The RAW Deal

So . . . in the comments section of one of my recent posts, there was a short discussion about shooting RAW versus JPG images.  I gave a brief description (probably confusing), and linked some articles (they will be at the bottom of this post), but I was not happy with leaving it at that.

I mentioned before that I am not that great a photographer . . . and I now aim to prove it.  The following are a series of shots from the past year.  The first shot is as the camera captured it and saved it.  In my case, it’s saved as an NEF file, Nikon’s proprietary RAW format.  All I do is output the JPG from it, without doing any modifications. 

For example, this shot from February, of my Christmas Cactus in bloom.

25FEBB2012_1__DSC9274

Nice, isn’t it?  The texture, the details . . . it’s all there.  You just need to tweak the setting, and re-render the file.

25FEBB2012_1__DSC9274-2

Same photo, different settings.  Of course, you don’t have to use the RAW like a sledgehammer if you shoot close to the proper exposure; you can also use it to get various effects. 

As shot.

As shot.

Natural sunlight filtered through a white screen, and then reflected off a gold reflector.  But, I liked a different look.

Playing around.

Playing around.

These are not filters . . . these are sliders moved around in Lightroom. 

Can’t you do that with JPGs?” you ask. 

Why, yes Bob; you can.  But not to the degree that you can with RAW.

A JPG of the first picture in the post would not have had enough information to generate the second one, and still look as good.   I mean . . . it does look good, right?

And sometimes, the adjustments are subtle, but important.

As shot.

As shot.

Adjusted to bring out detail in the shadow.

Adjusted to bring out detail in the shadow.

OK, so it’s not a great photo, but I’m just using it as an example.  You see, all that information in the shadow . . . it’s there in the RAW file.  And you can just lighten certain ranges, shadows, and black areas.  You can’t really do that with a JPG file . . . the information is not there.  You can play with it, but you won’t get those results.

The following three photos are all from the same single photograph.

As shot (too dark)

As I decided to use it in my racquetball post.

As it was shot (too dark - I did not have the flash on).

As it was shot (too dark – I did not have the flash on).

What I could have done with it.

What I could have done with it.

Keep in mind . . . all from the same RAW file.  You get the idea, but I like making my points forcefully . . . so, just a series of pictures showing the original “as shot” version, and the adjusted version.

Ute Pass, early morning

Ute Pass, early morning

Ute Pass - adjusted.

Ute Pass – adjusted.

Ketchikan - early morning, as shot.

Ketchikan – early morning, as shot.

Adjusted to show what was here.  By the way, more than what I could see with my eyes.

Adjusted to show what was here. By the way, more than what I could see with my eyes.

You know what . . . I did not like the color cast . . . let me play with the White Balance. . . ah, much better.

You know what . . . I did not like the color cast . . . let me play with the White Balance
. . . ah, much better.

People might remember this shot from the Alaska post . . .

People might remember this shot from the Alaska post . . .

Here is the original.

Here is the original.

Arriving in Seattle at the end of the cruise.

Arriving in Seattle at the end of the cruise.

A tad better?

A tad better?

Maybe more light?

Maybe more light?

How about B&W?

How about B&W?

Here are a few from the airplane museum in Washington . . . remember these when I do a post about it.

As shot (cloudy, and poorly lit)

As shot (cloudy, and poorly lit)

RAW . . . you gots to love it.

RAW . . . you gots to love it.

In the museum, trying to work out what exposure to shoot at.

In the museum, trying to work out what exposure to shoot at.

. . . or I can just fix it afterwards.

. . . or I can just fix it afterwards.

Add a crop for a better composition (I will post about that as well, eventually)

Add a crop for a better composition (I will post about that as well, eventually)

I hate shooting indoor with bright windows in the background.

I hate shooting indoor with bright windows in the background.

Eh . . . not so bad, after all.

Eh . . . not so bad, after all.

20121119_1_DSC3548

20121119_1_DSC3548-2

Of course, just so people don’t think I am totally incapable, most of the time the tweaks are minimal.

The photo as shot . . .

The photo as shot . . .

. . . and lightly tweaked.

. . . and lightly tweaked.

Many of these dark shots are me encountering something, and taking a test photo to see how it will come out, and to find out what I should shoot at.

20121119_1_DSC3585-2

. . . but it's not like the shot is not usable.

. . . but it’s not like the shot is not usable.

20121119_1_DSC3603

20121119_1_DSC3603-2

20121119_1_DSC3719

20121119_1_DSC3719-2

Sometimes it’s fun to just play . . .

As shot . . .

As shot . . .

20121119_1_DSC3790-2

20121119_1_DSC3790-3

20121119_1_DSC3790-4

As shot . . .

As shot . . .

. . . and adjusted to show "more".

. . . and adjusted to show “more”.

