This is a complete guide covering the reasons to shoot in RAW format.
We’ll be covering the following topics (click on a bullet point to jump to that section):
What Does RAW Stand for in Photography?
A RAW file is a digital image file that is stored in your camera or smartphone’s memory card. This RAW file is usually minimally processed and is usually uncompressed. Every camera manufacturer has its own RAW file format, for example, Canon’s RAW files are .CR2 or .CR3, while Nikon’s are .NEF.
What is the Difference Between RAW and JPEG?
There are two different image formats in photography, JPEG or JPG and RAW.
Each format has unique characteristics and is often compared.
Thus, the RAW vs JPEG conversation was born.
Compared to JPEG which is compressed and processed, the RAW format is an unpolished and minimally edited format packed with data.
This lack of compression allows RAW photography to thrive in post-production because more data means more information to work on while editing.
Besides their main processed and unprocessed difference, there are other differences in RAW vs JPEG file sizes.
2. Control Over Image Data
Compared to JPEG, the RAW image format allows control over image data and how much editing it needs.
RAW formats tend to have very large sizes when compared to JPEG. This is caused by a minimum of 69 billion color shades (the numbers may depend on the camera).
RAW photography will demand you to edit it before sharing it with other devices, making them look bad in the RAW vs JPEG fight.
Smartphones can easily access the JPEG format, while RAW is only supported on the higher-end technology side.
The RAW format is unique to each camera, while JPEG is not.
The above pretty much sums up the basics of the RAW vs JPEG conversation.
The conversation is heavily subjective, meaning that the outcomes may differ for every photographer.
What are the Advantages of Shooting in RAW?
So, why RAW photography, you ask?
There are three main reasons, which are all connected to post-production by the way.
1. You Get ALL of the Data
The vast amount of data allows you to edit photos easily and achieve results that are difficult to obtain with JPEG.
The massive amount of data will enable you to reduce and add brightness to an image to your liking.
If you took a landscape photo in JPEG, you would likely encounter skies that are too bright.
Suppose you photograph landscapes that appear underexposed with little beauty.
Once taken in JPEG, these images are hard to recover.
On the other side, RAW allows you to save and edit those with its large amount of information.
2. You Can Adjust the White Balance
In a nutshell, this means adjusting the tone of the picture.
The warmer it is, the yellower it will become.
In contrast, cooler tones become more blueish.
In the JPEG settings, your camera will usually try to automatically white balance it.
While in RAW, they give you more freedom and ease to white balance it later.
This easy-to-adjust factor is one of the reasons why RAW photography seems more realistic and natural than JPEGs.
Sharpening is commonly automated in cameras, but you are given the freedom not to use it in RAW.
Although JPEG can do this just fine, RAW gives more control over the image.
Resulting in less grainy photos.
These advantages will lead you towards the other benefits that RAW photography brings.
Keep reading for more.
What are the Advantages of Photographing in JPEG?
So far, this article has been praising RAW.
It is time to show JPEG the love it deserves.
The JPEG format is a small, simple, and easy file type. Let us explain.
JPEG does not take up as much space when compared to RAW.
This allows you to take many photos on a single memory card.
People love taking many photos.
Something is always bound to capture their interest to take a snap.
2. Simple & Easy
JPEG is very accessible to everyone. You, the photographer, will achieve a faster workflow when using JPEG.
Everyone can access your file from their phone, even if it is on the lower end.
Pictures you get are already processed, allowing you to port it to your social media easily.
JPEG teaches you how to get better images SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera).
The better you get at photographing this way, the better your RAW will look.
This format is highly forgiving towards newcomers who cannot edit their photos and would like many chances at trial and error.
Even professionals use this format to catch action scenes.
Should I Shoot in RAW?
The million dollar question…
RAW photography is undoubtedly more natural and realistic in photos, but it is not always worth your time.
Learning how to photograph in RAW forces you to learn post-production.
And post-production is not just moving sliders. It deserves its own dedicated article (What is Photo Retouching?) and (Color Correction vs. Color Grading)
Photographing in RAW is highly recommended to those familiar with post-production.
We prefer beginners to get used to photographing in JPEG and manual to introduce them to photography concepts.
After they slowly get better and take better pictures in JPEG, we guarantee that they will perform better with RAW.
Teaching someone how to photograph in JPEG is equivalent to teaching them how to photograph in RAW.
Consider your situation and your needs, then decide the format you want to use.
Photographing in JPEG is nothing to be ashamed of.
Every photographer has their own workflow and niche in the world.
Even the press occasionally uses the JPEG format when they do not have enough time to edit.
11 Reasons You Need to be Shooting RAW
Not learning RAW photography will be detrimental to the quality of your photos.
For most niches, you will be using a RAW image format to make your photos look more natural and realistic.
Here are our 11 reasons why you need to start using RAW!
1. Higher Quality Images
RAW provides a higher level of quality when compared to JPEG. You get all the data available from your camera.
More data means more color to your photos, more flexibility in your post-production, and better overall quality.
Most cameras are technically capable of photographing in RAW.
Meaning if you already have a picture in your brain of how your photos should look, simply use RAW to edit the photo in the likeness of your vision!
Post-processing goes a long way in RAW photography.
They give you so much flexibility.
However, you should not rely heavily on it.
