Shooting in the RAW – time to get nerdy !

Anyone who’s vaguely keen on photography has probably heard of RAW files, and been confused as to why most professionals prefer them to JPEG.

Put simply, RAW files contain more information !

So why don’t we all use them ?

A RAW file is exactly what the camera sensor sees, and every sensor type is different. Unless you’re prepared to work a RAW file on computer, they cant really used for much. They look flat, often have the wrong colours, cant be used for printing, the internet or anything else.  To make matters even more confusing, a RAW file will be different from one camera to another.

So why have RAW at all when my camera saves JPEG’s ?

The camera will always capture a RAW image, it’s the camera that processes it into a JPEG, before discarding the RAW file. For a lot of pictures, this is just fine, providing the camera gets everything the way you want it. Part of the process includes interpreting colour balance, saturation, contrast and so on. Once the camera has done all this, it compresses the file and throws away any information it doesn’t want. Sometimes it wont matter, and other times you may lose fine details in the whites of a dress, blacks of a suit or not get the right colours. There’s only so much you can do, but only if the information is still there.

How do you use a RAW file ?

A saved RAW file is processed on computer using specific software. The big advantage here is the flexibility to choose. Without altering the original information, changes can be made endlessly to light and colour balance, enhance details that would otherwise be lost, and generally make it the way you want. This is especially great for images shot in harsh light or heavily coloured light.

OK, so that’s enough talking. The samples below demonstrate the difference between a ‘camera processed’ image and a carefully managed RAW file in post production.