As a general rule, if I am going to make a mistake, I rather under-expose than over-expose a shot.

As a general rule, if I am going to make a mistake, I rather under-expose than over-expose a shot.

It's easier to recover detail from dark areas than to recover detail from areas that are blown out.

It’s easier to recover detail from dark areas than to recover detail from areas that are blown out.

And there you have it . . . the possibilities available when shooting RAW.

Of course, it’s not a fix-all.  Recovering from extreme shots means grainier photos, more tweaking, adjustments, and effort to come up with something decent. 

I prefer shooting at or near the correct exposure because the photo will be much better, especially when looked at in its native resolution.  But, if you just came back from a trip, and that one shot you thought you got was “messed up” . . . well, all is not lost. 

Especially if you make it seem as if that was your intention to begin with.

As promised here are some links regarding shooting RAW versus JPGs.

Additional reading:

http://www.dpreview.com/articles/4333175133/buyers-guide-enthusiast-raw-shooting-compact-cameras

This next one is actually about why shooting RAW is better (despite the title):
http://www.herviewphotography.com/2012/06/18/raw-vs-jpg-file-formats.html

Another good article:
http://digital-photography-school.com/raw-vs-jpeg

Thanks for stopping by, and hope you were entertained.

Bees Box with Ant Farm

Bees Box with Ant Farm

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About disperser

Odd guy with odd views living an odd life during odd times.
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30 Responses to The RAW Deal

  1. oneowner says:

    I was! Thank you.

    Like

  2. Carissa says:

    Once I started shooting in RAW I never looked back. The only thing you can’t really fix in RAW are blown out photos, but slightly underexposed or overexposed or, as you noted, photos with wide range of light and shadow are manipulable. Yay!. So much is fixable in RAW, but yes, getting the exposure right the first time is best. Still, better to underexpose and fix in post that to blow out the shot.

    Thanks for all the examples.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      I still save both for those rare occasions I want to just use the JPGs for e-mails and stuff (before I get around to actually working with the photos).

      And because I want to see what the camera does with the photos. Sometimes they do a better job of “developing” them, and I try to figure out what it is Nikon’s algorithm does.

      Like

      • Carissa says:

        When I shot the “Santa” photos for the kids party, I used jpeg as we were printing immediately. I have done the RAW/JPEG route too, but not regularly.

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  3. I’m so impressed with what you can do in RAW. Your nighttime photos with more light are wonderful.

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    • disperser says:

      As impressive as it might be, realize I only adjust a couple of things . . . the main ones being exposure and white balance. I also play with the shadows and highlights.

      The good thing with shooting RAW and editing in lightroom . . . you save the presets, and then it’s literally a click or two, and minimal editing beyond that.

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  4. I understand better now what all the “raw” images are about. I have a good excuse for not starting it yet as I do not have the software to process it. I need to improve a lot more basic stuff before I move on to getting more software and improving the images. This post was a good explanation for me.

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    • disperser says:

      Pretty sure Picasa handles RAW images . . . I just checked, and yes, it does.

      There are other free open source programs (Gimp), but for the money, features, organizational options, and the crap-load of stuff one can do with it . . . Lightroom. When you feel you are ready, of course.

      Like

      • Thanks I use Picasa but because it is free I assumed (wrongly) it wouldn’t handle raw. In that case I will give it a go but start by taking a jpeg as well. I have downloaded Gimp but I haven’t had time to play around with it. Christmas and the UK have kept me occupied and now the garden needs attention but I will get around to it.

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        • disperser says:

          Be aware that Gimp is a photo editing tool that, while powerful, has a steep learning curve.

          I classify software as follows . . . Photoshop and Gimp are tools for making extensive editing to an image. By this I mean adding/replacing/removing stuff, in addition to adjusting the look and feel of the photo. They do everything the tools below do , and more. Also, these tools are more for working on an individual image.

          Lightroom/Picasa/Aperture are tools for making adjustments to an image. White Balance, color tone, brightness, saturation, sharpening, etc, can be done in Gimp, but these tools can do it quickly and to multiple images at once. What I did above you should be able to do in Picasa, but probably (have not tried it) easier to do in Lightroom (or Aperture for Mac).

          By

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        • Thanks again for that. I was told about Gimp by my son. He said I’d have to work on it to understand it. I think he likes to set me little challenges to offset possible senility. He will in due course check up on my progress. Zero progress will be viewed harshly. If I start on Picasa I will be able to prove that I am moving forward.

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        • disperser says:

          Honestly, I would not get involved with Gimp unless I wanted to punish myself. And while Picasa is nice and free, if you can, I would suggest buying Lightroom ($120 for latest version, $90 for Lightroom 3). Why, you could ask your son to help pay for it; tell him it will help delay the onset of dementia.

          And it would be a lot easier to play with your photos.

