Jeff Warner PHOTOGRAPHIC, Golden, Colorado, USA

Monday, January 31, 2011

FAQ #1: Why shoot RAW vs. JPEG?

For those of you with DSLRs who are unsure of why anyone would want to use the raw file format, I thought I'd give a quick example of one of the primary benefits of shooting raw. In a nutshell, the raw file format gives you more latitude to correct for image exposure or color problems, problems we try to avoid as photographers, but sometimes cannot.

Below is an image I shot of lightning over South Table Mtn. a few years ago. I had just gotten my camera set up on the tripod and was still shooting frames to get some idea of the light levels (correct exposure, as a function of the distance/brightness of the lightning). A tremendous strike occurred perfectly centered in the frame, but since the lightning was so close, it was severely overexposed (see JPEG example, on the right).

Corrected RAW file on the left, original JPEG from the camera on the right.

Luckily, I had been shooting RAW+JPEG, and it was only 1.5 stops overexposed; using a RAW file editor (Adobe Lightroom) I was able to bring back the overexposed highlights, and produced one of my more stunning lightning images to date. It was actually shown by 9News' Kathy Sabine on the weather segment on the following night, and had I not been shooting RAW, I would have had almost nothing from the night. Lightning is a fickle beast, and by the time my camera was set properly (about 90 seconds later), the strikes had moved to the east side of the mesa, only flashes of light from my location.

There are many other image aspects that RAW files allow you to manipulate, but I'll leave those items for future FAQ topics. If anyone has any questions or comments about anything above, please leave a post here, and I'll answer the question(s) as soon as I can.



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