7 Reasons to Shoot RAW

I have nothing against JPGs but I think a photographer should only shoot RAW except in special circumstances where JPGs are needed, for example when having to shoot burst speed. In this short article I will list my top 7 reasons to shoot in RAW. Yes, I got tired of top ten things, so let’s do a top 7.

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1. To store the most from each photo.

This is my #1 reason why photographers should shoot RAW even if they don’t know how to process a RAW file. A RAW contains all the information the camera sensor recorded from the scene; if in the future we learn how to edit our photos better or new applications are created to edit photos, the only way to be able to use these new tools and knowledge in our photos is to keep the RAWs. Even if you don’t do anything with them just store them, disk space is cheap and if you ever need them, then you have them. Imagine a new tool that can do something great to photos but needs a RAW file as the input…

2. To be able to fix White Balance

The camera Auto-WB setting is good but it is never perfect and for some scenes it can go badly wrong. In a previous article I discussed some tools to improve the white balance of your photos. It’s very hard to get a perfect WB in the camera but it’s easy to do it in post-processing. And you can try several different color temperatures and find something you didn’t consider in the shoot. To correct the WB without destroying information you need to shoot RAW.

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3. To extend the Dynamic Range

There are several tools and utilities to create HDR images from a single RAW. The explanation is very simple: A RAW contains all the exposure information the camera sensor could capture and that’s more than what a single JPG can represent. So a good piece of software can use that exposure information in the RAW to create a photo with more dynamic range compared to the default JPG that the camera creates.

4. To improve our processing options

There’re several good tools to develop RAW files. Many of those applications can fix distortion, correct chromatic aberration, correct lens softness and do many, many interesting things. They are not a complete solution for a photo-editing workflow but they are a great first step before editing with Photoshop or something else. DxO optics for example can create an image from a RAW file that is far better than a default in-camera JPG.

5. To reduce noise

There are two big advantages about shooting RAW in terms of noise. The first advantage is that you can expose to the right maximizing the signal that the camera gets and thus improving the signal to noise ratio. If you expose to the right you need to shoot RAW to be able to fix the exposure of the shot to something you like. The second advantage is that the RAW processor can apply a first instance of noise-reduction to the RAW file with results that are not as destructive as a noise reduction applied to a JPG. If you shoot frequently in twilight or at night RAW is mandatory to improve your shots.

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6. To improve prints

This is as simple as “real pixels are better than software created pixels” when you shoot a photo as you will probably need to do many things before printing. Leveling the shot a little, cropping, changing colors to match the printer profile and of course sharpening. If you do all these things over a JPG you will be editing and modifying a file that is not intended for editing. JPGs are the final step in any workflow, so if you start with a JPG you can’t do anything and we all know that no photo is perfect for printing straight from the camera.

7. Why not?

I left another strong but simple reason for the end. Unless you really need to shoot JPG because you need a certain burst speed or you have a small memory card, there’s really no reason against shooting RAW. You can even shoot RAW + JPG if you want and use the JPG storing the RAW for the future. Shooting JPG is like using a polaroid camera, you lose your negatives and what you get is the final representation of your photo, it has little flexibility.

In my next article I will discuss a simple workflow that can be used if you shoot RAW.

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  1. Mark

    I shoot mostly at twilight using HDR software. Now I understand why my jpegs are noisy, and less than they could be. I have decided to shoot raw from now on, although I am a little afraid because I have little experience with raw, and don’t have expensive software. (I am using Photoshop Elements 8, and Photomatix, and Lightroom 3. Thanks for the article on Zite.

  2. Tony

    I have shot in raw for years now. I’ll even question needing it for “burst” speed. Instead of switching to jpg, buy a faster memory card. I can shoot a sustained 8 fps raw on my 7D, but only when using a 400x or better card.

    And to Mark I’ll say, expensive software is nice, but honestly Lightroom 3 is one of the best for converting from raw. For those not willing to spend even that, you go with RawTherapee and don’t spend a dime!

  3. TD

    Well, it would be more accurate to say that the pixels created by a good software are better than the ones created by the camera’s inner software, since 2/3 of the pixels in the processed image are not in the raw file yet, they’re created in the interpolation process. No such thing as “real pixels”. But you’re totally right about the reasons, RAW FTW.

