Back in the day, I attended a blogging conference and listened to a speaker tell me that basically, unless you’re taking photographs in RAW, your efforts are pointless.
Yeah, I know. ALL the eye rolls, right?
Photography can be a bit snooty, sometimes, and every blogging conference has its share of camera nerds who will tell you that if you spend less than a grand on your camera, you’d be better off whipping out a pencil and just sketching what you see. It’s easy to be hopelessly intimated by the whole business.
But… I switched to shooting in raw about a year ago, with a lot of help and support from a photographer friend, and I now advise all my blogging chums who want to take better photos to do the same. Because raw is the single best tool at your disposal if – like me – you have a habit of taking a really crap photo when you only have one chance to get a slightly decent photo.
First, a quick intro – what’s raw?
Basically, raw is the highest quality image your camera can shoot – if you’re using a DSLR or even a decent point and shoot like the Olympus PEN or Canon G7X, you have the option to shoot in raw. Lots of cameras will let you shoot in both JPEG and raw simultaneously so you get the best of both worlds.
While JPEG is a compressed and processed image file, raw is basically all the raw data your camera captured when you took a photo – not compressed, and not processed.
For this reason, raw files are bigger than JPEG files (about three times larger) and so you’re probably going to want to store your raw files on an external hard drive, or in the cloud, but definitely NOT on your computer. But these days, that’s really not a huge obstacle for most of us.
Because the raw file contains so much more information, you can DO a lot more with your images when you edit them. That means things like:
- Fix exposure without making your image grainy
- Adjust white balance (perfect for interior photos)
- Edit highlights of your image to recover ‘blown out’ things like bright sky or over-lit faces in a portrait
- Work with shadows to rescue under-exposed images
If you want to edit a photo shot in raw, then you’ll need some editing software. You can use the software that comes with your camera, but for my money, you’re better off using Lightroom or Photoshop – which you can buy as a package, on subscription for around £7 a month.
Lightroom, which is what I use, lets you make all the edits described above, and more. You can batch edit photos, and add watermarks to all your images in one fell swoop. You can sort and organise albums, add tags and keywords – it’s brilliant.
Once you’ve edited your images in Lightroom, you can easily export them as JPEG files to use online – and Lightroom will even apply sharpening to your files so they will look extra sharp and pretty on your blog. There are tools so you can add a watermark, copyright text in the meta tags, and location tags, if you choose.
But, but, but… there ARE a few potential downsides to shooting in raw, not just the storage issues.
First, because you’re used to seeing processed JPEG files from your camera, you might look at raw files to begin with and think, “They look a bit crap.” It’s true that raw files can sometimes look a bit flat, and that processing that’s done for you in JPEG? That’s now your job.
Second – a related point – you really can’t just connect your camera, download the images and post them. Shooting in raw does mean spending at least a bit of time working on images. But the batch editing tools and the ability to save your favourite adjustments as a custom setting mean you’ll get quicker over time.
But with a little bit of practice (and I promise you I am still a TOTAL beginner of this stuff) there’s no better way to rescue a photo that you didn’t quite capture the way you imagined. Rather than using raw because I’m a fancy photographer, then, I use raw because sometimes I go somewhere, completely FAIL to get the image I need, and there’s no opportunity to go back and re-do. That’s where raw really comes into its own.
Take this weekend as an example – we reviewed a cottage in Northumberland. The weather was SHOCKING. That meant it was dark and gloomy indoors, the skies were washed out and grey, and getting decent photos was hard work. Looking at the images on my computer, I realise some of the crucial shots – of the cottage’s interior – were completely off. The white balance was wrong, the exposure was off, the colours washed out… and what can I do? I can’t take the photos again…
Having raw files gives you the opportunity to fix those mistakes – adjusting white balance to take account for cloud cover, or artificial light; boosting one colour in an image, knocking back highlights to recover some detail in a washed out background…
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Here the camera adjusted for the light outside the window, meaning the pretty dressing table was thrown into complete darkness, and all the detail of the room was lost. Using raw meant I was able to fix the exposure and adjust the white balance to allow for the indoor daylight, meaning the image retains some warmth, and the colours of the decor are visible again. Is it perfect? Certainly not, but it’s a big improvement.
This shot was taken with my back to a huge window and the light has bleached a lot of colour from the image. You can’t see a lot of the details in the furniture or radiator. I used Lightroom to adjust the white balance to outdoor light, boosted the vibrancy and dropped some of the highlights to reveal the true colour of the fireplace and sofa. Again not perfect (the reflection in the mirror is still blown out) but it’s much more appealing and the photo is a far better representation of what I could actually see!
Another sterling “Sally takes a photo of a window” shot. I wanted to show how these big windows flood the cottage with light, but instead I made it look like we were sitting in the dark. Adjusting the white balance made a huge difference – I then reduced the highlights so the exterior wasn’t totally lost, and boosted the exposure slightly to allow the interior features to be seen more easily.
I hope you find this post useful and it encourages you to have a go at using raw, and editing your own wonky photos. Let me know if you do!
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