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The importance of shooting RAW

I wanted to share a photography tip that I wish I'd followed when I was a photography beginner.

When I started out I didn't shoot in RAW, I shot exclusively JPEG. For three reasons:

1 - I didn't entirely understand what shooting RAW was, nor how useful - nay, essential - it is.

2 - I felt some kind of misplaced superiority from being able to claim all my work was "straight out of camera".

3 - I wanted instant results (I was lazy).

What is shooting in RAW?

For the beginner to photography, I'll explain super-briefly what RAW is.

Essentially, you're choosing the file type that your camera will save your photo as. Unless you specify otherwise, your camera will probbaly shoot JPEG (or jpg, jpeg - it's all the same). What the camera does when it saves your file as a JPEG is compresses the data and loses a lot of it. It decides what it thinks will look best for that picture in essence and discards anything it thinks it doesn't need.

With RAW, every peice of information hitting your sensor is kept and can easily be retrieved and used.

Isn't it better to get it right "in camera"?

Of course. Or as near to perfect as you can get. But we're only talking composition and exposure here. That preview you see on your camera's screen when you've taken the shot? - that's essentially the jpeg version; it's what the camera thinks the shot should look like based on the exposure, with all it's little tweaks added here and there. And as you'll see below, some scenarios don't allow you to get the shot exposed the way you'd like it to be.

Your camera is clever, but not as clever as you, and it certainly doesn't have a good eye for a photo. 99 times out of 100 you'll be able to get better results yourself than the camera can by doing those tweaks yourself. Even if it's just the short movement of one slider in Lightroom, the image will pop more. I gaurantee it.

Doesn't processing all those RAW files take longer?

Yes. But isn't it worth it to get a final image that can really blow someone away? You only need spend a little more time on it, and as I said above, sometimes all it takes is a little tweak to a slider here and there and BOOM! you've gone from a great shot to something amazing.

It's art. And no good art was ever just knocked together quickly. Take some time, put in that little bit more effort, and you'll find the result are so worth it.

Finally, I'd just like to show you the power of RAW. This image was massively underexposed for the most part (down to the two areas of very different light levels as the sun went down; the sky and shore) and over exposed in the sky, and if it had been a jpeg I would have dumped it in my trash straight away, but using Lightroom I was able to harness all that RAW data and come out of it with a shot I'm actually really proud of.

Could I have got the same results from a jpeg? I'd have been able to tweak it a little yes, but not to anywhere near the level I was able to with this shot.

So, in summary, even if you've never shot RAW before, give it a go. You'll be amazed what results you can get.

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Craig Skinner Photography | Astrolandscape photography, nightscape photography and astrophotography.

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