5 Reasons to Always Shoot and Edit in RAW Image FormatMarch 6, 2019
When you’re new to photography, you may hear experienced photographers talking about RAW image formats and wonder what they mean. Simply put, a RAW image is not compressed, which gives you much greater flexibility in editing. Here are top reasons why you should consider shooting in RAW image format:
5 Reasons to Always Shoot and Edit and Raw Image Format
- RAW Format Provides Higher Quality
- RAW Photography Captures More Detail
- Shooting in RAW Allows Easy Exposure and White Balance Corrections
- RAW Images Provide Access to More Levels of Brightness
- RAW Format Supports Non-Destructive Editing
Shooting in RAW is valuable in many situations. If you need to take images quickly and can’t adjust exposure for each shot, choosing RAW format is a must. Also, if you’re shooting a landscape or in other environments that require high tonal detail and dynamic range, always select RAW. You’ll soon learn that RAW is the best option for scenarios where the highest-quality images are the goal.
It’s important to learn the advantages of shooting in RAW early in your photography journey. You can gain fundamental knowledge by taking a free online photography course or by reading about photography online.
To understand RAW format, you also need to know the basics about JPEG images. Whether you use a smartphone or digital camera to take photos, you’ll find that the typical default is to save your images as JPEG or JPG files. It’s important to know that there is no difference between JPG and JPEG file. The acronym “JPEG” stands for “Joint Photography Experts Group,” and “JPG” is a shortened, three letter file name. However, you should be aware that a JPEG file is not a RAW image.
Why is JPEG so common? It is a universal format that works well on all types of desktop and mobile devices. If you’re going to take a quick photo and post it to social media or text it to a friend, JPEG is a suitable image format to use. You won’t need to make any edits for your viewers to see your photo. But JPEG is a compressed file format so some information about your image will be lost.
Also, you should know that a RAW image will have a larger file size than a compressed JPEG image. That means shooting in RAW will take up more space on your camera memory card. And plan ahead for RAW image downloads. Many photographers find that an external hard drive is the best place to save RAW files to preserve storage space on their computers.
Each camera manufacturer has a unique RAW file format. So, there is no single, universal RAW file format. However, Adobe does have a RAW image format, called a Digital Negative Image or DNG format. You can convert RAW image files to DNG files to use them across a broader range of editing software solutions.
Another important fact to know: many cameras have the option to shoot RAW—even less expensive models. You don’t need to rely on high-end cameras to gain the benefits that a RAW file format offers. Keep this in mind when you are trying to decide which camera to buy.
“The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.”
– Andy Warhol
Reason #1: RAW Format Provides Higher Quality
When you choose a RAW image format, you capture all the data from your image sensor. This is a huge advantage since it lets you manipulate elements of your image in any way you want.
With a compressed file format like JPEG, the camera automatically makes several adjustments to shrink the file size. This can include adjusting the sharpness, contrast, and saturation of your images. Sometimes, these adjustments won’t deliver the effects that you want with your photos. And you may not be able to undo them once they are saved in JPEG format.
Instead of allowing your camera to perform routine processing steps, you can gain full control with a RAW image. You can make all the decisions about how your pictures will look and never risk sacrificing quality.
There are many scenarios where this is vitally important. For example, if you take portraits, you must maintain quality while performing a range of edits and retouching steps. And if you plan to have any prints made of your photos, you must ensure the highest quality possible.
Shooting in RAW helps you meet these goals. If you shoot in RAW but change your mind, you’ll find it easy to convert RAW to JPEG.
Reason #2: RAW Photography Captures More Detail
When shooting in JPEG file format, the camera usually makes noise reduction and sharpness adjustments. These may be adequate, but you will gain much more flexibility over sharpness and noise reduction when you use high-quality photo editing software, like Adobe Lightroom CC.
For example, you may need to shoot with a high ISO in a low-light setting—such as indoors at night—when you can’t use a flash. This can result in a grainy, noisy photo. If you shoot in RAW format, you’ll have the option to edit out the noise and produce a cleaner, sharper image.
Reason #3: Shooting in RAW Allows Easy Exposure and White Balance Corrections
With a RAW image, you also have much more flexibility to adjust exposure and white balance. Both of these are key to producing images of exceptional quality.
