I’m RAW!

I shoot RAW. Exclusively, without fail. Here’s why…

RAW is a good thing. It takes up more space on your card, it slows the buffer, but it’s good that it does that! Trust me – I’m a photographer!

To go right to the roots, RAW is a file format. It’s one of ono a couple of options in camera, but one of a multitude of options in the computer. Being able to choose RAW is an advantage of choosing a DSLR. The RAW file, as its name suggests, stores the data from your camera’s sensor in a raw, unprocessed state. This presents a number of advantages in terms of flexibility and image quality, and explains the size of the file! Some like to think of RAW files as the digital equivalent of the old-fashioned film negative. This modern “negative” stores lots of information that can then be accessed by careful craftsmanship in the lightroom (digital darkroom)

A RAW file gives you all the raw data, so you can tweak settings at a later date without affecting image quality. Sharpness settings, contrast, white balance and even exposure are some of the key things that you can alter when you get back home to the computer. Essentially, you’re able to change every pixel from it’s original state, because it’s original state was captured exactly as your sensor saw it. There’s no compressing as there is with JPEG – every individual pixel is measured and captured whereas with JPEG it’s kind of like a guessing game. Your camera will look at, say, a blue sky and the camera’s brain will say ‘That’s all blue, so as long as the whole sky looks blue I can save space by guessing, as long as it looks alright’ but with a RAW file your camera will get each pixel the exact shade of blue it was meant to be.

To explain that exact same thing in a little more depth, it captures more information than a JPEG. JPEGs are eight bit files – offering values from 00000000 to 11111111 for each of the three primary colours (red, green and blue). For those who don’t speak fluent binary code, that translates to a JPEG providing 256 separate values for each colour channel. This impressively offers a whopping of 16.7 million colours for each pixel in the picture (256x256x256). However, a digital SLR can detect much more detail than this. DSLRs are typically either 12-bit or 14-bit devices – offering around 4,000 or 16,000 brightness levels per channel. This works out as a maximum of 68.7 billion or four trillion different colours. That may sound like overkill, but recording all of these in a RAW file enables you to make serious alterations to contrast, exposure and colour balance during the editing process without nasty side effects such as posterisation. Top-end editing programs can use 16-bit processing to ensure you retain all the available data throughout the editing process.

I’m discovering with Photoshop CC that there is even more control now than ever before. The amount of tweaks I can make to a photo is incredible, and I am even able to perform life saving surgery on images which I’d previously thought I’d lost to clipping. It also helps me deal with the noise I often get form shooting at high ISO in very dark environments such as caves. Some may argue that RAW is cheating and takes the skill out of operating the camera, but the beauty of the digital process is that you have so much more control over your results. Thanks to the RAW format, you can tweak the colour, brightness and shadow detail, and all in a non-destructive way. Because it is possible, a good photographer should take full advantage of the facility. It’s not just for rescuing less successful shots – in fact, it’s the scope to fine-tune contrast, colour and more that is the real appeal of the RAW format.

That’s a crash course in RAW, really, but in summary RAW is a winner. Granted, it takes up much more space than JPEG, but I carry 20 memory cards every time I shoot, and plenty of cards to any other shoot, so who cares. I’m going to use a lot of space, I know this, so the terabyte upon terabyte of storage I have is necessary anyway. The buffer on my camera is quickly filled, but I need the high quality output and the ability to manipulate my images to meet the demands of clients, so I’m RAW.

Much love x

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