"So, when you take photos, do you shoot in RAW format?"OK, so he didn't actually say that last line, but he was thinking it. He did say that he wasn't ready for RAW yet—which might be what you thought when you saw the title of this post. Maybe "RAW" sounds intimidating. I googled "raw" and the top hit was for pro wrestling, so maybe there's some kind of psychological transference happening, I don't know. But I do know that people tend to think it's for pros and therefore must be more difficult. Well, it's not. In fact, it's easier and way better.
"But you do RAW with embedded jpgs, right?"
"You don't even do jpgs?"
"No. Just RAW. I used to do RAW+jpg, but I stopped doing that years ago."
"RAW with no jpg? Are you kidding me? You are crazy, man. Do you have some kind of death wish?"
I don't care what this naysayer writes in his way longer and more technical post, RAW is not just for people who want to spend all kinds of time manipulating photos and JPG is not the same quality as RAW. The purpose of my post is not to give you technical data in some equally long post, but just to demystify RAW and show you how great it is to use.
"But wait!" you say, "My camera doesn't even shoot RAW!"
OK. Maybe it doesn't, but your next camera will (or should). I googled "point and shoot digital raw" and got an impressive list of reasonably priced consumer cameras (from less than $300) that have raw capabilities. This is obviously not a pro-only feature.
But I heard that jpg photos look better than RAW! You did? Really? Or am I just putting words into your mouth so I can give the following brief explanation/disclaimer: What a jpg does is it lets your camera make all the decisions (like contrast, white balance, sharpening, etc.) in-camera, whereas RAW lets you make those decisions once you've loaded the files onto your computer. What that means is that jpg files have the at-first-glance headstart. But trust me, the trade-off is not worth it.
But I don't own Photoshop!
You don't need it. If your camera shoots RAW then it also comes with some sort of RAW processing software. Or you can use Aperture (I do) or Lightroom (same diff), either of which is not cheap, but cheaper than Photoshop and well worth the investment. I do loads of retouching in Aperture without ever opening Photoshop.
Really, now it's time to stop objecting so I can finish this post and do something important like watch a movie (the Netflix sleeve says "Hell hath no fury like an asthmatic nerd scorned in this scary British teen horror" What's not to like?)
Here's the recent real-life example that led me to proclaim my love for RAW files out loud and then decide to write this post (more effective and less dangerous than yelling from my rooftop).
One more quick disclaimer: What you see on your monitor and what I see on mine may not be the same, but hopefully this will make the point anyway.
The photo above is from a wedding I shot in Long Beach last month. I cringed when I saw how blown-out it was, but sometimes when you're shooting quickly in rapidly changing lighting conditions this happens. When I first saw the photo, I wasn't even sure if RAW could fix it.
In Aperture, there is an "inspector panel" that lets you see various settings. Even the processing software that comes with your (raw-capable) camera will have something similar.
There are all kinds of sliders (way more than in this screen grab), but I'm only going to use two of them here: temperature and exposure. That rectangle at the top shows the histogram (a mountainous looking thing that shows how the information is distributed from black at left to white at right). Don't worry about understanding the histogram beyond this for now: if it goes off the right, it's overexposed, if it goes off the left, it's underexposed.
Two basic adjustments that immediate improve the photo are to change the "temperature" (make it "warmer" or "cooler") and the exposure (in this case, make it way darker).
So I did two—oops, make that three—things:
1. I slid the temp over more toward yellow to warm it up a bit
2. I slid the exposure down almost as far as it would go
3. I slid the "recovery" up about halfway (I couldn't resist. It just brings the whitest parts down a little more).
This could get even better, but this is just to show how a few seconds of knee-jerk sliding can save a bad image.
For the sake of comparison, I took the initial image as a jpg and opened it in Photoshop to do some corrections using blending modes and curves adjustments—see, already more complicated. What I got was a more contrasty image that is just going to get worse the more it's worked on:
The corrected jpg above took more time than the corrected RAW and the results are not as good.
Let's take a closer look...
Here's a close-up of the corrected jpg image:
and here's the corrected RAW:
See how the hair is pretty much the same shade in both? But look at the skin. The RAW image looks way more natural. I could brighten up the RAW and keep it looking natural, but JPG will have contrast problems because it has less information to work with.
Here's a close-up of the corrected JPG:
It still looks really blown out, even though the bottom half of the image has plenty of dark shadows.
Here's the same section in the RAW corrected version:
What? There were lights there? And a textured wall? Convinced yet?
If I can go from this...
just by eyeballing the photo and sliding a few buttons around, there's no reason you can't get the same or better results. It's really that easy.