Sunday, August 14, 2005

JPEG and RAW reality

As I'm learning more about digital photography, I'm continuing to think about the imagistic qualities of cyberspace and how we construct reality within it. This week I've been thinking about the jpeg.

I won't go into the details of what a jpeg image is. If you're interested in such details, you can check out that wikipedia link above. In a nutshell, it's a smaller or compressed format for images - compressed because, in cyberspace, we want to read and transfer files as quickly as possible. We also want to save space on our drives. Right away that tells us something interesting about our attitudes concerning representations of reality. We want it ASAP and we don't want it to take up too much room.

Jpeg also is a "lossy" image format. When you compress an image into a jpeg, some information is thrown out. The quality of the image degrades a little bit. In fact, savvy digital photographers know that each time you open, edit, and resave a jpeg image, the quality of the image degrades a little bit each time. So in our need to work quickly and conserve space as we edit reality, we might unintentionally sacrifice its clarity.

There's a reverse side to this clarity issue. Almost all digital cameras have a default setting that processes the "raw" image recorded by the camera's sensor and transforms that image into a jpeg. However, that jpeg is quite different than the raw image. Most cameras are set to enhance the jpeg by boosting, just a little bit, the sharpness, contrast, and color saturation. The end result is an eye-popping picture that elicits a "Wow!" response from people when they see it on the computer monitor or in a print. It's not how the scene actually appeared to the human eye. Part of the popularity of digital cameras is that it gives reality a little boost. In these modern media-driven times of ours, we like our reality served in a souped-up fashion.

Some digital photographers are rebelling against the jpeg and the factory-set processing of reality. They are working with the raw image recorded by the camera's sensor. They want to return to the reality as the camera originally recorded it and massage that image according to their own preferences. Perhaps they want to recreate the scene as the eye actually saw it, or perhaps they want to reconstruct reality according to their own vision.

Might this transition from factory-set images to images managed by the individual say something about how we are changing in our attitudes about the realities created in cyberspace?


Blogger fayre said...

Isn't the whole digital thing all about not depicting reality the way it is anyway? that's the whole idea OF cyberspace. it's a whole separate reality. that's why it's fascinating.

or am i not getting what u mean?

tell me more about the raw image thing! im gonna google n see wat i can find out abt it. it sounds kewl if i cud have see 2 identical pictures, one raw, one 'enhanced/boosted', n then look up at the object/scene i took.

9:44 AM  
Blogger John Suler said...

Right, Fayre, although we're not always aware of the fact that reality has been altered, as in the enhanced jpeg.

Wikipedia has a good explanation of camera raw:

5:09 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home