Photography Tutorial: 10 Benefits to Working in Camera RAW

When you’re first starting out in digital photography, chances are you’re focused on learning things like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. Which isn’t a bad thing- that’s exactly where you should start! However, even the most awesome combo of those three essentials can be improved by choosing the best photo file setting. Most cameras come with a default setting of JPG (or JPEG), which is fine for a beginner as those types of files are easily transferred and uploaded to websites. But as you sharpen your shutterbug skills, you should seriously think about shooting in RAW mode. Here’s why!

1. You’ll get the highest possible quality

Your camera is pretty darn smart. But not as smart as your computer. Shooting in RAW mode tells your camera’s sensor to capture all the information that is coming at it and not to convert/compress it in any way. This results in an uploaded image file that has every single data point still intact and gives you much more to work with while editing!

2. You won’t degrade the file while editing

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that every time a JPG file is opened, edited, or re-saved, information is lost. If you do this enough times, you’ll end up with an image that is grainy, pixilated, and discolored. But if you work with RAW, no permanent changes are being made to the original information set, which means, whenever you open the file it will be as pristine as it was the day you shot it!

3. You’ll appear more professional

If you a pro, semi-pro, or even amateur photographer, the quality of images you present to the world say a lot about you. You don’t want to run into issues if your clients or friends want to re-size, share, or print their photos. RAW images won’t give you problems like banding, enlargement artifacts, or grain. Just remember, once you shoot JPG, you can’t go back!

4. You’ll get the optimal print quality

Things often look a whole lot different on paper- details and flaws are thrown into focus and little bits that you didn’t see on the computer screen will become apparent. Especially when printing anything bigger than 8×10. But if you shot in RAW, you can be guaranteed that your prints will be richer and have a wider range of tones. Why? Because every little pixel will still contain all the information that it had during shooting: light, color, and detail. And it’s those little things that matter!

5. You’ll be able to correct poorly shot images

We’ve all had those shots that turned out to be too bright or too dark. If you’re working with a RAW file it’ll be much easier to salvage or correct them. Again, if you have more information in the file to begin with, you’ll have a greater range of editing options!

6. You’ll get more levels of brightness

In terms of contrast, each individual tone between pure white and pure black is called a “step”. The more steps your image contains, the smoother the gradient will be between light and dark areas, as well as having a wider range (brighter whites and darker blacks). JPGs can only record a couple hundred steps while RAW files can record up to 17,000! I think that explains itself!

7. You’ll be forced to shoot mindfully

RAW files are big. Like, really big compared to JPG. Which means they take up more room on your card, preventing you from taking as many shots. For many people this may seem like a disadvantage, but to me, it makes me think harder before I press the shutter. When I know I only have 100 shots to work with instead of 1000, I put more deliberation into composition, exposure, and subject matter.

8. You can adjust your white balance

Sometimes it’s tough to determine the right white balance setting to use, especially if you’re moving between environments (e.g. indoor halogen to sunny outdoors). If you shoot with JPG, it sets your white balance for you and you can’t change it later. Camera RAW allows you to set the optimal white balance later during your editing phase, giving you the truest and most pleasant colors!

9. You can have an efficient workflow

If you use Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture program, you can upload and edit an entire batch of RAW files at once. Plus, with the addition of “the cloud”, working and sharing your images is easier than ever. Keep in mind, however, Photoshop does not yet support multiple RAW file editing- it’s designed to only open one at a time. But if you happen to have either of the mentioned programs, a high quality workflow is a breeze!

10. You can brag about your amazing photographer cred

Join the cult of RAW. Come on, you know you want to! Once you commit to making the switch, you’ll suddenly be a part of a fun, passionate, sometimes nerdy crowd of photo enthusiasts.