“RAW” Digital Photography
Many newer digital cameras are now offering a “RAW” file setting in addition to the “standard” JPG and TIF options. As its name suggests, this is a file type that needs to be “cooked” (OK, processed before you can use it.
Before we get into the hows and whys, let’s look at how a camera typically processes an image.
When you snap the shutter on your sleek little digicam, it takes the information gathered by the sensor, cleans it up, adjusts the levels, tweaks the color, sharpens it, and then saves it in a usable format (like a JPG or TIF). Note that not EVERY digicam does every step here, but you get the idea – the image is usable right out of the camera.
Basically, a RAW file is the information straight off the camera’s CCD or CMOS sensor – no processing at all. Once you’re done shooting, you download the images to your computer just like always. However, you’ll soon discover that the RAW files themselves aren’t going to do you much good, so you’ll need to “process” them.
For me, that means using the software that came with my camera to save the images as TIFs or JPGs. From there, I’ll process them in PhotoShop. Most RAW conversion software will also let you “process” the images like the camera does, with one important exception – YOU control the settings manually (I still like PhotoShop better).
Seems like a lot of work, so why go RAW at all? Why not let the camera do its business and forget it? Well, for “regular” photos, that’s exactly what I do!
However, when I really want control over the image, I don’t want a preprocessed photo – I want the “pure”, unaltered pixels. So, I use a RAW image format, leave them unprocessed, and save as TIFs. From there I open and adjust them with my imaging software.
This way, I have complete control over all aspects of the photo. I can do my own adjusting of contrast, brightness, sharpness, etc. I don’t have to make adjustments to an already adjusted image, so I get better results.
RAW also has the advantage of being smaller (generally) than an uncompressed TIF file. If you want to avoid the lossy compression you get with JPGs, but don’t want to put up with the huge files sizes of TIFs, this is a super way to go. Plus your RAW image is kind of like a photographic negative – if you mess up your processed image somehow, you can always use the RAW file to make a new one.
Again, this option is not available on every camera out there, but more and more models are starting to include it. So, dig out that instruction manual and check to see if you camera supports RAW images. You may have a powerful option at your fingertips you didn’t even know about!