Why RAW?

October 2015

The aim of this post is to highlight the benefits of exposing to the right, capturing the maximum number of tones in an image and then showing how this can benefit and improve the final image. Anyone who has been on one or more of my workshops will certainly know how important good exposure is to making a good image. I frequently bang on about histograms, exposing to the right, balancing the exposure and so on. I can hear you all now saying ...oh yes! Does he go on! Anyway, the great thing about having a blog page is that I can rattle on about these things knowing I have your full and undivided attention. The RAW versus JPEG argument? - well in truth there is no argument. The simple fact is that there are more tones available when your camera is set to RAW.

Set to JPEG

Set on JPEG only, your camera throws away masses of data and tones, sharpens your image and saves a small image. The JPEG image is what you see on your camera's rear screen. Once downloaded, the data available to edit will be small, certainly when compared to a RAW file.

Set to RAW
The RAW data is captured to your sensor (and then ultimately to your camera's memory card) and is your digital equivalent to the old film negative. Just like film negatives, the digital RAW data can be revisited time and time again and re-edited. The file sizes are large and here's the deal ... if you capture the exposure correctly, you will benefit by having many more tones available to you when you edit and process your image afterwards.

Exposing to the right
Below is an example of an image I took recently in the New Forest. My camera was set to capture the RAW data. I used my histogram to view and control my exposure by making sure my histogram was recording the tones as far to the right as possible. The camera's histogram is your graph and guide to good exposure; recording the dark tones (left side) of your photograph to the light tones (right side). The majority of tones in your image are in the light tone area of your histogram. Expose to the right and you will record more data! However, I can't stress enough how important it is not to go past the right hand vertical of your histogram - if you do, your exposure will be blown out!

Where are the extra tones?
The image to the left is how my rear LCD (and computer) screen displayed the captured image. Note the extreme brightness of the image and how far the tones go to the right on the histogram. The image looks bright and washed out. But...and it's a big but!...download that image into your RAW processing program (your camera manufacturer's software, Photoshop or Lightroom for instance) and simply reduce the brilliance or exposure slider slightly, and hey presto, watch the extra tones appear. The image on the right has only had small tweaks to reduce the brightness slightly and then even smaller tweaks adding a little contrast and saturation; it is also a good representation of what I saw on that evening. The added bonus is that I have a large file size, which means I can print the image very large if I wish.