner year, but it was a great year for discounts on high end camera equipment. Many of you are now carrying in your hand some of the most advanced and sophisticated optical imaging devices ever created!

Starting out is an exciting time. Every photographer remembers their first really amazing image the same way romantics remember their first kiss.

So, from those of use who have been in the business for many years, here are some suggestions for your first steps in your new passion of photography.

Learn About RAW

Jared Polin from looks at the difference between RAW and JPEG. Raw photos save more info about the image, allowing greater control when editing.

While many of you may have a fantastic new camera, you may not have an editing program capable of handling RAW images. It’s okay if you can only work with JPEGs at first but, if your camera supports it, do shoot RAW+JPEG even though it will burn through your card storage space like wildfire. Even if you can’t work with RAW images right away, save copies of your images in RAW format so you can revisit them in the future.

RAW images are everything your camera sensor records while capturing an image and much of that data is discarded by the compression to JPEG. Once that data is gone, it’s gone forever if you don’t have a RAW backup.

Compression artifacts are not the problem they were a few years ago. JPEG compression has improved dramatically over the years but it’s still a good idea to keep those RAW image copies around in case new imaging technologies arise in the future.

Read The Manual

I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to reading the manual, but cameras are so sophisticated today, packed with so many features, that it really is time well spent. You don’t have to memorize where every feature and menu item is located, just know they’re in there. You can always drag out the manual later if you need to look up a particular feature.

Get A Skylight Filter

photo by Ondra Soukup

Look on the barrel of your lens or check the manual (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) for the filter size of your new lens and order a skylight filter right now. It’s really just a clear piece of glass, but it can save your lens.

Every photographer in the business very long has a cracked or crushed skylight filter on a shelf somewhere that would have been their lens without the sky filter.

Get a Rain Sleeve

Photo by Rachel

While you’re ordering your skylight filter, add a rain sleeve like this or this and keep one in your camera bag or jacket pocket at all times.

Weather happens and, even though most new DSLRs have fairly good weather sealing, the amount and quality of that sealing can vary widely. Why risk your camera when rain covers are so cheap? Some day you’ll thank me for that advice when you get back to the car soaking wet but your camera is safe inside its rain sleeve.

Now get out there and take pictures!

RAW vs JPEG Revisited

raw histogram
For shots like this there's little reason these days to start with RAW

It’s good to revisit subjects in photography from time to time because this is one business that does not lend it’s well to dogma. When habits become entrenched, there’s sometimes a tendency to forget why we started doing something a certain way in the first place.

That’s my beef with photography instructors who think they have start off teaching black and white, because that’s how they learned photography. Most likely when they started, there weren’t a lot of options. Today black and white is a choice you can make at any time in the process of managing a photograph. There are even specialized filters that let you pick which type of black and white film you want to emulate in post.

So it’s good to remember why we do things, like shooting in RAW versus JPEG. Many old school photographers today are stuck on RAW because a few years ago JPEG compressions were not that good. They still insist RAW is better, even though the difference is sometimes hard to see.

A low JPEG compression ratio, like 2:1, is almost indistinguishable from the original RAW file. And camera firmware gets better all the time at doing post-processing image compression. The bulk of the image data that a JPEG conversion is throwing out, and really is data you don’t need, probably will never need.

Most of the work I deliver today started with a JPEG and, in spite of what I just said, I keep RAW copies of every image I’ve ever taken.

The reason is simple. The RAW file is exactly what the sensor reads, plus the header information. Every year image processing gets better and more sophisticated. I keep thinking the day will come that new ways of viewing image data will emerge that may utilize some or all of that discarded image data in ways we can’t even imagine right now.

Occasionally I start with the RAW image, but doing all of my post-processing in RAW, even for commercial work, would add time to my work flow without delivering a significant increase in quality.

Most of my shots are for journalism assignments, so ultra-fine color detail is not required. If you’re shooting fine commercial work, then starting with RAW might be necessary for many shots, but commercial clients are paying for that time.

Which ever way you decide to go, if you can, I’d still keep a RAW copy in the archives. Because those clever engineers are just liable to come up with something that will make you glad you did some day.