Steve's Photography Tips: Shoot Raw

Tips to help you improve your photos!

From time to time, I am asked for some photography tips, so I thought I would start an occasional series to share some of what I know. I may not know everything (okay, I definitely don’t know everything) but I am always happy to share what I do know. Because most of what I have learned about photography has come from others sharing what they have learned. It’s always better to pass it along than to just keep it to yourself, right?

So for this first post, let’s start with something simple. Ready for the tip? Here it is (if you haven’t already figured it out from the post title):

Shoot Raw

There you go! Class dismissed!

Oh wait, you wanted some more than that? Okay, no problem. Here are some questions and answers:

What is Raw? - Raw is an image format that most cameras are capable of shooting these days. Just about every camera is preset to shoot jpg image files, and that works well for a lot of what people shoot these days. If you are just going to take a quick photo and upload it to your favorite social media site, jpg works just fine if you make sure your camera settings are right.

But for the photos that I like to post, I prefer to have them look just a little different than ordinary photos, which is accomplished by some post-processing, or photo editing using computer software. And that’s where the Raw format comes in.

A jpg file stores a version of the image, but it is a compressed image, and just a little bit of editing can quickly bring out the flaws in the photo. However, the raw image format records much more data when the photo is taken, and unlike jpg files, raw files are not manipulated in the camera, so that you are able to do much more manipulation on them yourselves. Is your photo a little too dark? A little too bright? Need more color? Fix it all with a Raw file!

What do I do with the Raw file? - Good question! And that is actually a good question for later posts in this series. But to edit Raw files, you will need a program capable of handling those files. Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Corel PhotoPaintShop Pro are some good places to start. Plus, there are several other options, some of them even free, out there, depending on your level of figuring out things. These programs will read in a Raw file for editing, and then output a jpg or other standard image format.

It might be important to note that not all camera manufacturers use the same Raw file format. And when a new camera with a new format comes out, there is usually a software update necessary to be able to read in the newest file formats. Why can’t they standardize on the same thing? I have no idea.

My computer won’t show Raw files! - I’m not sure about a Mac, but I do know that Windows won’t show image previews of Raw files. You actually have to load the file into a program to see it. Because of that, I have my cameras set to save both a jpg and a Raw file of each image. That takes up more space on the memory card (see below), but it does make things easier when you are trying to quickly find a photo on your computer. An alternative would be to load all of your photos into Adobe Lightroom (more about that some other time) and use it as your photo file manager, but I just use the standard Windows file manager, so that’s why I save jpg files, too.

Are there any drawbacks? - Yes, there are a few. The main one is file size. As you might imagine, Raw files are much larger than jpg files, so they take up much more space on your camera’s memory card, as well as on your computer’s hard drive. For example, in the photo used down below, the jpg file was 6.3 megabytes, while the corresponding Raw file was 14.6 megabytes, over twice the size. There are a few workarounds here. Most cameras these days let you specify the resolution of the jpg file that you want to save. So if you are just using the jpg files for reference purposes, set the jpg resolution as low as possible. Another solution would be to just shoot Raw files and then use a batch image converter to convert all of the Raw files to jpg files (which still leaves the Raw files intact, of course) when you get back to your computer. The other solution is to buy more, larger memory cards, which is a little easier now that the prices have dropped somewhat.

Another drawback is speed. If you are shooting several frames a second, the camera can bog down while it is writing all of those large files to the memory card. Once again, switching to just Raw files is an option here. Or if you are just going to use the images to make an animated gif file or something, you might want to just stick with jpg files for those purposes.

Time is also an issue. If I am just shooting lots of photos that are going to be directly posted online (such as a church youth group retreat, for example), I often just shoot jpg. However, if there is something that I know I will want to work on later, such as a cool sunrise during that retreat, I will turn the Raw image setting back on. Although with larger memory cards, as I mentioned above, I just usually leave it set to both these days.

What if I’m still not sure Raw is for me? - Seeing is believing, as they say. So let’s see a Raw file in action. For an example, let’s use a photo posted here to Burnsland not too long ago of Rapunzel’s Tower in the Magic Kingdom. First off, here is how the photo originally looked as a jpg file straight out of the camera:

Steve’s Photography Tips - Shoot Raw

Plain and boring, right? I’m not sure why I even bothered to put the watermark on there, because who in their right minds would bother to steal that anyway? But after just a little bit of processing in Adobe Photoshop, here is how the photo turned out:

Rapunzel Tower in the Magic Kingdom

Looks pretty cool, right? The tower doesn’t look like it is in the shadows any more, the trees look nice and green, and the sky looks like delicious cotton candy instead of boring gray clouds. Nice and colorful, and pretty neat! And to keep you from scrolling up and down, here is a split view of the two together, just to drive the point home:

Steve’s Photography Tips: Shoot Raw

You can really see a difference like that, can’t you? And once you start using Raw files, you will never want to go back, because of all you can do with them!

So that’s today’s photography tip - Shoot Raw! Be sure to check back later on for more tips to improve your photography!

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Burnsland is Steve Burns, with generous help from his lovely wife Laura. Steve is a husband, father, photographer, webmaster, writer, podcaster, artist, Christian. Steve enjoys sharing his photography, art, and stories through, from the Burnsland World Headquarters in Tennessee.