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To RAW or Not to RAW, That is the Question


If you are a beginner photographer or working with your phone, you likely won’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about RAW files.

There is also a huge debate among photographers as to whether it’s better to shoot in raw or shoot jpeg.

I’m not going to get into all the hairy details of each, because we both know you only have, like, 30 more seconds before some kid breaks something, so I’m going to tell you what I do and why.

I shoot in RAW.  There are definitely some drawbacks.  First of all, the file size can get YUUUGE!  We’re talking 30MB vs 12MB.

Why are RAW files so much bigger?

When your camera creates a jpeg file, it basically looks at your picture and says, “Oh, I see what you did here.  Since this is what you’re going for, I’m going to just get rid of all this unnecessary information for you.  It’s just taking up space.”

RAW files retain all of the information that can’t be seen by the naked eye.  Thus, the file size is much bigger.

Secondly, straight out of the camera, RAW files can be a little dull.  The colors aren’t nearly as vibrant and it requires a bit of post-production knowledge to get my pictures to look just like I want them to.

The reason this happens is because, just like before, your camera says, “I see what you’re doing!  I got this.”  And it will make the colors a little more vibrant, up the saturation, and adjust the contrast, so that when you upload your picture to your computer, you’re golden.  If you did everything right while setting your exposure, you won’t have to do much, if any, post-production work.

So, with all of these benefits?  Why do I prefer to shoot in RAW?

My Camera is not the Boss of Me!

Sometimes my camera makes some really stupid decisions and if she, as sweet as she is, makes a mistake in either the color processing, or the discarded information, I am much more limited in my options in post because those changes are baked into the picture.

Another, probably even more important reason why I prefer to shoot in RAW is because, sometimes I make some really stupid decisions.  The perfection of that jpeg image is contingent on my perfection as a photographer.

I am a documentary photographer.  Given the nature of my genre, my family in general, and my lazy personality, I sometimes make mistakes in my exposure.  I’ll be photographing my kids outside in the backyard, under the shade of the trees.   Then, the four-year-old will decide to run to the front yard, which is full sun.  And I’m so preoccupied with the movement and following him with my lens, that I forget to change my shutter speed to accommodate the change.

Or maybe I put my camera away after shooting outside.  Then the baby does something cute.  I grab my camera and have just enough time to take one picture only to find that it’s underexposed.  Shooting in RAW means I have a much better chance of being able to still use that picture!

How Does That Work?

Remember all of that “unnecessary information” that my camera thought it should toss to save on space?  Turns out it’s not always unnecessary and has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

Memory space is cheap and post-production is fun!  Do yourself a favor and shoot in RAW.

So, now that I’ve convinced you to shoot in RAW, google your camera model and look up a tutorial on how to set it up.

And for those of you shooting with your phones, a lot of smartphones these days can also shoot in raw, so check google to see if your phone has that feature.  If you’re like me, and your camera doesn’t have that option, then just choose the highest quality option (aka largest size with the least compression) you have available to you.

I hope this helps!

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