February 15, 2013

How I Salvaged My JPEG’s

Thanks to all who have written to commiserate with me about my disaster last week, and to share your own stories of mistakes made. I should compile them into a book and call it “The Ghosts of Photo-Mistake’s Past.”  

And thanks to those who offered technical advice on how to salvage my JPEG’s, because of this advice I was able to save more of my files than I thought possible. I thought I’d share what I found worked best.

To bring everyone up to speed, I accidentally photographed Death Valley with no RAW and only JPEG files. Because I was shooting in Monochrome Mode, the JPEG’s were in black and white and not in color like the RAW files would have been. The reason for this is that when you are shooting in RAW, all of the settings you make to the camera such as the mode, saturation, sharpness and etc, are ignored by the RAW file. However the JPEG file is affected by all of those settings.  So because I had JPEG’s files, I was unable to convert them to black and white myself.  

Why does this matter? Because much of “my look” comes from this conversion process as I adjust the color channels.

The JPEG files are also more grainy and the grain seems to clump together more than the RAW file. Lastly, the JPEG file is an 8 bit file while the RAW is a 16 bit file. This matters because I do a lot of dodging and burning and an 8 bit file will not produce smooth gradients, it’s subject to banding and posterization.  

There is nothing I can do about not having a color file to work with, that ship has sailed. But, there was something I could do about the 8 bit files, I thought I’d simply go into PhotoShop and converted the file to 16 bit. However my friend (and master printer and great photographer) Adrian Davis pointed out that this approach is not ideal and offered a better way.  

His suggestion was to use HDR to create a true 16 bit file as opposed to taking a 8 bit JPEG and simply converting it to 16 bits. You do this by making a copy of the original file and then using Photoshop’s HDR to merge together the two identical files which resulted in a file with 16 bits of data. Note: it does not produce that “HDR” look in this process.

Now this did not solve all of my JPEG problems, but at least by having a 16 bit file, I was able to do my dodging and burning on a 16 bit file which provided me with smooth gradients. I compared the JPEG image to the converted 16 bit image and it looks better in a three ways. First there is no banding, second the grain looks smoother and third the edges on high contrast transitions are smoother.  

The improvement was enough that with a little extra work, I’ll be able to salvage 10-15 of those “lost” Death Valley images. I’m very happy about this!

So my thanks to all for your support and suggestions, and I hope that my mistake and this technical tip will be beneficial to you.


P.S. Please take a look at Aline Smithson’s L E N S S C R A T C H entry for 2/14/2013.  She invited people from all over the world to submit their self-portraits and there are some amazingly creative images here! But there’s a twist, she tells the story about how I got to know someone who wrote me and how it led to a friendship and an exhibition. She then invites all of the self-portrait artists to contact the person who comes before and after them in the exhibit.  Aline’s a pretty clever woman.



8 thoughts on “How I Salvaged My JPEG’s

  1. Hi Cole:

    What a great tip! I could see other practical applications of that, for example when capturing images with cameras that don’t have RAW – say an iPhone – and having more flexibility when working on the files. Also very glad to hear you’ll be able to save more of your images, the ones you’re showing so far look great!

  2. Cole,
    Sorry I didn’t get a chance to reply on your first post, what a terrible experience.
    The positive take-away…2 weeks in what seems like an amazing location, new Photoshop insight, an error that you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and 10-15 images.
    Well done and thanks for sharing your experience, both the highs and lows.

  3. Cole,

    I knew you would figure a way to make the best of the situation. The really important contributing factor, however, is that you have great images to start with.

  4. Cole, thanks for sharing your experiences and technical tips! I’m happy to hear you were able to salvage some of your images from the trip, I know my heart skip a beat when I read your first post.

  5. So glad you managed to save your images – what a nightmare! Had a little mishap myself this week, went off for a shoot without my favourite 16-85 lens so was only armed with a 10-24 and a macro! Quite a challenge but managed to get some nice shots so a good learning experience! Would love to visit Death Valley – what stunning scenery.

  6. I love that you’re not too proud to share your mistakes with us! Whatever you had to go through to salvage those Death Valley images, it was soooo worth it. They just take my breath away!!! My first try at my 5d a few years ago was similar, only I had the lowest quality jpgs…fortunately it was only one day’s worth at a local site. I hope to go back to DV in March…what a fascinating place. Your images and style are just amazing!

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