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March 31, 2017

Why You Should Be Shooting in RAW

I see this question all the time. “Should I shoot in RAW?” And 100% of the time, the answer is YES! YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD!! We could just end the post right there, but I’ll keep going ;)

First, what exactly is RAW? I’ll try to simplify it as best as I can. If you shoot in RAW, your camera is recording the highest quality version of that photo, and it is losing zero detail. It is recording all the image data! If you shoot JPEG instead, it is compressing the quality of the photograph, making it much more difficult to edit later. If you want to get picky, every camera out there technically already shoots in RAW – JPEG is just a format that gets slapped on top and ruins the quality.

Every DSLR (and most point and shoots now) has the ability to shoot in RAW. Google is your best friend if you can’t find it in your settings! It’s usually hidden under Image Quality though :)

Also, shooting in RAW does not mean that you deliver in RAW. You will still deliver the photos in JPEG! The goal here is just to have the RAW file be your starting point (in order to get the best quality to edit), and then you can compress the photo for delivery!

Okay, now we’ve established what exactly RAW does, so why is it helpful? I could give a long list of reasons, but here are just a few that should more than convince you!

  1. RAW files are higher quality. If you are offering professional photography to clients, I honestly think that JPEG should not even be an option in your mind. Since RAW photos have all the original detail, you are not limited by the JPEG bits (JPEG captures 8 bits, and RAW captures either 12 or 14 bits!). You can edit the original image, and not lose detail.
  2. You can save your images when you mess up! There is not a photographer alive who has never messed up an image. Sometimes that means accidentally taking a photo that would have been perfect, but when you look at it later, you see it’s crazy overexposed! When you shoot RAW, you are able to (most of the time!) edit that image to the way it should be. Think of it a little like this: say you’re editing a photo that is very underexposed, wouldn’t it be great if you could just go back in time and change your camera settings to what they should be?? That’s kind of what RAW does! If you had shot that photo in JPEG, it would probably be unusable and you’d have to toss it :( This applies to every aspect of the photograph! Was your white balance so badly off that your clients look like they’re pumpkins? RAW can fix that! Are the shadows waaaay darker than you’d like? RAW can fix that too ;) It can correct all kinds of wrongs! If you tried to fix these things in JPEG, the quality of the image would be completely lost.

I’m going to show you an example of how different editing in JPEG looks! I shoot all of my images in RAW, so to get a JPEG image, I opened the RAW file in Lightroom, and before making any kind of edits, I exported it to JPEG. Then I opened that JPEG image in Lightroom, and tried to edit it to look the way I wanted it to! First, here is the original photo, and the final RAW edit:

The original is very underexposed, and their skin is much too warm! Yay for RAW!

And now here is the JPEG edit on the left, and RAW on the right:

You can tell that the details in the JPEG have been compressed, and the highlights are still very blown out. When I tried to fix the highlights problem, it turned their skin a dull gray, which definitely isn’t good!! Alternatively, when editing the RAW file, I was easily able to pull that highlights slider down without losing any detail!

Is it possible to edit beautiful photos in JPEG? Yeah, I think so. But why would you want to do that when you could be shooting in RAW, and end up with a higher quality finished product for your client? And make your life 1,000x easier in the process.

Here are two other before & afters that were made possible by shooting RAW! It does amazing things for skin tones!

Hopefully that cleared things up, and if you’re not shooting in RAW, go change your settings now!! I promise you won’t regret it.

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