In this tutorial I will explain the benefits of shooting and editing in camera RAW. If you’ve been experimenting with or learning photography, you’ve probably read or heard that you should be shooting in RAW. But what does this mean and what are the benefits? How do you use a RAW file once you’ve captured one?
Today’s DSLR cameras give you the option to shoot in either RAW or JPG. When you are shooting in JPG mode, the sensor in your camera captures a bunch of light and color information when you take a picture, makes some decisions about how to process that information, and “bakes” out a compressed version of that information into JPG file which it saves to your camera’s memory card. Much of the information from the sensor is discarded because it’s not needed any longer. As a result, JPG images are much smaller than RAW images, but don’t allow you to have as much ability to make changes to exposure, color temperature, contrast, and a host of other adjustments after you’ve taken the photo.
When shooting in RAW mode, the camera still collects the same amount of information from the sensor but instead of deciding how the image should look and compressing that information into a JPG, it just saves all of that sensor information into a (large) RAW file onto your memory card. When you open this special file type in photoshop, you are presented with the Camera Raw interface. This interface has a plethora of sliders and controls that let you push and pull all of the data contained in the file to creatively decide how you want the final image to look.
Here’s an example photograph that shows how shooting in RAW can enable you to make creative decisions and produce the best possible image. I met lovely freelance model Djen Yasay by chance during my recent trip to Manila, Philippines. I only had a few moments before I had to be at an event and she was kind enough to let me take a few photographs with the ocean sunset as a backdrop. I didn’t have time to setup an umbrella and speedlight but I knew I wanted to capture some of the color and detail in the sky while still exposing Djen’s face correctly. Because the sunset was behind the subject, it was impossible to expose for both the model’s face and the sky. If I would have set exposure for her face, the sky would have been completely blown out white. If I had set exposure for the sky, she would be nothing more than a silhouette.
This is a perfect job for RAW. I set exposure somewhere in the middle. The sky is not blown out, and her face is not completely dark. Here’s the photo without any adjustment:
Not a bad shot, but I want her face to be brighter. Because I shot this image in RAW, I am able to drag the “Exposure” slider to the right to increase the overall brightness of the picture. As I do so, new details emerge that were not visible before. As I move the slider, it’s as if I had taken the photo with different exposure settings. Remember, all of that exposure information is saved in the RAW file format. So by dragging the exposure slider to the right, I’m able to get an exposure on the model’s face that I’m happy with, but notice that the sky is now blown out.
Luckily, because we are working with a RAW file, I can pull the “Highlights” slider to the left and recover much of the detail and color in the sky. There are many other controls you can play with as well. I usually like to add a little contrast and sometimes a touch of clarity.
Once you’ve made adjustments and have achieved the result you want, click the “Open Image” button and the image will be opened in Photoshop. It’s important to realize that if you now save this image as a JPG in photoshop, you will have to re-open the original RAW file to be able to access these RAW controls again. I always use the “Save As…” command to ensure that I’m saving this file as a new image and not destroying the original RAW file.
Below are a two more examples of images that have been improved by making adjustments in Camera RAW. click the images to make them bigger.
Notice in this image how much detail and texture can be brought out in the grass by pulling the “Shadows” slider to the right.
So there you have it. If you are serious about your photography, it only makes sense to shoot in the RAW format. Experiment and practice!
Have a question or want to get my feedback on a photograph you’ve taken? Message me on twitter: @mitchrichie