To RAW or not to RAW, that’s the question

If you are new to photography, you may of heard people talk about “shoot in RAW” but never really understood what this is exactly referring too. So, the question on your lips is What is RAW? Do I need to shoot in RAW? What are the benefits of this? to name but a few common questions.

So, what exactly is RAW? In simple terms, a RAW file is the digital equivalent of the old negatives from the film days. These files contain every single bit of data that was recorded when you pressed the shutter button and the image saved to the camera. This includes all the important details like shadow, mid-tones and highlights. This file is not processed by the camera as all the camera is actually doing is recording the data presented on the digital sensor. RAW files, as such, are very bland when you first look at them on the computer and you will immediately wonder where all that luscious colour has gone too. This is by design.

 

If you look at the example to the left, you will see an unedited RAW file, which is bland, flat, lacks any contrast or real colour from the sunrise. When new users of RAW first lay eyes on a RAW file, they are usually turned off by these points and think that shooting in JPG is better because they are seeing all the vibrant colours.

Why are they so different? They are because the camera’s built in software is actually doing all the processing for you and what you see is what you get. This not often looks the same as the actual view because camera’s tend to over saturate the image for you. A side note though, if you want to use the image immediately, then JPG is a good option as there is nothing you need to do.

That itself (.JPG files), as previously mentioned, raises a problem – the processing of the image. When the camera does this, it will actually “delete” any data from the image that it deems un-necessary so when you want to edit the image you have very little data left to adjust and you end up with worst looking image because you are trying to get more out. Using RAW, all the data stays intact so you are then free to tweak aspects such as highlights, shadows, mid-tones etc

 

Make the no-brainer change to RAW – Do it now!

Yes, moving over to RAW files opens up a new avenue and required skill set, but this puts you, the photographer, back in control of your images allowing you produce the image in “your” view. Working in RAW though does require some software.

Software for RAW Editing

There are many software options available to you when it comes to Post Processing (PP). Two of the most common and popular packages are Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop but there others available such as Canon’s DPP (which comes bundled with any Canon body you buy) and Gimp. Lightroom and Photoshop can be purchased through Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription service where you pay a fee, currently (as of 20/02/2017) £10.10 per month for both applications on their Photographers package. Which you chose will be entirely up to you, depending on how in-depth you would like to be. Personally, I’m a Photoshop kinda guy as I’ve used this application for many years.

Besides having the enjoyment of actually processing the images yourself, you are gaining new skill sets by leaning techniques with the application. The fact is, in this very saturated photographers market, you really have to work yourself hard to produce the best images you possibly can if your end game is to start up as a business. You simply can no longer be just a “point and shoot” person as all you have are snapshots, rather than images. So, by applying your knowledge and experience out on the ground and then being able to post process well, you can then put your own stamp on your images, be creative.

Post processing is all about having a “workflow”. Mine is relatively simple and does not have that many steps, more like basic adjustments to show aspects like detail, contrast etc. By the time I’ve reached the end of my workflow, I’ve taken a flat un-inspiring image and transformed it back to how it looked on the ground. Of course, some people, in their workflow will get very creative and change aspects of the image (manipulation) but that’s entirely their call as they are just creating their own art. Manipulating a photograph is whole different discussion which I’ll maybe write about at another time.

To bring this to a close, you can see the RAW file from above, now processed via Photoshop, to how I want it to be, how I want the viewer to See Through My Lens. Just remember, all the data you saw at the time is stored right there in the RAW file for you to use, go ahead and make the most of it. You can easily change your camera to shoot in RAW via its menu, and you can even tell the camera to shoot “both” RAW and JPG to start with, until you have got to grips with your images. Use the slider on the image below to see the original RAW file and the processed RAW file. Its very gentle, but really makes a big difference.

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