Why we shoot RAW.

What’s this RAW thing we keep hearing about? Should we shoot in that RAW format?

Um, yes.

And here’s why.

For two reasons.

  1. First, while JPG is like a Polaroid – all your settings are applied to the data – the RAW format is more like a negative – the settings are merely attached, so you can change stuff before you use it. White balance, colour space, and more. (Hands up, everyone who always gets every decision right? Yes, I thought so.)
  2. Second, there is more data – 14 bits versus 8 bits per colour channel. So you can fix under- or over-exposure more often.

What does that mean?

Let me give you an example. Say that I shoot Tara – but the flash does not fire. Result: a dark picture, totally unusable.

Tara - but no flash

Ah. But I shot RAW. So now I can do something wedding photographers do when a picture is unusable but they shot in RAW:

  1. Increase exposure in Lightroom by the maximum.
  2. Add fill light to the maximum.
  3. Convert to black and white.
  4. Increase luminance of red and orange (skin colours) to the maximum.
  5. Crop.
  6. Decrease noise.
  7. Add photo grain (looks great and moody).

And that gives me:

Tara - but no flash (fixed)

Wow. Like I intended it to be all trendy and moody and old-fashioned black and white and stuff. And this is with a picture that is underexposed by six, seven stops!

Case closed. Yeah?

5 thoughts on “Why we shoot RAW.

  1. Photoshop Elements 8 has Adobe Camera Raw, but it is an earlier and less powerful version which does not handle noise as well as version 6 which is included with Lightroom and Photoshop CS5. The noise control in ACR 6 is worth the upgrade cost to Lightroom.

    I don’t have Lightroom, but I have Photoshop CS5 which has the same Adobe Camera Raw 6 which is where you increase exposure and fill light. Presumably, also where you decrease noise.

    Are you doing the other steps in ACR or after the file has been passed to Lightroom?

    • In lightroom, there is no such thing. Light room *IS* ACR, in a sense, and no passing into another format is ever done until a final option “export” step. That is why lightroom, even though it uses the same ACR engine, is so much more powerful for photographers than Photoshop in it’s various versions.

  2. I tried out the steps in ACR, on a picture from last weekend. It was not as dark as your sample so I did not drive everything to the maximum, but it worked really well. Thanks

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