10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting RAW
You’ve probably heard over and over that you should be shooting in RAW.
But do you know why it’s so important? And what it really means for your images? Let’s sort it out!
What is RAW?
RAW is a file format that captures all of the data recorded by your cameras sensor, when you snap a picture.
If you shoot a JPEG image, on the other hand, much of that information is compressed and lost. Because no information is lost with a RAW file, you're able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct any issues that may have occurred in the camera, taking the shot. Issues that would be more permanent in a JPEG format.
Thankfully, most cameras these days, include shooting in RAW.
So, even your point-n-shoot and most recent mobile phones, have an option to shoot in RAW.
Here are the advantages to shooting in RAW;
1. Get the Highest Level of Quality
This is the biggest benefit. When you shoot in RAW, you record ALL of the data from the sensor. This give you the highest quality file.
Look at it this way: all cameras technically shoot RAW.
Yes, it’s true.
The difference when you shoot in JPEG format is that the camera does it’s own processing to convert the RAW information into a JPEG.
However, your camera is nowhere near as smart as your brain, nor is it as powerful as your computer.
When you shoot RAW, you’re able to do that processing yourself. You can make the decisions on how the image should look, and produce way better results.
2. Record Greater Levels of Brightness
Levels of brightness are the number of steps from black to white in an image.
The more you have, the smoother the transitions of tones. Smooth is good.
JPEG records 256 levels of brightness, and RAW records between 4,096 to 16,384 levels! This is described with the term “bit”. JPEG captures in 8bit, and RAW is either 12bit or 14bit. That’s what that bit business means!
The effect this has on your images is huge.
Those additional steps of brightness let you make more adjustments (exposure, blacks, fill light, recovery, contrast, brightness) to your image without a significant reduction of quality, because there’s more levels to work with!
It’s also easier to avoid or correct posterisation in your images when you shoot in RAW.
Posterisation is the banding that you often see in bright skies, which really doesn’t look good in prints!
3. Easily Correct Dramatically Over/Under Exposed Images
Obviously you want to get the best exposure in camera, but sometimes things move fast (especially with weddings!).
So, you wind up with a dramatically over or under exposed image.
With RAW you have additional information in the file, so it’s much easier to correct the image without a drastic reduction in quality.
You can also recover more blown highlights and clipped shadows. Good stuff.
4. Easily Adjust White Balance
When you shoot JPEG the white balance is applied to the image.
You can’t just easily choose another option.
With RAW the white balance is still recorded, but because you have way more data, it’s easy to adjust.
Great white balance and colour are essential to an awesome image, and shooting RAW lets you make the adjustments easier and faster, with better results.
5. Get Better Detail
When you shoot RAW you have access to sharpening and noise algorithms in a program like Lightroom that are way more powerful than those found in your camera.
Plus, these sharpening and noise algorithms are always improving, so in the future you’ll be able to re-visit your RAW files and take advantage of these improvements.
6. Enjoy Non-Destructive Editing
When you make adjustments to a RAW file, you’re not actually doing anything to the original data.
What you’re doing is creating a set of instructions for how the JPEG or TIFF (another file format) version should be saved.
The awesomeness of this is that you never ever have to worry about ruining an image, accidentally saving over, or being unable to go back and make changes.
You can always reset your adjustments, and start over again.
JPEG files lose quality every time you open them, make adjustments, and save again. True story. It’s what is known as a “lossy” file format.
So if you’re making edits to JPEGs you always have to be duplicating the image and saving out a new version if you don’t want to lose file quality. Hassle.
7. Get Better Prints
Because of the finer gradation of tones and colours you’ll get better prints from RAW files.
Even though more and more people are shooting digital, great prints are as important as ever (maybe even more so, due to their relative rarity!)
You’ll also get less banding, which is really yucky on a print.
8. Select Colour Space on Output
Colour space is a bit of a complex topic, but here’s a quick tip.
With RAW you can choose from any colour space when you are exporting it out, so you can adjust depending on the situation!
Is the image going on to the web? Then output in the sRGB colour space to ensure maximum compatibility among web browsers.
Are the files heading to a client? Save it in the common Adobe RGB (1998) colour space.
Do you want the widest colour space possible? Use ProPhoto RGB.
Basically, there are different colour spaces that work best for different situations, and when you shoot RAW you can export a single image in multiple spaces! Sweet!
9. Have an Efficient Workflow
It’s easier to work through large batches of images when you’re using a workflow centric program like Lightroom or Aperture. They’re designed to easily process groups of RAW images. Photoshop is not meant for that kind of thing, it’s built to handle one image at a time.
In order to take full advantage of all the benefits of Lightroom and Aperture you should be shooting RAW!
10. It’s the Pro Option
Professionals should be providing their clients with the highest quality possible. Issues like banding and blown highlights are big deals when you’re offering your clients printed products. Achieving proper colour balance, and choosing the right colour space for the situation are critical as well.
By shooting RAW you take control, and are able to manage these problems to create the best results possible.
Now that some point and shoots are capable of shooting RAW, hobbyists and amateurs can also take advantage of this pro level option, and get better files and prints! Good deal.
There are some major drawbacks, when using RAW files (life is a balance, right?!?!). And I will cover those on my next blog, tomorrow. In the meantime, here is a short video explaining the differences between RAW & JPEG files.