Thursday, July 16, 2009

why RAW rules

Photographers have a lot of different opinions about whether to shoot RAW or to shoot JPEG. I personally shoot jpeg some of the time when it's just for me, but when shooting for clients, I always shoot in RAW unless there's some reason not to.

I will admit that about 90% of the time when I'm shooting in RAW, I could be shooting in jpeg and be just as happy with the outcome. In fact, I've considered becoming a jpeg shooter and only shooting in RAW when the situation warrants it. So, I don't want anyone to think I'm being biased when I say that sometimes RAW is the clear winner.

I had a really good example on a recent shoot, so I thought I'd share it. Normally, I meter for faces when shooting. I am not the type of photographer who minds if a little bit of sky or a window, or some of the background is blown out. For anyone who's not familiar with that term, "blown out" means that the image, or that portion of the image, is overexposed to the point that there is no data there at all. It appears pure white.

In this scene, I've use Lightroom's highlight indicator to show where the sky and water are both completely blown out when metering for the subjects (the red bits are blown out).
(C) Copyright Amanda Stratton, 2009 - Waterloo Wedding Photographer

I used Lightroom 2.0's gradient tool, and a bit of localized adjusting, as well as the recovery slider, to bring back that sky and lake.
(C) Copyright Amanda Stratton, 2009 - Waterloo Wedding Photographer

I also have this shot done in reverse. I exposed for the sky and lake, and pulled the subjects up in LR using the gradient tool and fill light slider. This worked pretty well, but made for noisy subjects, so to me, it was preferable to get as close to a normal exposure on the subjects as I could without making the sky irrecoverable.

Here's the same shot, converted directly to jpeg, or essentially, what you would have if you used your camera's jpeg quality setting. I pulled this jpeg into Lightroom, but because jpeg's don't save the image the same as RAW does, the data simply isn't there to bring back the sky and lake the way you can with the RAW image.
(C) Copyright Amanda Stratton, 2009 - Waterloo Wedding Photographer
For the sake of demonstrating this, I've reduced the exposure as far as possible, and used the recovery slider as much as possible, set brightness and contrast to zero. Nothing else has been adjusted.

If RAW processing isn't normally a part of your workflow, you can take that "fixed up" RAW, convert it to jpeg, and edit it as you normally would in your favourite editing program.

(C) Copyright Amanda Stratton, 2009 - Waterloo Wedding Photographer

For this image, I took it into photoshop, then added a bit of a curve adjustment, and used the "Fresh & Colourful" and "Quick Edge Burn" actions from the Pioneer Woman Action Set 1, which were developed by Doug Boutwell, who is also the Photoshop mastermind behind the very popular Totally Rad Actions.

So, in conclusion, I think it's a really good idea to know when and how RAW can help you get a great shot.

If this is helpful to you at all, or if you have a question about any of it, please let me know!


Tracey said...
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Tracey said...

I am pretty sure I will always be a pretty basic point & shoot photographer but holy crap you blow me away with your knowledge! Dude, you're should do this for a living! ;)

Oh, and seriously, that picture is GORGEOUS!!!

Dodie said...

I seriously need to learn a small fraction of the multitude of photography knowledge that runs around in that amazing brain of yours!! Shooting RAW is a little overwhelming for me, but the results you illustrated make me want to get out there and try it!

Life with Kaishon said...

Do you know that I don't even know what button to push on my camera to shoot in raw.