2. Non-Destructive Resizing
Have you ever made your picture smaller to fit specific resolutions?
If you did, you would realize that the quality gets adjusted, and you cannot make it bigger anymore.
Once you resize it, it cannot be undone (unless you still have the original).
On the other side, the RAW image format can be saved into multiple sizes.
This is possible because the format changes into JPEGs, DNGs, and many others.
It may not seem considerable, but it will significantly improve your workflow efficiency!
3. Better Brightness
Among the billion color tones, there is the main white to black in an image.
Color tones are like a mix of a few colors that change slightly between colors.
Flattering color tones are not as achievable when using JPEG.
With jpeg only having 256 levels compared to the RAWs overwhelming 4,096 levels.
As you can imagine, the effects of the sheer difference in brightness levels bring more to the table.
You can easily access the many brightness-related adjustments without a massive reduction in quality.
4. Effortlessly Correct Under/Over Exposed Photos
It comes as no surprise that RAW photography can quickly correct brightness-related issues.
Thanks to the large amount of data it provides, the RAW image format allows you to fix your photos without ruining them quickly.
This also includes posterization, highlights, and shadows, which are great additions if compared to JPEG!
5. Quickly Correct the White Balance
White balance is automatically applied to your images when you photograph in JPEG.
Compared to RAW, it does not give you much data to work on.
It gives you less room to fix and adjust the white balance.
White balancing gives a more natural and realistic look to a picture, which is faster when using RAW coupled with Lightroom.
6. Mesmerizing Level of Detail
Correcting noise and sharpening photos is also one of RAWs’ advantages.
Through RAW, you are given access to the holy sharpening tool and denoise feature.
Sharper images have a higher definition in the small details, such as leaves, close-up eyelashes, and even fine texture on clothes.
If you manage not excessively to use the tools above, you will end up with fewer digital grains.
The detail becomes even better once you use Adobe Photoshop.
The smart object feature allows you to layer hundreds of effects, and it will still let you change the main photo, which saves a lot of time and effort for the editors.
7. Little to Non-Destructive editing
Non-destructive editing is an editing process that does not affect the original RAW image.
When editing in JPEG, it is a common tragedy where the original file gets altered with no chance of restoring it (unless you have backups).
It is more of a hassle for photographers with tight deadlines.
You can easily avoid this tragedy when editing RAW. You must manually save the image into another format to apply its changes.
Playing with various settings in Lightroom is now a choice for those who wish not to damage the master file.
8. Abundance of Dynamic Range
A dynamic range is the number of color tones that you can find in a single image.
It ranges from the darkest to the lightest colors.
There are your blacks, the shadows, and mid-tones, followed by highlights and whites.
These ranges change throughout the day depending on the sun’s position and other elements.
The more detailed information you have on these ranges, the better-quality photo you produce.
This includes easier manipulation and adjusting without sacrificing quality.
9. Inter-Changeable Color Spaces
Color spaces do take time to learn and are quite complicated in all honesty.
The two primary color spaces are sRGB (commonly used by websites) and RGB (better quality in prints and edits).
For a quick tip, you can save RAW in various color spaces. Compared to the JPEGs’ measly one-color space.
Depending on the situation, you should choose different color spaces, and RAW photography gives you flexibility.
10. Better Prints & Photos
Prints made from RAW files provide finer details, gradations, and colors.
All the advantages of the format allow photographers to sell higher quality prints.
Using RAW will make you get less banding on your print, resulting in a more refined result.
Prints are crucial for photographers that want their names to be known.
Physical prints are much more memorable for buyers and always look good as a souvenir or as a trip down memory lane.
Other media will use your photos, depending on your expertise.
When that moment comes, you should give them your absolute best with RAW.
11. Achieve an Efficient Workflow
Workflows are the biggest deal-breaker in photography.
The RAW format is undoubtedly incredible and has endless possibilities in the result.
The problem is that the format will take some time to edit.
Knowing how to photograph in RAW is not enough for an efficient workflow.
You will also need post-production skills to make your workflow more efficient.
Some people prefer using Adobe Lightroom to edit RAW photography in batches.
But if you prefer editing your RAWs one by one using photoshop, then your workflow will become less efficient.
What Programs Open RAW Photos?
Depending on the camera you use, the RAW image format will appear different.
For example, Nikon’s RAW format is NEF, while Canon’s are CR2 and CRW.
To open these files, you will need the software that supports it.
The most popular software (although not free) is Adobe Photoshop. Try out a 30-day trial before deciding to purchase it.
There are also Microsoft Windows Photos, Raw Therapee, and Able RAWer, which are free!
Experiment and take them through a trial of your own.
You can even watch YouTubers reviewing those apps.
I hope you enjoyed this guide.
RAW is simply excellent. It gives you much freedom for your work and provides efficient workflows when used in moderation.
Although you could use RAW in every single situation, it would become too time-consuming.
RAW is much more flexible than JPEG, but RAW photographing requires you to be accustomed to post-production software and processes.
Now go around responsibly while trying out both formats and slowly but surely learn how to photograph in raw. Good luck!
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Nate Torres is an entrepreneur, growth marketer, and photographer and writes mostly on those topics. Nate runs his own professional photography business called Nate Torres Photography. Nate enjoys learning about new digital marketing strategy and new ways to think creatively. He is also a photography speaker and author on Photofocus.