The real reason you should shoot Raw and not JPEG

As a photographer, you are most likely already aware of the advantages of shooting in Raw. Higher Dynamic Range, White Balance information which can be changed in post-production, more colour information and more latitude for colour grading.

While this is reason enough to always shoot in Raw, I believe there is an even more fundamental reason. A reason forgotten or often left out in popular photography talk perhaps because it is so simple. A reason that I believe is a building block of a good photographer.

The Building Blocks of a Photographer

If I had to break a photographer into blocks, I would have three of them.

  • The art/skill of storytelling (The Why)
  • The vision to see a photograph as it is taking place (The What)
  • The understanding of how your camera sees (The How)

For the purpose of this article, the third block is of particular interest. While learning to see with your eyes is important, understanding how your camera sees will make all the difference.

Getting intimate with your sensor — Post Production

Shooting in Raw is getting intimate with your sensor. It is like seeing someone without their make-up on. The full extent of its flaws and its strengths are laid bare. Conversely, while shooting in JPEG the camera decides the best way to present the photograph. It tweaks the information from the sensor. Adds its make-up of saturation, sharpness and throws away everything it “thinks” is making it look bulky. Being aware of how much is being retained/uncaptured by the sensor, is the only way to understand its limits.

Below is an example from a recent shoot I did. Although the picture is meant to be a silhouette, it serves as a good example of the latitude one has in post-production.

Below is an example of information that can be pulled out from the Raw Image.

As you can see the Raw image has an impressive about of information stored within the image. Below are the same edits copied and pasted onto the JPEG version of the image.

The JPEG collapses under the edits resulting in ugly artefacts.

Post-Production is where you can gauge the sensor’s limits. Tweak the exposure, highlights, shadows to their extremes, go crazy and explore everything it has to offer. How much can you recover before the image breaks down? What about the colour information? How much colour is stored in the blacks and whites?

But why is it important to know these extremes?

Shooting for the edit.

To constantly expose your subject for middle grey is something a photographer needs to eventually dare to move away from. To begin shooting a photograph to utilize the entirety of the information is what the goal should be. This often means under or overexposing your photograph depending on what you want your final image to look like. “Shooting for the edit” doesn’t only apply to video production. Moreover, the photographer needs to begin thinking of the Raw format as a digital negative. A film negative by itself isn’t a finished photograph. Similarly, the Raw format requires some processing before it can be outputted. Below are three ways you can put this information to practice.

1. Begin using the exposure compensation setting in your camera.

The Exposure Compensation function is a setting that overrides the dialed in exposure to intentionally over or underexpose a scene by a specific amount.

2. Use the “AEB” Automatic Exposure Bracketing function

Use the AEB function on your camera to take advantage of capturing all the information you need in a scene when you gauge that your sensor cannot capture all the details that you need in a single image. Although this mostly works for stationary subjects.

3. Experiment with lighting and reflectors

No sensor can capture all the information a scene offers. If you know what you want from a scene, additional lighting or using tools like reflectors are sometimes the only ways you can balance the exposure and colour you desire in a scene.

To conclude, shooting in RAW coupled with basic post-production knowledge helps you understand the full capabilities and really own your camera. It helps you see, how your camera “sees”. To the “purists” who do not believe in post-production, remember that processing a Raw image is but the modern equivalent of processing a film negative.

I hope you could take something of value away from this article. Any questions are welcome, just comment below.

To see more from the project I did for Center for Equity Studies visit http://premhessenkamp.com/?page_id=205