If you’re a photographer still shooting in jpeg, you should consider making the leap to shooting in RAW. There are numerous sources out there explaining the benefits of shooting in RAW, so I’ll just give a quick overview of my personal experience and why it works for me. For years I shot in jpeg because it’s what I knew; it’s what I was comfortable with. Something about shooting in a foreign file format made me nervous and uncertain to attempt it. Not to mention the fact that RAW files are enormous which would require me to purchase faster speed, high capacity memory cards. To open a RAW file, you must have an application that supports editing in RAW. There are several free applications available that you can download to accomplish this, but I personally use Lightroom and Photoshop for my workflow.
So what exactly does RAW and jpg mean? RAW is a file format that captures all image data recorded by the camera’s sensor when you take a picture. The image file remains uncompressed (creating a larger file size than jpeg which in turn means higher quality) which preserves information the camera has stored. Jpeg is a smaller file because the camera processes and compresses the image according to the settings you set in your camera. It is easy to use and is a universally used file format, but your post-processing editing capabilities are limited.
RAW files will come to your rescue if you mess up your settings on the day of your shoot. These files are more easily salvaged than jpegs. It’s pretty miraculous to see some images come to life that otherwise would have been trashed. In this first image comparison, I was able to adjust highlights, contrast, shadows, and exposure easily without compromising the quality of my image.
This is not a great image by any means, but you can see that this little girl’s face was severely underexposed, but because it was shot in RAW, I was able to save it.
RAW also brings back details in overexposed images. If I shot this in a jpeg, I never would have gotten back the texture and design details in her white dress.
After several years of holding onto the jpeg crutch of safety, I decided I was ready to move forward to becoming more ‘professional’. To me, that meant starting to shoot in RAW. The first difference I noticed was that it took a split second longer for the camera to buffer after taking a picture. With a better memory card, this can be easily corrected. Keep in mind that your LCD screen on your camera shows a jpeg preview… so when you view your images on your computer, they will NOT look like they do on your camera. In fact, as you import images into Lightroom, you will initially see a jpeg preview of the image exactly as it looked in the camera, but then it is quickly replaced by the cold, flat image that is consistent with a RAW file. And you wonder, what happened??? How do I get that back?? So yes, straight out of camera (SOOC) your images will look blah. When I uploaded my first RAW files, I was terrified of the amount of editing I thought would be required to make the photo even presentable to a client. There was no way every photographer was taking this much time to edit an image?? What was the secret?
I stumbled upon the solution myself after playing with different features in Lightroom. This is THE BIGGEST TIP I have for quickly getting your RAW file to look like the jpeg preview you saw on the back of your camera during your shoot… Make sure your camera profile matches the profile in your editing software! For example, in my camera’s menu, there is an option to ‘Set Picture Control’ with varying options such as auto, standard, portrait, vivid, neutral, etc. I personally like the look of ‘Neutral’ so that’s what I have selected. Yet, Lightroom defaults to ‘Adobe Standard’ which didn’t match my camera’s profile and resulted in images that looked nothing like I recalled on my LCD. In Lightroom, there is a Camera Calibration Tab under the Develop Module. Under Profile, select the dropdown and choose the profile that matches the settings on your camera. In my case, I choose ‘Camera Neutral’ and BOOM, just like that, my image is restored to how it appeared on my camera. Of course you’ll need to make other edits and adjustments to get the image finalized to how you like it, but it’s a great starting point!
Changing the profile in Lightroom is one of two things I do to every image. The second thing I do immediately upon importing my RAW files, is check the ‘Enable Profile Corrections’ box under the Lens Corrections Tab in the Develop Module. This fixes problems with lens distortion, chromatic aberration, vignetting and perspective correction. You can speed up your workflow and apply these changes to all of your images at once by syncing the settings from one image and applying it to the rest.
I am embarrassed I was so terrified to make the switch from jpeg to RAW, but it really has increased my level of quality I deliver to clients now. Although shooting in jpeg is certainly still acceptable and produces wonderful images, you can up your game by just switching to RAW. Practice shooting and editing in RAW and you’ll see for yourself!
Here’s a great article explaining 10 reasons you should be shooting in RAW.