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.
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.
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.
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.
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.