What is RAW and Why Do I Need It?

I frequently get asked how I “do that” with my photos.

Do what?

Well, get my photos to look better than Average Joe.

There are a lot of things that go into taking professional quality photos.

One of the most dramatic ways for a hobbyist, or amateur, to improve their shots is by shooting in RAW.

It sounds scary and intimidating if you’re new to photography.

In fact, it’s very easy and it will make a huge impact on the quality of your photos.

Let me explain RAW to you in layman terms.

•  What is RAW and what does it do?  RAW is a file format.  It captures ALL the image data of a shot, which gives you flexibility to interpret that data yourself.  Most beginning photographers use JPEG which compresses data and causes the loss of some information.  (Setting your camera to shoot in RAW is very easy – check your manual to see the particulars for your camera.)

•  Do I need a professional camera to shoot in RAW?  No, many (but not all) point and shoots now allow you the option of shooting in RAW.

•  If I have an expensive camera and I shoot in JPEG won’t the camera do a better job of capturing an image than I could do as a beginner?  Even smart cameras don’t come close to recording what we see with the human eye.  RAW allows you to capture all the information in a shot, and then process it to look the way you saw it.  (Or, if you like to shoot artistically, it allows you to interpret the data to match the creative vision in your head.)

•  RAW equals higher quality images and higher quality prints.

•  The negative of shooting in RAW is photos need to be edited/processed.  They aren’t “ready to serve” right out of the camera.  (A lot of people edit their JPEG files also, so this point might be mute.)

•  The other negative of shooting in RAW is it results in bigger files.  Bigger files require more storage than small files.

•  RAW allows easier white balance and color adjustmentsand the editing you do is nondestructive.  (This means the original data recorded by your camera isn’t altered by your editing – you can always redo/change it later.)

•  RAW allows much more flexibility with the brightness of your photo.  This means you have better control over brightness, shadows, the level of blacks and highlights.  Why does that matter?  Well, if you’ve ever taken a photo that’s just a little overexposed, or needs the shadows lightened a slight bit, you understand.  You can’t make as big of adjustments with a JPEG, and JPEG editing lowers image quality.

•  Because RAW captures more data, it allows you greater detail in your images.

•  RAW allows you to choose your color space.  Did you know the color space for an image should be chosen depending on where it will be viewed?  Is your photo being printed or being viewed on the web?  Don’t you want it to look its best, regardless?  RAW allows you to choose what’s best.

In short, the advantages of shooting in RAW far outweigh the negatives.

Why not give it a try –

Taking your images to the next level is easy once you’re shooting in RAW.

2 Responses to “What is RAW and Why Do I Need It?”

  1. Jan's Sushi Bar

    I ONLY shoot in RAW.

    Which reminds me, I need to move the vast amount of photos from my memory cards to my external hard drive. For me, the file size is the one disadvantage of shooting in RAW.

    • Suzanne

      I know you do Jan.
      You should get Lightroom. (If you buy one version prior to the current one it can be pretty affordable.) Then when you import your photos from your cards, you can convert them to dng … which takes less storage – although, still more than jpeg.


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