February 8, 2013
Back from Death Valley, and the Devastating Discovery
Sunday I arrived home after spending 16 days in Death Valley. It was a fantastic trip; the weather was perfect, it was relaxing and I felt very productive. Each night I’d review my images and the compositions were looking good. However the images had a funny look to them on the camera’s screen, they were flat and dull, but it was a new camera and so I figured that I had the brightness adjustment set a little differently than on my other camera.
When I got home and all caught up with two weeks worth of mail, email and phone messages, I anxiously began processing my images. As I reviewed the thumbnails, the images again looked a little odd, they were very flat. Then I noticed that I was looking at a JPEG, which I thought was okay because I had set my new camera to record in both RAW and JPEG. However as I looked for the RAW files, my heart stopped when I realized they weren’t any. I went back to the CF Card and they weren’t there either.
I could not believe it. I had shot for those entire 16 days and didn’t have a single RAW file to show for it. I went into the camera settings to see how I had set up the camera and sure enough, I had misread the settings and had mistakenly it set to record only in JPEG. I was devastated because as I reviewed the images it appeared to me that I wouldn’t be able to salvage a single one.
The problem was twofold: First the images were recorded in JPEG and were a much lower resolution than the RAW files I normally work with. And second, the files were recorded in B&W which meant that I could not convert them they way I wanted using the color channels. This took much of the creative control from me. As I worked on some of the files I concluded that I wouldn’t be able to use any of them.
That was a very long night for me. I could not stop thinking of all of the mistakes I had made:
- Setting up the camera wrong.
- Not creating some test images before I took the camera into the field.
- Not processing some of the images while on the trip, which would have uncovered the problem.
- Not digging deeper into why the images on the camera’s screen looked funny.
I felt pretty foolish and just couldn’t believe that after all of that time, money and shooting, I was coming home empty handed. It was a long sleepless night.
The next day I thought that I’d take another stab at some of the images, perhaps by using some different techniques a few might be salvaged? After working on them for a few hours, it turns out that I might be able to save about five of the images. Not a lot to show for 16 days work, but a lot more than I thought I had last night!
I felt foolish for making such a silly error and thought maybe I’d say nothing about this to anyone and just quietly show the five images, but I then thought better of it. That was pride speaking and the truth is that I messed up and I need to share this experience to keep myself humble and to help others from making the same mistake. This disaster was completely avoidable and I’m grateful that I’ve learned this lesson now, before I travel to Iceland later this year. Can you imagine coming home from Iceland with no images? Now that would have been a tragedy!
So, please learn from my mistake and tuck this experience away. When you get a new camera, test it out thoroughly before you head out on a big photo trip. And if something doesn’t look right, investigate it right then and there until it’s resolved.
Also, after working with these JPEG files and seeing their limitations, I must reinforce my previous recommendation to always shoot in RAW! There is an ENORMOUS difference between RAW and JPEG, and you are handicapping yourself when you work in JPEG.
I’ll be finishing these images over the next several weeks and will introduce them in the next newsletter. In the meantime, the above image is one that I think I’ll be able to salvage.