What Is Raw Photography?

RAW file

If you have done a bit of research on how to improve your photography skills, you probably have come across many photography experts recommending shooting in RAW.’ And you may wonder, what is RAW and why do many photographers recommend it?

Well, we will discuss what is RAW and the reasons you may want to shoot in RAW.

Let’s get started.

What Is RAW In Photography?

RAW photography involves shooting photos in an uncompressed format called RAW. This means that the image is minimally processed or unprocessed by your camera, and thus all the original image data is intact. When you want to post-process your digital pictures, this is the best possible format you can use.

So, Why Should You Use RAW Format?

When using a camera, there are two main photo formats digital pictures are saved in- JPG (or JPEG), and RAW.

Normally, the default setting in many digital cameras and smartphones is to save the image you take in your memory card as a JPG or JPEG file. JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group, which refers to the name that created this format. The format is often shortened as JPG.

The reason JPG is the most preferred image format and normally the default setting in many cameras is because the format can be viewed in virtually all the devices. This makes it easier for one to share the image file to different platforms since whoever you are sharing the image with will not need to edit it or share it. Besides, images are published on websites in the form of JPEG/JPG.

With JPG, the image is normally compressed and thus smaller in size. You should know that the more an image is compressed, the greater the loss in quality, and the smaller it gets in terms of storage space

However, despite the many benefits shooting in JPEG offers, there are downsides to this type of image format- a compressed image is not easy to edit. This is because much of the useful data has been discarded so as to save the file size. In addition, the camera determines what to discard and how to adjust contrast, sharpness, and saturation of the image on its own. These changes are difficult to alter.

On the other hand, a RAW file maintains all the data captured by your camera sensor. Your camera sensors capture shadows, light, and tones of colors of your subject. This information is captured in small squares called pixels. Your camera doesn’t make adjustments, and thus keeps all the pixel. This leaves your image as-shot, which means you have control over what is valuable, what needs to be discarded, and what needs to be changed.

You will find the options (RAW or JPEG) in your camera’s setting menu, under File Format or Quality. Remember that a RAW image file will occupy more space- mostly around the number of megapixels your camera has.

There are different RAW file formats- it depends on the brand of camera you are using. For example, Canon raw files have "CR2" as their suffix, while Nikon RAW files have "NEF" file type.

PLEASE NOTE: The word RAW in photography is normally capitalized to distinguish it from the word raw’ and also because it indicates a type/extension of a file (file extensions have always been capitalized e.g. DOC for Word document). But there is no rule that you should write it as RAW instead of raw.

How Do You Process a RAW Image?

Adobe programs icons

When you choose to store your images in RAW format, you will lose the capabilities of using any camera-enabled filters or settings. However, this allows you to create your own style when post-processing your image.

You can use the following photo editing applications to process and edit your RAW images:

  • Adobe Camera Raw
  • GIMP
  • Google Photos
  • Snapseed
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Corel Aftershot Pro
  • Pixelmator Photo

With any of these applications, you can adjust virtually everything in your image including exposure of the image, saturation levels, contrast and brightness, hues, and much more. You can also add your personal styling to act as your photography signature.

NOTE: Often, RAW images look dull and flat’ when you first view them on your computer. This is completely normal. The reason for this is because of the extended dynamic range the images have. Dynamic range refers to the tonal range details in a camera shot. This means the details in the brightest highlights and darkest shadows. You can fix the dull, grew appearance with a few minor movements of sliders in your preferred photo-editing application when post-processing your images. Your images should look better than their JPEG counterparts.

Bottom Line

Failure to shoot raw formats means you are limiting your creativity. Although your JPEG images will look good, a boost in your image when post-processing them will get the best out of your photos.

Therefore, give it a try and try capturing RAW. You will rarely go back to JPEG once you taste the RAW world.

Posted in: Camera basics