I always recommend that all photographers, even beginners, shoot RAW instead of JPG. Here are my reasons:
It happens: you were in a hurry and underexposed your image. It’s too dark. But RAW files contain so much information when compared to JPG files that you can lift the exposure without degrading the image quality. Depending on the file and camera used, you may be able to increase the exposure by two or three stops without ruining it.
Fixing white balance issues is very simple in RAW, as well as controlling the hue and saturation levels of individual colors. For example, after white balancing the image, if something in your image is still too red or too yellow you can specifically reduce the saturation levels of those colors, without touching the other colors.
RAW files have no noise reduction applied, so you can apply your own. We all hate noise, but sometimes when shooting in JPG, the camera will apply too much noise reduction and make fine details like hair or architectural lines look “mushy”. RAW lets you add just the right amount.
As with being able to control the amount of noise reduction applied to the image, you can also control the amount of sharpening. Some JPG settings cause certain images to look oversharpened. In certain situations, such as portrait photography, you may not want any sharpening at all.
My favorite aspect of working with RAW files, since I shoot a lot of scenes with city lights. You can boost or lower the brightness of certain colors of light. For example, if you want to make the red traffic lights in a street scene stronger while reducing the strength of the headlights of cars, you can do that specifically, without brightening or darkening the other light sources in the image.
One last interesting thing about RAW is that the software used to edit RAW photos is often being improved upon by software developers. This means that you can go back to your old RAW files months or even years later and extract even more detail. Try loading that old, underexposed file that doesn’t look so good through a new RAW converter and play around with it. You may be able to pull out something amazing from it. I certainly have been able to. A JPG on the other hand is basically frozen in time.
This is the original file of the image at the beginning of this article — the JPG image that is automatically made alongside the RAW file. It’s not bad out of the camera, but editing the RAW version of this image really helped me bring it to a whole new level. RAW is particularly useful when using a camera with a smaller sensor such as APS-C or Four Thirds or when using an older camera — you can really get the most of out of your images with a little editing.
If you have any questions about RAW or editing, feel free to comment below, e-mail me, or message me on Instagram.