At the most basic level, photographers seem to be in two camps when it comes to image file types. There are those who care about the look of their images and shoot with big RAW files and those who don’t and use the smaller JPEG files.
RAW files offer a tremendous level of control over noise, tonality and color; a hearty file that can cope with the demands of our creativity. Unless you were a press photographer needing to transfer images quickly, the JPEG is often sidelined as the file type you only use if you can accept the default image settings or if you didn't know better. This divide has largely dimmed our thinking about the way we could be shooting and the potential of the JPEG file as a serious choice for both amateurs and professionals.
There was a time when photographers could just shoot on film and be wowed by the results. I want that feeling again of just focusing on my photography and letting the imaging experts make my work look great. I want my JPEG options to move beyond neutrality and precision towards creating filmic looks and cinematic characteristics…
I don’t even want to know how it’s done.
JPEG settings are silly
As a photographer I am constantly trying to hide the plastic look of digital photographs coming from all of my cameras. Camera makers have become lazy and unimaginative when it comes to creating great straight-out-of-camera images. Instead, we get silly picture effects and Instagram type filters that seem determined to make you look like you are using Photoshop for the very first time.
Where is the once-held deep knowledge of colors and tone that has been developed through a century of film photography? Companies like Kodak, Agfa and Fuji were all about films with wonderful characteristics and life. The skin tones I got with some of these films still rival anything I can achieve on digital today.
No one cared how the films worked, they just needed to be enjoyed. If they could do this with a chemical process, why can’t they do it in a digital process? Camera manufacturers need to start giving photographers some genuine reasons to trust the experts again by producing compelling and meaningful JPEG settings with character that rivals and even beats what we could edit ourselves.
Fujifilm leading the way
Today companies like VSCO or Alien Skin, have made much progress into transforming our cold digital files into images that evoke nostalgia, sensuality and fascination. We instinctively know how we want our images to look but it requires us to figure out how to achieve it. The only company I know of that is coming close to offering some freedom from this is Fujifilm with their X- series cameras. Having such a long history in film, they have included popular film stock emulations like Velvia, Astia and Provia under their JPEG settings which closely imitates the look of these legendary films. Most recently they have released the “Classic Chrome” film setting, recreating deep faithful colours and slightly muted tones, akin to the results created by the now discontinued Kodachrome. Photographers like Zack Arias have written fondly of this new picture setting and he is lauding it’s ability to produce beautiful and useable images straight out of camera.
Laying down the challenge
The call to create a better selection of JPEG settings is not an unreasonable one. There have been so many digital camera advancements over the years, but in contrast our expectations of the JPEG file has remained largely stagnant for over a decade. We have too easily accepted that editing is part of shooting digitally.
Imagine if your favorite camera could shoot with VSCO type edits directly applied? It may not be answer for every shooting need, but it can mean that we can get excited again by the images our cameras produce, beyond sharpness and pixels, and reducing our editing load. Is anyone out there listening? This could literally change the way we shoot forever but we need to start wanting it and asking for it.
The JPEG revolution could be just around the corner and with it we can release the photographers back into the wild.