Taking advantage of raw format

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Of all the advantages that shooting raw offers compared to JPEG, the biggest is control. When shooting photos for my fine-art portfolio or for portraits, I want complete control over the tonal adjustments to my images. Even though the latest digital cameras are pretty handy at processing images, almost all need post-processing help in Photoshop. Shooting in raw format lets me judge and adjust color and exposure for each individual photo if I choose. I don't have to trust blindly that my digital camera automatically produces images that match my taste; I have the data I need to make them look right.

In addition to giving you control over the processing of your images in raw format, Camera Raw provides other advantages over JPEGs or TIFFs:

i Full use of all the information captured: Shooting in raw format gives the photographer all the data the digital camera's image sensor captures, thus providing the photographer with more data to work with to make adjustments, edits, and sizing later in Photoshop. You're not limited to the reduced data in a compressed 8-bit JPEG file (as detailed in the next section).

i Easy exposure adjustment without losing image data: Figure 2-5 shows a photo I shot at dusk (a difficult lighting situation) to capture the reflection of the sky on a pond. It was a tough task to get the right exposure for the image in a neutral part of the image. As it turned out, I was off a little in my exposure setting, but no problem: I used the Camera Raw Exposure control to increase the exposure by 1 1/2 f-stops.

Figure 2-5: Adjusting exposure "after the fact" is one advantage to shooting raw.

Some digital SLRs underexpose photos by about one f-stop when shooting in raw mode. That's by design; it prevents you from blowing out parts of the image (that is, overexposing certain parts of the image so no usable image data emerges). Such underexposure saves you from ending up with (say) unusable pure white as part of a sky. You could deal with extremes of exposure by using exposure compensation (if your camera has that feature) — or you could use Camera Raw to adjust the exposure after you shoot — and probably get better results. Keep in mind that it's often easier to compensate for underexposed areas than overexposed areas.

l Easy adjustment of white balance: White balance (or color temperature and tint, if you want to get real technical) is sometimes difficult to get right when you're out shooting with your digital camera. You can use the auto adjustment, but sometimes the color and tint of the images are slightly off when you view them in Bridge or Camera Raw. If I'm shooting raw, I'm not going to sweat too much; I can easily make a change in the white balance of the image later in Camera Raw. Figure 2-6 shows three versions of the same image displayed in Camera Raw, as shot in the digital camera using three settings (from left to right): Auto, Cloudy, and Shade. If I were shooting JPEG, I'd have to jump through hoops to make the same adjustments in Photoshop.

l Non-destructive adjustment of tone and color: This is the real kicker: By shooting raw — and converting the images later in Camera Raw — the photographer can make changes to brightness, contrast, curve tab, and color saturation without the risk of losing valuable bits of image data.

As shot Cloudy Shade

Figure 2-6: As Shot, Cloudy, and Shade white balance settings.

As shot Cloudy Shade

Figure 2-6: As Shot, Cloudy, and Shade white balance settings.

The 16-bit advantage

When you're shooting in raw format, you are essentially capturing all the data that your sensor can capture — and today's digital cameras can capture at least 12 bits per channel (that is, per each red, green, and blue channel) for each pixel. When you shoot JPEGs, you capture images at only 8 bits per channel for each pixel — you're already working with less data, and your digital camera had better process those 8-bit images correctly. Don't get me wrong, you can still get great photos working in the 8-bit world of JPEGs, but after you get them into Photoshop, you can do only a limited amount of processing before image quality starts to degrade.

When quality counts more than speed, shooting in raw format — and then editing the photos in Photoshop, in 16 bit-mode — gives you a large advantage over JPEGs. That's because JPEG quality is no more than what you get via your digital camera's software algorithms — results that are automatic and fast, but maybe not quite what you want. With raw format, you can make more accurate adjustments to the image, and have a lot of image data left over to give you more options. You can do more extensive edits, crop, or enlarge — while maintaining image quality throughout your image.

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Digital Camera and Digital Photography

Digital Camera and Digital Photography

Compared to film cameras, digital cameras are easy to use, fun and extremely versatile. Every day there’s more features being designed. Whether you have the cheapest model or a high end model, digital cameras can do an endless number of things. Let’s look at how to get the most out of your digital camera.

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