Mini Photography Series Part 6: The Benefits of Shooting in Raw

Hi all! Welcome back to our series on photography!

Learning the photography puzzle can have it’s challenges, but the rewards are great! If you are joining us for the first time today, I encourage you to check out the first five posts of this series:

Six Reasons to Learn to Shoot in Manual Mode
Aperture: How to get that Blurry Background in Pictures
ISO: How to set your ISO to take Bright and Balanced Pictures
Shutter Speed and Metering: How to use Shutter Speed to take Bright Pictures
What is the Best Lighting for Taking Pictures
Where to Focus when Taking Pictures
How to take your own Family Pictures for your Christmas Card

Like I have said before, I am offering this short series in hopes of teaching others like myself who want to get great pictures of everyday life.

What do I mean by people like myself? I want good pictures of my kids, good pictures for my blog, and candid pictures of life. I do not want to start a photography business nor hire myself out for family pictures.

This mini series is meant for amateurs like myself who just want to capture life’s moments.

If you are among the thousands who own a DSLR, but you don’t know how to shoot in manual mode, I highly encourage you to try to learn. This series is a great place to start.

The camera I use is a Canon EOS Rebel T3. While this is a great starter camera, I would not recommend this camera if your goal is to learn to fluently shoot in manual mode. I use a fixed (or prime) 50 mm lens for almost all my pictures. I highly highly recommend this lens. CONSIDERING THE PRICE, it is an excellent lens, in my amateur opinion.

Shooting in manual mode.
What are raw images?

If you are shooting your pictures with any canon DSLR, you likely have three options. You can take your pictures as jpegs, raw files, or both at the same time.

Here is my amateur explanation of raw images versus jpegs.

Raw images are HUGE files made of layer after layer of everything the camera was able to capture when it snapped the photo. Think of your picture as thousands of little layers stacked together to create a photo filled with lots of options. Maybe the shadows are one layer. The whites another layer. The blacks another layer.

A jpeg is one layer, a flat image, of what the photo took. I spend most of my time shooting with my settings just taking jpegs.

What is the advantage of shooting in raw?
(The above picture was taken with a tripod and timer!)

BUT, there is a time and a place for shooting in raw. Whenever I am trying to take a frame-able photo, I shoot in raw. If I want the picture to look extra great, I shoot in raw. If I am taking pictures for other people, I shoot in raw.

The biggest advantage of shooting in raw is the ability to edit. Yes, you can edit jpegs, but the difference between editing jpegs and raw images is HUGE. The freedom of editing in raw is so much greater…and better!

For example, look at the below image:

What are the benefits of shooting in raw
The image is underexposed. It is too dark for my liking. (I took this image for another post to show how to use your meter to ensure proper exposure.)

Maybe you are taking family pictures for some friends. You have your camera set. All is good. You rearrange the people so the dad, with his large dark sweater on, moves to the front. All the sudden, your meter drops, but you don’t realize it because who would have thought that moving a black sweater to the front row would absorb so much light!

The above image is taken right out of the camera. No edits. Simply, by adjusting the exposure levels in raw editing, I have the below:

IMG_4613 What are the benefits of shooting in raw?
In the below picture, I took the jpeg. Using photoshop, I added an adjustment layer and brightened the picture. Can you tell the slight difference in the two images? The top has a creamier look. It’s the difference in using natural light. When processing in raw, I told Photoshop to take the natural light I already captured in the photo and elevate the levels.

The benefits of shooting in raw.
When working with jpegs, I am telling Photoshop to add a layer on top of the photo. Using artificial color, lighten up my image. Overall, the jpeg still looks really good. But, the slight difference is huge for me.

Another advantage of shooting in raw is creating beautiful black and white images. When editing in raw, you can bring just the blacks up or down. You can enhance the whites.

In the below image, I eliminated all color. I dropped the black down to create a darker black. (See the black beans.) I also brought the whites up a little for more contrast.

What are the benefits of shooting in raw?

On the contrary, if you are wanting a really low contrast, dreamy, and creamy look, keep the blacks lighter, up the exposure a little, lighten up the shadows, and enhance the whites.

You end up with something like this:

low contrast what are the benefits of shooting in raw?
Here is an example with my son and me. In the below image, all I did was take the image and take all the color saturation out of it.

Just going black and white
I wasn’t happy with it. Look how dark our faces are. My face is kind of in a shadow, and my skin is too dull for my liking.

exposurehighlightsshadows What are the benefits of shooting in raw?
I bumped up exposure a bit, I reduced the shadows in the image, and I played with the highlights a bit. Look at the difference! I love a candid picture, and this one would be perfect for a small frame on a desk or bathroom sink. 🙂

Okay. Now all that to say. Technology and photo editing software is getting sooooooo much better! Even Instagram options are great. The benefits of shooting in raw cannot be surpassed, but I will readily acknowledge that some of the free editing programs out there with filters are amazing! I use them and I love them. BUT, I still don’t think they can do what you can do in raw processing.

Depending on what your goals are with your photography, you may not want to invest in the equipment to use raw images and processing.

So, how do you take pictures in raw?

If you own a Canon DSLR like me, here is how to set your camera to shoot in raw.

1. Push your ‘Menu’ button.
2. Arrow up or down until the red box is over ‘Quality.’
3. Push the ‘Set’ button. (This is kind of the equivalent of an ‘enter’ button on the keyboard.)

How to set your canon reble to shoot in raw.
4. Arrow over until you land on the option of your choice.
5. Push the ‘Set’ button.

Setting a Canon Rebel T3 to shoot in raw.
Since I don’t have uber sophisticated photography software, I shoot in the Raw and Jpeg option (the slope and L icon.) I do this so I can view my photos quickly and efficiently on my laptop. My laptop processes raw images so much slower than jpegs because raw images are huge files. If I want to view my pictures quickly, it’s easiest for me to sort by application and flip through the jpegs. Then I go find the raw images I want to edit. Otherwise, I have a two or three second delay as my laptop reads the raw files. Make sense?

A side note: Depending on how new your camera is and how old your photo editing software is, you may have compatibility issues. I ran into that before we upgraded our laptop to the Mac we have now.

If you have that trouble, look through the software that came with your camera. Canon included a program that specifically works to convert CR2 files (raw files) to .dng files. The .dng files were compatible with a greater array of older and dated programs. I lost a bit of the editing options, but overall, it was still better using the .dng files than editing jpegs.

Why should I shoot in raw? What are the benefits of shooting in raw?

Whew..this got into some technical terms!  Let me know if you have any questions in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer them.  Also, I’d love to hear your input on shooting in raw!

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