          Like

  5. Emily Heath says:

    Amazing results. The good news is my fiance has been given a new camera by his photographer brother-in-law, so he is now giving his old camera which can shoot in RAW to me. Do I need fancy software to do all the playing around though? At the moment I’m just using my Mac’s iPhoto program.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin iPhotos . . . but, you can check many sources online.

      I think, but don’t know for sure, the Mac equivalent of Lightroom for Windows is Aperture, although they have Lightroom for Mac as well.,

      Picasa is free, and I know it handles RAW images (again, don’t know if there is a Mac version of it, etc.).

      There is all sorts of advice for Mac users to do this or that thing with regards to handling photos . . . but, they already made the mistake of going Mac, so I can’t really add anything to all that. Yes, I joke, but unfortunately, I have no Mac experience . . . seems like a cult to me, and a costly one at that.

      Like

  6. Raw + Lightroom is a wonderful thing. But it takes time, since raw-files usually needs some adjustments. Interesting subject.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Two things speed it up considerably . . . the ability to save presets, and the auto-sync option (highlighting a bunch of photos and the adjustment you make on one is automatically applied to all).

      Usually, at least for me, most photos are very similar (taken at the same time and under the same conditions). Processing is actually pretty fast.

      . . . but I’m still nearly three months behind . . . too much other stuff occupying my time-limited time.

      Like

      • I am some years behind if I count all the photos I havent sorted or edited.. ;) Auto-synch I have tried lately, but don’t have the guts to do all at the same time, and very often there is a lot of differences from the same shoot. I know about presets but havent gone far with them. Have import-presets though..

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        • disperser says:

          You are braver than I am . . . I import without presets because I want to see how bad I did before I play around with it. Also, depending on subject and the mood I am in, I opt for different “looks” for the photos.

          As for sorting and editing . . . I’m blessed/cursed with a somewhat OCD-type personality. I go through the batches in order, and usually post in order (unless I am doing a preview). I have a huge number of photos good enough to keep that will not see the light of day anytime soon. And every once in a while I bite the bullet, and clean stuff up that I know I will never use. My backups right now are up to 1.5TB, but that includes both raw and processed photos.

          Worse yet, my editing and processing skills (and tools) have improved over the years, so when I look back at older photos I have this tremendous urge to reprocess them . . . I would need another lifetime.

          Like

  7. disperser says:

    OK, for all the people who plan to use Picasa to edit (render) RAW files . . .

    My understanding is that while Picasa can “read” RAW files, it does not actually work with the raw file. It renders it, and then lets you work with it.

    This is not much different than the camera rendering an image, and presenting you with a JPG to play with.

    Namely, the amount of information available for you to “tweak” is reduced from the original RAW format.

    Also, not all RAW formats are supported (I assume eventually they will be). So, if you are planning to take advantage of RAW and the latitude it gives you, I would buy a program like Aperture or Lightroom. Note that even Photoshop has a “front-end” before opening a RAW file (Camera RAW) which you can use to modify the photo before bringing it into Photoshop. (There is a similar front-end for Gimp.)

    I don’t have the time to research all the implications of shooting RAW (I already have the tools to handle it, and have little incentive to go and research alternatives), but a Google search turns up all sorts of stuff relating to what one might use, and why, and what programs are compatible, easy to use. how powerful they are, etc.

    However, I will stress again . . . invest for the long haul; Lightroom or Aperture. My opinion is that if you can’t or won’t invest in one of those programs, any alternative you get will require an investment in time that is not commensurable to what you will get out of it; you might as well keep shooting JPGs, and put the effort on learning more about taking good photos to begin with.

    My opinion only.

    Like

  8. seekraz says:

    Beyond the technical scope of my camera right now, but interesting reading…and very nice photos…I don’t think I had seen all of those. I love the aircraft shots…Corsair is my favorite…memories of childhood and watching the Black Sheep Squadron with Robert Conrad…in black and white…anyway…thanks for the photos. :)

    Like

  9. AnnMarie says:

    Oookay . . . good to know I’ve got all this great information about RAW . . . hadn’t even heard about it until this post . . . I kinda know what Prissy was feelin’ like . . .

    Like

  10. Pingback: Photography Stuff | Disperser Tracks

  11. Really good article, and thanks for the software tips. I have some NEF files, but I don’t like Nikon’s software and my other software doesn’t seem to read NEF files.

    Like

    • disperser says:

      Most cameras brands have proprietary RAW formats. Programs like Aperture and Lightroom will read them all, but if you are using the software from a specific manufacturer, it won’t likely read competitors.

      However, you could check if there are modules you can load to read specific formats. I don’t know that there is, but it’s worth a try.

      I’m pretty sure Picasa reads NEF.

      Like

  12. fantastic shots! and Yes to RAW!

    Like

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