Most digital cameras offer the option to Unleash The Power of RAW in addition to the more commonly used JPEG format. RAW is an advanced file format, and if offers the photographer far greater control over exposure and color in pictures. Understanding and working in RAW takes some time and effort, but the results are certainly worth it.
Photographs shot in the JPEG format have processing and compression applied to them before they are stored on a memory card. RAW images retain all of the data captured by the camera’s sensor, and offer far more flexibility when it comes to the editing stage. Photographs which may appear over or under exposed can be edited into perfect pictures if they are shot in the RAW format. Bleached out skies and shadow areas lacking in detail can easily be fixed if you are prepared to unleash the power of RAW. The creative potential of the format is incredible, and pictures can be transformed into works of art once you master the various tools available.
Modern digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras offer the facility to shoot in RAW. Some cameras also offer the option to shoot in JPEG at the same time. Because of the large amount of data they capture, RAW files take more space on your memory card, and you will need to allow for this when shooting. You may experience a slight delay while the camera processes the files, and this may be an issue when shooting sports or action pictures. Memory is so inexpensive that the former is not a valid consideration for most photographers.
As well as allowing corrections to exposure and color balance in pictures, shooting in RAW allows the photographer greater ability to manipulate photographs in the digital darkroom: You can also adjust white balance to correct color casts in pictures. If you like to print and display your photographs, RAW images can offer greater quality than JPEG files.
Downloading RAW files from your camera is the same process as for JPEGs. Additional processing may be required for images from some cameras, but software to do this is free to download. Adobe’s DNG converter is the solution to most compatibility issues. The latest versions of Photoshop and Photoshop Elements are the quickest and easiest tools for converting and editing RAW files. For most post processing, I use Adobe’s LightRoom (LR). If you don’t have access to these, there are free and trial versions of image editing software available which will do the same job.
RAW editing interfaces offer a range of sliders to make various adjustments to images. These include sliders to control exposure, contrast, vibrance and saturation. Basic tools offer the ability to crop and straighten images before you begin more advanced editing. A histogram displays a visual representation of the tonal range of an image, and is a valuable tool for making technical adjustments. The sliders may appear overwhelming at first, but you can soon learn how to adjust an image using them. Pushing adjustments and corrections too far can cause some reduction in image quality, so keep a close eye on the impact of changes you make.
RAW files are the equivalent of negatives in the days of film photography. Photographers working in RAW have far greater creative flexibility, and the extra time it can take is easily justified. Of course, these are just my opinions and this article is certainly not meant to be an all-inclusive discussion on the subject of jpeg vs. RAW. It is more of a starting point that a last word on the subject.