Why You Should Shoot RAW

If you are serious about photography, there is no greater advice I can give you than to shoot in RAW format. By doing so, you will give yourself a lot more control when it comes to editing your photographs, which in turn improves creative freedom.

What is RAW?

RAW is a term used to describe a file which has recorded all the data at the time the photograph was taken, but has not modified that information in any way. Other formats, such as JPG, modify the information taken by applying a white balance, adjusting the contrast, reducing noise, as well as compressing the information to reduce the overall file size.

Each camera manufacturer has it’s own RAW file format. Some of the common file extensions include: RAW, CR2, ¬†& NEF.

When should I shoot RAW?

Not all situations call for you to shoot in RAW format. If you plan on editing your photographs in any way, then you will want to shoot in RAW. If you are shooting an important event, such as a wedding, where you might need large prints, then you will want to shoot in RAW. If you are shooting in situations where you might get blown out highlights, then you should be shooting in RAW.

Why should I shoot RAW?

Just think of a RAW file as a digital negative. You can use it to “print” your photograph as many times as you like while having the freedom to change the settings each time.

No Loss of Information

RAW files are just that, raw. You have complete control over how your photographs are edited. Contrary to this, if you shoot JPG, the file will have be compressed and you will lose information that was originally there. Since RAW files are not compressed (RAW files can be 2-6 times larger than JPG files), they are also great for making large prints.

Dynamic Range

RAW files store more information about the dynamic range of a photograph than other formats. This is especially useful if you are shooting on a bright sunny day as highlights are often blown out, and shadows can become mucky. When you open a RAW file in a program such as Photoshop, you can often recover information in these areas. Try doing that with a JPG.

White Balance

RAW files do not apply a white balance to your photograph, which means you have the ability to apply one in post production. This comes in handy if you are shooting in Auto White Balance mode, and the camera does not guess correctly. Even if it’s just a minor adjustment, editing with a RAW file is a lot more forgiving in this department than a photograph with a pre-assigned white balance.

File Integrity

When you make adjustments with a RAW file, these settings are saved as a separate file, therefore your original never gets modified. Some photography contest websites require that you submit an original untouched photograph, and shooting RAW is an easy to way to make sure you have one available. This also prevents you from mistakenly saving over an original file and potentially losing it permanently.

When shouldn’t I shoot RAW?

One drawback to shooting RAW is that the photographs are not processed and therefore look a little flat. If you are shooting casually, or are taking a lot of photographs that you don’t want to edit afterwards, then shooting in .JPG might be a good choice.

Since they are uncompressed, RAW files contain more information, and therefore take longer to write to your memory card. This can reduce the number of photographs your camera is able to take per second. If you are shooting an event where you need the extra few frames per second to capture quick motion, then you may want to consider shooting in another format.

The other effect of uncompressed files is that they take up more space on your memory cards and hard drives. When I first started shooting in RAW, I thought this would be a problem. It has improved my photography however, because instead of “spraying and praying”, I took more time looking for and composing my shots since I knew I had less space to use. Hard drive prices have really come down in recent years, so not having enough space to store your photographs really isn’t an excuse anymore. If worst comes to worst, you can always keep the better photographs on your hard drive and delete the rest.

Conclusion

If you are not shooting in RAW format, I suggest you do so. You will not regret it as the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. I always shoot RAW + JPG (small) so that I can quickly look through all the JPG images on my computer before choosing which one to edit (from RAW).

 

If you have any questions or comments about the following article, please let me know.

 

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6 Responses to “Why You Should Shoot RAW”

  1. Decent point raised throughout the article until you feel the need to reach a conclusion!

    Why is there a stupid and mindless decision to be made?

    RAW is a tool for the photographer to use just as much as a tripod. Use it when you need it or feel it would be helpful and avoid it when you don’t need it and feel it would be overly cumbersome in time or file space. So tired of seeing amateur photographers being pulled and pushed by ill-conceived articles on the subject of RAW v JPEG. THER IS NO COMPETITION…just choice. Educate photographer as to the choice as you have done in the first part of the article and then your conclusions should be to tell them to choose carefully, not pick one over the other blindly follow the last moron who wrote an article

    Ewen Rankin (Pro Photographer and frequent JPEG User/RAW User)

    • Jonathan Eger says:

      I’m not sure why you are so sensitive about there being a conclusion.