When you’re new to photography, it may take you a while to understand how to achieve the correct exposure in every shooting situation. Even experienced photographers can find it difficult to attain the perfect exposure in fast-changing light conditions or active shooting environments, such as events or weddings. Fortunately, you can fix this with ease in post-production with editing software. If you find you have an overexposed or underexposed image, you can correct issues with a RAW file.
White balance is another element that you can fix in a RAW image. What is white balance? Essentially, it is the color tone of your image. An image with a warm white balance has a golden hue, while a cool white balance produces a tone that is bluer. The lighting in your shooting environment affects the white balance of your images.
With a JPEG format, the camera automatically applies white balance, which can result in a color tone that you may not prefer. But you can adjust white balance in your RAW image during post-production. This can help you fix an image to make its color tone look more natural or even create interesting tonal effects.
Reason #4: RAW Images Provide Access to More Levels of Brightness
Another reason to choose a RAW image is that you can gain a much wider dynamic range—which means you have more levels of brightness within your image. In photography, levels of brightness are the steps or stages between complete darkness, or black, to complete brightness, or white. More levels of brightness allow for a smoother transition of tones and lets you make more adjustments.
When comparing RAW image vs. JPEG, you may wonder, “What is the difference in levels of brightness?” While JPEG records 256 levels, RAW captures between 4,096 to 16,384 levels. This relates to the concept of “bit” in photography. A JPEG format is 8-bit, while a RAW image is 12-bit or 14-bit. Having more levels of brightness gives you much more flexibility over the appearance of your image.
Think about what might happen if you are shooting outside on a bright day. It’s easy to capture images that are overexposed and end up with your sky appearing white instead of blue. With a RAW image, you can restore highlights and details that capture the natural essence of your scene. You likely won’t be able to achieve the same effect with a JPEG file.
Reason #5: RAW Format Supports Non-Destructive Editing
When you edit a RAW image, you do not make any changes to the original data you captured. Instead, you are creating a set of instructions on how to produce a new file in a different format—such as JPEG, PNG, or TIFF. This means you’ll never have to feel concerned about saving over a RAW image or not being able to undo any adjustments you make.
How does this work? With destructive editing, the software changes pixels in a photo. But with non-destructive editing, the software creates a new image linked to the original picture. While you are editing a RAW image, you can see a preview of your adjustments and can choose to save them or not. When you do save them, you are actually exporting a new version of the photo—but you retain the original.
If you keep editing on saving and resaving a JPEG image, you’ll find that it degrades with each round of changes. With a RAW file and non-destructive editing, you can always retain your original RAW image. You can come back to it in the future if you have new inspiration—or to take advantage of new photo editing features as software advances. This offers you much greater flexibility today and in the future.
Shoot in RAW to Create Exceptional Photos
What is a RAW image? That’s a common question among those who are just entering into the world of photography. Once you know some basic facts about RAW format, you’ll understand just how valuable it is if you want to take top-quality photos.
As an uncompressed file format, a RAW image retains all the data captured by the sensor when you shot the photo. That allows you to use a RAW image editor to make any desired adjustments during post-processing.
Other compressed formats—such as JPEG—only limits the adjustments you can make. This occurs because compression automatically selects options for white balance, brightness, and other key photographic elements.
You’ll find that a RAW image file is much bigger than a JPEG image file, but the editing power you’ll gain is worth the tradeoff. Before you dive into your edits, you can seek out a RAW image viewer online. You can also find free RAW image converters if you do want to save a copy of your RAW file as a JPEG.
Within advanced editing software, like Photoshop or Lightroom, you can adjust noise reduction, sharpness, color, brightness, contrast, shadows and more. You can also opt for non-destructive editing, which saves a copy of your RAW image and exports a new file in a different format with your selected adjustments. That allows you to keep the RAW image. You can even revisit it in the future with different, more powerful editing software to achieve new effects.
Make sure you have your photography composition correct, set up your photo studio properly, use photography props and you’ll be prepared to take inspiring photos. When you finish your photo shoot you’ll be ready to edit your images.
Once you learn about processing RAW image format files, you’ll open up many new avenues to explore. You can take any good photo and transform it into a masterpiece during post-production. And this will open doors to taking better images and making money as a photographer or sell your photos on Etsy. Make the switch to shooting in RAW mode, practice your editing skills, and watch your talent grow.