Why Shoot in Raw?

Shooting in raw was one of those things that I didn’t even know was a thing for the first year I was taking photos. Eventually I went on a portrait photography course and the tutor switched my camera into raw there and then. When I got home I had no choice but to download Lightroom to be able to process the photos I’d taken! There’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end to force you into taking the leap.

Starting to edit in Lightroom obviously changed and furthered my photography enormously – BUT starting to shoot in raw is the single best thing I ever did to improve my photography, and I can’t emphasise this enough. I was inspired to write this article after my friend Oliver Bock asked me to contribute to this piece on his blog, and I thought it was something worth going into more depth on.

If you already edit in Lightroom, then you have no excuses at all – make the change and you’ll never look back!! If you don’t yet have Lightroom or any editing software that will process raw files, then this is a little more complex for you. However, if you really want to push your photography to the next level, you will need to (in my opinion) make this change. I’ll try to explain why.

What is a raw file?

A raw file is very simply a collection of unaltered and unprocessed data. So you get all the information that your camera has recorded which gives you far more scope with editing.

In comparison, if you shoot in jpeg the image is automatically processed by your camera. The file is compressed which adds some contrast to the image.

On first sight an unedited jpeg may look more appealing than an unedited raw file due to this added compression. However a lot of the information your camera could have recorded will have already been lost in the jpeg. If your sky was overexposed, or your shadows very dark, the digital information that was in those details will have been lost. The jpeg will also discard a lot of the colour information and the detail.

Don’t be deterred if your images don’t look as good!

When you first start shooting in raw it can be a little demotivating. I can remember thinking “er… I thought these pictures were supposed to look better?!?”

Remember, your jpegs were already processed to some extent, and all that extra information had been lost. Your raw files may look a little duller and flatter to being with, but you now have at your fingertips tons more scope to work with the colours, and you can SAVE those skies and those shadows!! Total game changer.

Potential problems with shooting in raw

There are plenty of pros to shooting in raw, but there also a few cons that are worth being aware of before you dive in.

  • as already mentioned you will need Lightroom or similar software to process your pictures
  • you won’t be able to use that fancy wifi thing to send your photos straight to your phone
  • raw files are usually much bigger and take up more storage space

The storage issue is definitely a consideration before you start shooting in raw. I used to use an old MacBook Air, which only held around 250 raw files. So my decision to shoot in raw soon led to a new computer too :/

You may also need a bigger memory card for your camera, as you will fill it much quicker than you are used to with jpegs. You will probably need to store older photoshoots on external hard drives to keep space on your hard drive free – but this is good practise anyway for photographers.

Export your images from Lightroom by going to >Export, then >Export to DNG. Label your folders well with a name and a date, and keep them on (ideally 2 separate) external drives, and you can find and import the raw files again whenever you need them.

Raw over Jpeg – some examples

Here are a few examples to illustrate why I love shooting in raw. I always try my best to get things right “in camera”, and usually my editing style is fairly minimal. However, sometimes you’ve just to to work with what you’ve got! You don’t want to miss an opportunity or a lovely moment because you’re shooting in harsh light or towards the sun. Shoot, shoot, shoot, and then work with what you’ve got!

One such time was my trip to Venice, I was hoping for soft, wintry light, misty mornings and moody atmospheric vibes. What I got was clear, strong light from the minute the sun rose to when it set. Harsh light, strong contrasts and very deep shadows. Venice is also a perfect example for not being able to move your feet and et into a better position with the sun. You can only shoot from a fairly fixed vantage point.

Some shots I just couldn’t take, others were ok as the narrow waterways sat in the shade. Others I have managed to save in editing – but only because I was shooting in raw.

I know that the highlights are still blown out in places, as I was shooting straight into the setting sun, but the colours that were preserved in the photo and the detail that was kept in the shadows is great The result is that the bright sunshine adds a kind of magic of it’s own, and beautiful reflections in the water which you wouldn’t get on a dull day.

This photo was little underexposed, and the shadows are really dark. As you can see in the finished photo, there’s no loss of detail or colour and it edited beautifully.

I love this photo, and it’s one I always use when I’m teaching editing to my students. It’s a perfect example of take the photo, even though the set up may not be ideal. I was shooting towards the light (although not directly into the sun), and I exposed the shot for my children in the foreground. This meant the sky was blown out as you can see in the unedited version on the left. Reducing the highlights in the image reveals this soft, high cloud and vapour trails. The perfect summer sky which adds so much to this warm, summer memory.

This photo is a great example of the much scope you can have to play with the midtones and colour channels in an image. This photo actually needed very little editing, but I did use the tones curves and colours curves to take out the “earthy” tones and change them into fresh, cool seaside tones.

I’m sure you can see why I believe shooting in raw has been so important for the development of my photography. It allows for so much more creativity in the editing process. I think by only shooting in jpeg you’re placing a limit on how much you’ll ever be able to achieve in your work.

If you do decide to make this change and have any questions at all, please feel free to ask! I’m always happy to help. It’s well worth checking out Oliver’s article too, as there’s lots of great tips from some very talented photographer’s on there.

If you’re interesting in further tuition, I can teach remotely via zoom, share my screen with you and go into far more depth with how to use Lightroom. Feel free to drop me a message here x

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1 Comment

  • Reply Jules May 1, 2020 at 6:44 am

    Loved this post Hannah – so much food for thought. Such beautiful examples of your work / love that summer skies shot of the boys in the field. Amazing to see the difference in the skies!

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