If you want the ultimate control over your digital photos you need to capture them in RAW format and not Jpeg. Whilst you can process Jpeg files you can do a lot more with RAW files and this is the reason why many photographers capture digital photos in RAW format.
There are times when Jpeg files don’t need any editing at all and they are just fine straight from the camera, however this never happens with RAW files and you will have to process every RAW file to some extent. RAW files are never fine straight out of the camera because the camera doesn’t process RAW files at all, however it does with Jpeg files.
When you capture photos in RAW there are certain adjustments you will have to do as a matter of course every time, and these include:-
Adjusting the white balance
When processing a RAW file it is possible to adjust the white balance to whatever you want it to be to give the type of effect you’re trying to achieve. Using an unsuitable white balance results in ugly color casts in the image, rendering it unusable, and this is a big problem with Jpeg files.
Shooting in RAW means you can change the white balance to whatever you want it to be whilst processing the photo. If you accidentally left your camera set to a specific white balance from a previous shoot and forgot to change it (it’s something everyone has done at some time) you can change it. How cool is that? In addition to correcting white balance issues you can also adjust the white balance to see if a different white balance enhances and improves your photos.
I like to get my white balance as close as possible in camera and then make minor adjustments when processing the RAW file. I typically find the only white balance adjustment I need is to warm up or cool down the image by a tiny amount. There are of course times when I royally mess up the white balance, and these are the times when I am happy (or should that be relieved?) I shot in RAW mode.
Just because you can change the white balance of a RAW file this doesn’t mean you should get lazy and you need to make sure you try and get the correct white balance when you’re out taking photos. You need to make sure you are using the best white balance because there may come a time when you forget to shoot in RAW mode and shoot in Jpeg instead, and you won’t be able to change the white balance in the digital darkroom.
Even if you think you nailed the white balance in camera it is worth tweaking it when processing the RAW file. I often find the tiniest adjustment makes a huge difference.
Adjusting the exposure
No matter what settings I use on my Canon 6D I find that I have to tweak the exposure on all RAW files, even when I nail the exposure in camera. I use RAW +Jpeg mode (i.e. capture a jpeg and RAW file at the same time) and there are several times when the Jpeg is perfectly exposed but the RAW file is slightly under exposed. The only conclusion I can come up with is the camera adjusts the exposure when it produces the Jpeg file.
My exposure adjustments are typically small, being no more than half a stop but I need to do them to get the exposure right.
If I totally mess up the exposure (it happens to all of us) shooting in RAW allows me to increase or decrease the exposure up to +/- 3 stops. This means I can recover photos with totally blown highlights or save photos that are massively under exposed.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.