You’ve probably heard this before, but if you want to keep taking better photos and improving your photographic skills, it’s usually not a case of if you switch to RAW, it’s when. Shooting in Jpeg is like driving an automatic car, or holding your nose when your eating great food or refusing to dance at a really great party. You’re only half in the experience.
I switched to shooting RAW about 5 years ago and for years before that my photographer friends badgered me to move on from Jpegs. Now I’m on the other side, I’ve become the irritating person who does the badgering! So just in case you haven’t got the message yet, here’s five reasons to switch to RAW…
(1) Jpeg is someone else’s interpretation of the world, not yours.
One of the arguments I hear often for leaving photos as they are is that the picture is more “honest” or “real” that way. This my friends, is codswallop! All cameras essentially shoot in RAW, it’s just that if you choose your output to be in Jpeg the camera processes the image for you based on a bunch of pre-ordained settings decided years ago in a lab somewhere at Canon or Nikon. If you lined up a load of Jpegs of the same subject taken with different cameras, they’d all be different. Some would be more saturated, some would be bluer, some would be sharper. All dependant on the photography geeks at the company you bought from.
The second reason Jpegs don’t show a real image of the world is that cameras have a fraction of the dynamic range of the human eye. My brain can interpret high contrast images, but the camera will struggle to expose correctly across the frame. If you shoot in RAW you can more accurately process an image according to what you saw.
(2) You never need to worry about white balance again
That’s right, one less thing to worry about! If you are shooting RAW your white balance setting only effects the image you see on the back of the camera and not the actual RAW file. Once you’ve imported the image to Lightroom you can then toggle freely between the white balance settings without effecting or damaging the original file. The only minor exception to this is that a lot of software will display “as shot” as the default white balance, but rest assured you can still change it without harming the image. So when you are shooting RAW, Just set your white balance to “auto” and forget about it.
(3) You can save under or over exposed images
Lets face it, all of us have moments when the images we shoot are less than perfectly exposed. Life is busy, we’re usually juggling multiple things and our camera settings aren’t perfect. With RAW you can claw back a surprising amount of detail and colour in and over or under exposed image because the camera captures all of the information it sees and not just some of it. In the image above the hair is blown out and colour has been lost from the sea and the sky. With a few adjustments to exposure (and saturation) you can bring the photo back to something that was closer to what I actually saw with my eye
(4) RAW gives you more detail and better prints
Jpeg is a lossy file format which means that during the compression process it discards certain bits of information and details of the image. The same details and information that is retained for you in RAW. In addition to this with RAW it’s you who does the sharpening of the photo and not the camera. If you’ve ever seen a really great close up image where the eyes seem to be sharp and clear, it’s almost certainly be shot in RAW and the sharpening has been applied in post processing.
(5) Why spend money on a great camera and only let it do half of what it’s capable of?
As I mentioned before if you shoot Jpeg decisions are being made for you and information is being discarded without your say so. If you’ve spent hundreds (or thousands!) on a great camera, why bin half of what it captures before it even comes out of the camera. Isn’t it time to discover what your SLR can really capture?
Still not sure?
Don’t forget most cameras can be set to record both Jpeg and RAW simultaneously. If you want to have a play with processing RAW, next time you are doing a special shoot capture both and set aside some time to see what you can do with the RAW file.
PS – For those of you coming along to BlogCamp in Birmingham in a couple of weeks. I’ll be doing a talk on Lightoom, which will cover some of these points about the benefits of RAW and give you an introduction to using Lightroom. Hope to see you there!
Questions? Read all about it here.
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