  4. Analogchicana

    Thank you so much for this excellent blog. Looking forward to your next article on shooting in RAW.

  5. James

    I have been shooting RAW since I got my camera :) RAW=PERFECTION :)

  6. Josh lopez

    Great advices. Which software do you recommend to process pictures?

  7. Leroy Brown

    I shoot RAW and a jpeg at the same time. Sometimes we’re on the road and I’d like to send someone a picture and having a jpeg makes that easy. But I’ll only work off of RAW files. If it’s good enough and I need to print it I;ll work off the RAW and save it to the largest jpeg. That has worked for me. I’m also in the infant states of blogging. It’s fun but a lot of work. I need to get mine to where yours is!

    Take care
    Leroy

  8. Ryan Larsen

    Great article on shooting in RAW. I love the simplicity of each point, you lay it out so anyone can understand what your talking about. Also some beautiful pictures in this article as well, I do not know who took them but good job all around.

  9. Ebony M. Mackey

    I think shooting in the raw is the best and safe way to go.

  10. Rio

    I mostly shoot in both RAW+jpeg, and mostly edit from RAW files. However, there are times that I can only edit the jpeg, and let me say this… it’s challenging, but I’ve been able to edit most jpegs as I want them to look as if they were from RAW. Not bragging here, but, one should also know how to edit a jpeg if that’s all there is. =)

    • Joe Y

      The software you have listed is MORE than enough to get some great results! I have been using PSE7 and sometimes Photomartix. I just bought DxO Optics Pro 8 and hope to put that to work soon.

  11. OKealey

    I shoot RAW+JPEG (Basic), I only ever edit the RAW, but it’s nice to have the JPEG to show the subject a “pretty” picture on the camera’s LCD screen during the shoot (rather than the rather drab appearance of unprocessed RAW).

    Great article :)

  12. CptNerd

    Mark, get the upgrade of Elements to version 11. There is a built-in RAW editor that handles almost all RAW formats, is easy to use, and sends the processed image directly into Elements. Also Elements 11 has completely reworked the interface so it’s much more intuitive and less intrusive. Plus, some things have been “migrated down” into Elements 11 from the full CS version. I’ve been using it for a few weeks and I wouldn’t go back.

  13. Michael G. Clark

    If you are using a Canon, Digital Photo Professional included with every Canon DSLR has a pretty good RAW converter for basic exposure/WB/contrast/saturation/sharpen-unsharpen mask/noise reduction/lens correction/trimming-straightening/dust deletion/etc… They post updates on Canon’s website that are free to download. There is even a basic HDR tool that will allow you to use up to three images. There is also a basic compositing tool. If you plan on using a brush to change anything (other than simple cloning) in only a specific area of the photo you will need something else like Lightroom or PSE.

  14. Marshall

    You’re totally right. Saving RAW files in-camera allows for so much more in post-production. Great article about why one should shoot RAW files instead of JPEGs.

  15. Devin Corrow

    Can’t stress it enough. You have to shoot in RAW if your going to be editing your images. JPEG falls short and editing them can be very “distructive” to your images.

  16. Oliver

    Shooting is RAW is essential for me because I do a lot of post editing on the images and I want as much information as possible in the image. I do however think the option to take images that are saved as JPEG is also essential because some individuals have no need for the post editing process and want quick and easy photos.

  17. Virginia Lincoln

    I have a reason not to shoot in RAW. When I did, after much consideration, my computer would not upload the photos so they were lost to me. I tried with two different computers with the same result. So as much as I would like to shoot in RAW, I simply cannot unless there is something I am missing.

  18. Alan

    Shooting in RAW is essential for a professional photographer because of the aftereffects needed on a picture to make it awesome. I like to save them in both though because in some pictures you don’t need the RAW format as much.

  19. Jamie Kitson

    There’s so much bullshit out there on RAW. Virtually everything you describe in this article can be done with jpeg almost as readily as raw. The bit about HDR makes no sense, and “real pixels are better than software created pixels” Really? Could you explain that statement? There are two good articles on raw here:

    http://www.michaelfurtman.com/jpeg_myths.htm
    http://betterfamilyphotos.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/raw-vs-jpeg-myth-or-fact-definitive.html

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