Anyone who’s even glanced at a camera in the past 10 years knows that one of the first rules of digital photography is that you better shoot RAW files. Of course, there are reasons for choosing JPEGs vs RAW files, but on the whole, the record of information captured in RAW files compared to JPEGs makes switching your camera to RAW mode pretty much a no brainer.
But the real reason you should shoot RAW files is much bigger than all that. It comes back to the fundamentals of art and photography. Being an artist means making mistakes, and RAW files are much more forgiving of mistakes than a JPEG – or film or canvas or stone, for that matter!
Because RAW files allow you to correct exposure, tweak colours or tease out details, it takes some of the pressure off a photographer to focus solely on these factors while in the field, and frees him or her to think more creatively about composition and some of the other more intuitive elements of image-making.
Making selective adjustments
Back in the days of the wet darkroom, making selective adjustments to images using techniques like dodging and burning was an essential – but limited – technique available to photographers to correct or fine-tune their pictures. But tools like Adobe Camera Raw’s Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush have allowed photographers to more easily warm or cool an image, or correct a slightly orange colour cast. You can add warmth to the land so it balances against that cool sky, or tease out the foreground interest you so carefully framed.
It is perhaps portrait photographers more than anyone else who should appreciate the power of RAW files to free you from making mistakes. Minute exposure errors that would have once spoiled a shoot can now be rescued via masks and the Adjustment Brush.
Unlike editing JPEGs, with RAW files you have non-destructive editing as standard, so you are not losing image data as you correct mistakes. What’s more, saving your work as .psd files means the image is always fluid, never fixed.
Your RAW files allow your images to be a constantly evolving artwork, and thus you may even find that your original mistakes weren’t mistakes after all. That cool colour cast might work surprisingly well.
Don’t be afraid
Because RAW files are so forgiving of ‘mistakes’, the advantage photographers have now over photographers in the past is they no longer have to be afraid of not being able to get a shot.
No photographer has to say, “I can’t shoot that.” The improvement in image sensors and the powerful capabilities of most RAW editing software means the only reason you didn’t get the shot you wanted is because you didn’t have your camera.
When do you shoot RAW? If you could only shoot JPEGs, would that change the way you approached your pictures? Let us know below…