For photographers working with film, much of the skill that went into producing a great photograph was often put to use after the picture was taken. The way the negative was processed in the darkroom could have as great an impact on the look of an image as the way it was shot.
For photographers who enjoy playing around with Photoshop, the importance and flexibility of post-processing is greater today than it has ever been. For most photographers that means opening their JPEG image and adjusting the light levels and the color tones or correcting small mistakes in the composition. Professional photographers and those with a real technical bent though are increasingly dropping the JPEG and working straight from the RAW image — the shot taken by the camera before it processes the picture into a JPEG.
In fact, surf around photography forums long enough and you’ll find comment after comment from photographers saying that once they’ve tried RAW, they can’t see themselves ever going back to JPEG.
The main advantage of RAW images is the amount of detail the image retains and the extent of the changes a photographer can make during post-processing.
Because RAW images see color in 12-bits, for example, instead of JPEG’s 8-bits, the colors are cleaner and closer to real life. The Dynamic Range is wider allowing for easy correction of bleached areas or lost shadows. And most importantly, RAW lets photographers set the white balance manually, giving them much greater control over the final color range of the photo.
A nature photographer who wanted a breathtaking picture of a floral scene then, could use a RAW image to ensure that the colors turned out exactly the way he wanted. A commercial photographer creating images for an ad campaign, could use RAW images to ensure that she didn’t lose details when the picture was blown up to poster size.
But that doesn’t mean that RAW is for everyone. Although the growing capacity and shrinking cost of memory cards now mean that the large size of RAW images is no longer an issue, the shots do take longer to store. That means that photographers looking to take a rapid sequence of shots would end up with a smaller selection of images to choose from. And every RAW image must undergo post-processing which can take some time, especially as there is no one RAW format. (Each camera model stores RAW images differently, and even adds a small amount of processing as it does so.)
If you’re taking actions shots, if you’re happy with the quality of your JPEG images or if you don’t have the time to post-process every picture you take, then you might want to let your camera do the work. But if you want to raise the level of your images and you have the time to do it, try shooting RAW… and cook the images yourself.
[tags] RAW, photo post-production, image formats [/tags]