October 2013
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5 tips to improve your photography skills – Understanding RAW

The previous set of tips (5 tips for learning about histograms) dealt with histograms and how you can make use of them to shoot better photos. This post (and a couple of follow on posts) will deal with the benefits of shooting in the RAW format rather than generating JPEG images (this will not be a fair post since it will outline the advantages of shooting in RAW; the problems in shooting RAW will come in another post). So what is RAW ? Well, as the name suggests, RAW is all the data that the camera sensor captures while taking a photo. RAW data is huge, much larger than JPEG. When shooting with JPEG, the camera still collects all the information that it captures in the form of a RAW image, and then converts this using some camera settings to create a JPEG image. The generated JPEG image is lossy and has lost some of the data that was captured by the sensor. There is no standard for RAW formats, they differ from manufacturer to manufacturer and even from camera to camera. Photographers are divided over whether they should shoot in RAW or JPEG, with ardent defenders of both. I tend to shoot in RAW, and so here are some advantages of shooting in RAW.

Tip 1166 (Getting more quality out of your photos): When you shoot a photo using a camera, all cameras shoot in RAW. However, when you choose to convert your images to JPEG (in the case of cameras such as DSLR’s, where you have the option to save the photo in the RAW format), you lose this data since the camera uses some presets to convert the data to JPEG and loses the RAW data. However, if you are saving your images in RAW, you have the option to save all this data and it is available for you to modify later. Instead of using some preset data to convert your data, you can take the decisions about the extent of modification of each parameter and this helps in creating an image which looks better.

Tip 1167 (Tones per channel): This is slightly more technical, so will reduce this level of tech language to something that can be more easily understood. JPEG’s have a bit depth of 8, while RAW files can have a bit depth of 12 to 14. This increase in Bit Depth leads to an increase in the number of tones for this Bit Depth (the number of tones is 2 to the power of the bit depth), so:
8 bit depth = 256 tones
12 bit depth = 4096 tones
14 bit depth = 16384 tones
I will not go beyond this, although if you do want to read, you can read more at this link. The benefit you get from RAW images is if you want to do post-processing of your image in a tool such as Photoshop CC. In a RAW image, there are more tones available for Photoshop to process, and hence the image degradation that may come about when processing JPEG images is not there when processing RAW images.

Tip 1168 (Ability to recover more detail from images): In a continuation of the earlier topic, when you consider photos that have either too much light or too little light, if these were JPEG’s, you might have to delete them since trying to optimize them might result in other problems such as artifacts or noise. However, for the same image, if it had been captured in RAW, you can do more modifications to the image in terms of contrast, color tone and increasing or decreasing brightness before the quality of the image starts decreasing. This can be very useful when you had taken some photos that were important, but taken in low light conditions. I have had this experience, where I had to delete the JPEG images, but in many of those cases, I was able to get usable RAW images with the quality only slightly reduced.

Tip 1169 (Being able to adjust White Balance): The White Balance is important for the overall look and feel of your image, and allows you to adjust the image for whether it was taken under a cloudy sky, or in bright sunlight or indoors under artificial light. However, since in the case of a JPEG image, the conversion has already taken place, you cannot have the same level of adjustment of White Balance as you could do in a RAW image. I once had a series of images which had developed a blue tint, and this was corrected in a jiffy using the Camera RAW adjustment in Lightroom.

Tip 1170 (Extremely useful when conditions are not right): I may have said it above in a different way, but would like to repeat again so that it is crystal clear. When conditions are right, such as good light, enough time to shoot; such as using a tripod assisted landscape shot during the day, you may not be able to differentiate too much between the JPEG and the RAW. However, let conditions vary a bit and see the advantages of RAW. When light is low, or the sky is too bright and you have the feeling of a blown-out top part of the photo, or other similar conditions, you will start to appreciate the advantages that RAW gives you. It does take some time during post-processing, but you can extract enough from your RAW photo to see an appreciable improvement over the same JPEG photo.

Understanding RAW Photography The Digital Negative Adobe Camera Raw for Digital Photographers

Some Youtube videos that might help:

Digital Photography RAW vs JPEG Part 1

Digital Photography 1 on 1

Jpeg vs. Raw Files – Digital Photography Tips

WHAT IS RAW? 2 MINUTE Photography Tutorials for Beginners

Raw vs JPEG: Real-world photography examples, advantages

Read more about understanding RAW in the next post.

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