      The target audience for this article are people who don’t know about RAW, or people who do know about it but have yet to try it. I want them to try shooting RAW so that they can see what works best for them. Most people don’t know about RAW and therefore don’t know there is a choice.

      If you’ve tried shooting RAW and decided it’s not for you, that’s great. I just want everyone to have the opportunity to make that decision.

      • Hi Jonathon

        I think you havent read what I have said about the article.

        The point is that RAW v JPEG is a choice between two different types of tools not a war and by picking one in your conclusion which you prefer, you perpetuate the ‘one is better than the other’ argument that rages amongst amateurs and is utter bunkum

        I am greatly disappointed as well because you clearly lay out some fantastic information for the ill-informed above and I would have had no hesitation in recommending this article to our listeners and followers BUT for your conclusion.

        We get questions every week and I’m sick of seeing ‘Which is better Raw or JPEG’ questions. I have a response pre-typed now which I reply to everyone who writes in, which essentially says “Neither”

        Regards

        Ewen

        • Jonathan Eger says:

          Ewen,

          First of all, let me thank you for taking the time to leave a reply. I appreciate hearing different perspectives.

          I took the time to think about what you wrote. I also took the time to read the article you posted on your site. (http://www.bageltechnews.com/?p=3176)

          There is some wisdom in your words. In the end, they are both tools which can be used in different situations. In this regard, I agree with you, one is not better than the other, just different.

          A good analogy to explain my point of view would be the following. If someone was looking to purchase a new camera, and they asked me what they should buy, I would explain to them they have choices. A point and shoot camera is good for casual use such as social gatherings, because it is small, and doesn’t require much thought to use. I’d explain an SLR camera provides a lot more control over things such as shutter speed, aperture, lighting and can have accessories such as filters and timer remotes. While an SLR camera may not be “better”, it certainly offers much more control. Does that mean that point and shoot cameras aren’t capable of great photographs? Absolutely not. But if you want to improve your photography, I would argue having more control is a good thing.

          Which brings me back to my article. There are two occasions in my life where I did not shoot RAW and wish I had. 1) When I first bought my DSLR, I didn’t know about RAW. My photographs of the temples in Cambodia have good exposures, but the skies are slightly blown out. I would have liked to get some of those details back through RAW. 2) The photographs I took of a stained glass ceiling at the House of Parliament in Toronto. The white balance is way off due to the coloured glass, but my options of fixing that are now limited.

          I’d rather err on the safe side and shoot RAW in the event I need to make adjustments afterwards. In most situations, you don’t know you need to make these changes until you are viewing your photographs on a large screen. I hope to save other photographers from similar short comings.

          I have never found myself in the position where I have said to myself “I wish I hadn’t shot in RAW”. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but in my experience (landscape photography, portraiture, commercial, & wedding) I haven’t come across one.

          In the end, I do think RAW is better than JPG and I have no problem endorsing it as my preferred format.

          I don’t expect us to agree on the topic, but I hope you’ll see my thoughts are far from “amateurish” or “moronic”.

          All the best,

          Jonathan Eger

          • Hi Jonathan

            Trust me there are PLENTY of circumstances where I have had my camera on RAW and then carried on shooting some crap for the local rag and wished that I’d gone back to Jpeg or let someone use my camera and then had a cry for help because they show 600 images that they now cant open.

            I shoot images for my local Rugby Club as a favour each week and in 200-300 images from the game, RAW would make no difference one way or the other but would be 3 times as long in the processing and you know what Pro Photographers are like, once they have the chance to tweak and ‘perfect’ they cant stop themselves. To a degree JPEG limits me and makes better use of my time for a lot of images.

            I also dont think that the analogy of a camera is valid or that use of RAW ‘improves’ your photographic skills. 90% of the compact cameras on the market shoot perfectly well in Manual Mode and the biggest single thing an amateur can do to improve image quality if grasp the balance of Exposure, Aperture and Capture. Once they get that they will learn to use the camera as a ‘meter’ and then manually adjust those settings to avoid “blowing out” parts of their image.

            To a degree RAW is lazy.

            Regards

            Ewen

  2. bugi says:

    Note: RAW files ARE compressed. They are lossless, but they are nevertheless compressed to reduce the file size.

    I always shoot RAW, mainly because I post process each and everyone of my photos. I think you should be shooting RAW as soon as you start processing your pictures (as you should), or even sooner. Remember that a RAW file is futureproof. You can take an older shot and do wonders to it years later as you haven’t lost any data in jpeg compression.

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