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March 5, 2011 / arthill

Should you shoot RAW?

The answer is yes!  If you’re already shooting RAW then you know why.  If you’re not I hope to give you compelling reasons to shoot RAW even if you’re not sure what to do with the RAW files, for now. Some people don’t shoot RAW because they just don’t want to go through the extra bother of processing RAW files.  There is extra work involved so I can certainly understand this.  I had cameras capable of shooting RAW for years and didn’t do it.  My JPEG’s came out all right so I was happy.  Well, now that I understand what I can do with RAW files I wish I had started earlier.

Here’s my advice:  If your camera has an option to shoot RAW + JPEG start using it today.

Do it now even if you have no plans to investigate RAW mode.  A year or two from now, when you finally get around to it, you’ll thank me.  The only drawbacks I can think of to shooting RAW + JPEG are:

  • It does eat up card space and disk space a lot faster than just JPEG.  The RAW files are pretty big.
  • If you shoot in continuous mode you won’t get as many shots off without a delay.  The camera has to write a lot more to the card and it will pause.  If this bothers you then switch off RAW + JPEG when you shoot continuous mode but leave it on for everything else.

Let me explain a little bit about RAW and JPEG.  When you press the shutter your camera grabs everything in the viewfinder – all the information that constitutes a picture.  It then takes all of the settings you have provided (e.g. white balance, color or black and white, contrast, saturation, sharpness) and applies all of those to the raw data to produce a JPEG image. Depending on your camera this processing may include noise reduction, auto light optimization – the list goes on.  Then, it writes this best effort image to your camera card and throws away all of the rest of the data it has about that image.

Unless… you set your camera to RAW + JPEG.  In that case it still produces the exact same JPEG image and also saves all of the “extra” data to the card as a RAW file.

I’m going to show you how to use that extra data to do some amazing things.  But maybe you’re not ready to start that learning process so you say “I’ll start saving RAW later”.  Do it now.  Then you’ll have all this valuable data when you’re ready, even if that’s months from now.

Let me show you how much extra info you are throwing away if you don’t save the RAW file

I shot this out the window of our plane as we landed in San Diego. I was shooting in black and white.
The camera did the best it could but let’s face it this doesn’t jump right out at you.  I know some of you shoot in color and then do your best to convert the shot later to black and white.  Sometimes I like to actually shoot in black and white or sepia so I can see what I’m getting.  Here’s the great part – the RAW file keeps the color data.  So with this shot I opened up the RAW file and extracted the color version.
san diego buildings color standard awbStill not very good.  This was shot with Auto White Balance.  The RAW file allows you to change the white balance so I tried Daylight

san diego buildings color standard daylight boost contrast and satand while I was there boosted contrast and saturation.  Better but I wanted something more. So, back to the RAW file to apply a Canon Picture Style called Clear – I left white balance as shot (Auto)
san diego buildings color clear auto wbOne more tweak to set white balance to Daylight and I ended up with this.

san diego buildings color clear daylight wb

Later on that trip I shot this picture from the bridge of the USS Midway


Opening up the RAW file I changed the Picture Style to Clear and generated this

aircraft carrier with clear styleIMG_1576

The examples I’ve chosen are a bit extreme – the original JPEG file just wasn’t what I hoped for.  Most of the time the pictures you shoot come out pretty well. Many times I’ve shot a whole series where I was happy with the camera’s rendition of a JPEG so I didn’t need to use any of the RAW files from that session.  In other words I’m not leading you down the path of doing a lot of extra work – if you’re satisfied with the shots, load up your camera and get back out there.

Shooting RAW + JPEG lets you hang on to all the data so you can rescue the shots that don’t pass muster.  This is especially important with high contrast situations and blown out highlights. It’s amazing how much detail you can recover from the RAW file.

I took this pelican shot at La Jolla Cove a couple of weeks ago.


Not really a keeper and if all I had was the JPEG no amount of tweaking could have rescued this shot. But I had the RAW file and was able to generate this.

pelican IMG_7431

Notice the detail in the wings.  That’s what saving a RAW file can do for you.

And one more thing.  You probably never set your camera to say Tungsten White Balance or Exposure compensation and then forget to reset it right?  Well I have done that and not realized my mistake until I’ve already done a bunch of shots.  That used to be a problem – I’d have to open all those pictures up and starting messing around with them.  Now, I just open up the RAW file and change the settings to what I wanted them to be in the first place.  Presto, mistake never happened.

I want to thank Ed Spadoni for featuring me in the blog he runs with his brother.  Check it out.


Leave a Comment
  1. 2guysphoto / Mar 5 2011 6:36 am

    Terrific post Art. I’ve not done much RAW shooting but you’ve made a compelling argument. I’ll give it a go soon. What software are you using to process your RAW files? I’m guessing it’s something that came with your Canon? Thanks, Ed

    • arthill / Mar 5 2011 7:53 am

      Thanks Ed. I use the Canon supplied Digital Photo Professional but also use Photoshop Elements and CaptureOne.

  2. Dianne Ward / Mar 5 2011 8:57 am

    Great article Art!

  3. Indigo / Mar 5 2011 9:01 am

    Hi, Art! I’ll be back to explore your BLOG soon.

  4. Dan and Patti Ledbetter / Mar 5 2011 10:33 am

    Great article, Art. Much food for thought.


  5. Maryann Goldman / Mar 5 2011 5:51 pm

    I promise I’m convinced if I ever start using a DSLR on any regular sort of basis that I will shoot raw and jpg. I did have some code that will allow my Canon S3 IS P&S to capture raw data, but when I tried to process the raw files, I wasn’t having much luck. I didn’t have much luck when I had Dad’s Canon 40D either. I can totally see from your wonderful write-up why it would be great to have the raw to rescue files. I could use the help!

  6. Howard / Mar 5 2011 10:40 pm

    Great info Art, thanks!

  7. Debbie / Mar 6 2011 4:08 pm

    Wonderful entry! Thanks Art!

  8. Hillary / Mar 7 2011 7:41 pm

    Wonderful shot Art.. I have never shot RAW+jpg, but these days I most always shoot is sort of addictive and i am afraid to not have the RAW file if I need it to save a special shot. The only time I don’t shoot RAW all the time is while traveling, Just too many shots and too much memory needed.
    Nice article..glad to see these posts! Thank you!

    • arthill / Mar 7 2011 8:06 pm

      I shoot RAW + JPEG because 95% of the time I’m happy with the JPEG that the camera produces. This way I only have to process the RAW files if I’m not happy with the JPEG. I also like to have the RAW in case I want to do a black and white or something else creative. I always want the RAW files from travels because I’m not likely to make it back to these places.

  9. Hillary / Jun 3 2011 3:47 pm

    I do shoot RAW almost exclusively now and have for at least a year..maybe 2.. I would feel lost without it.. Actually on vacation sometimes I don’t shoot RAW because of the amount of shots I take it is just overwhelming in memory usage. Thanks for great info and photo illustrations of your points!

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