There comes a time when you have to decide: should I shoot in raw or JPEG? We show why you should (almost always) choose raw…

GET MORE FROM RAW – Photography requires dedication. Whether it’s learning techniques, waking up early for sunrise or buying new gear, we put so much time and e ort into this artform that it makes sense to demand the most we can get out of our cameras.

No matter what we choose to shoot – landscapes, portraits, action, documentary we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we didn’t squeeze the maximum quality out of our digital cameras.

There’s no doubt that a raw le gives you a better-quality image than a JPEG – but it also requires slightly more work to realize that bene t.

That’s where this guide comes in, as we cover the basics of raw processing. We’ll explain exactly why raw is a superior format to JPEG, then take your knowledge further with considerably more advanced raw edits such as high-dynamic-range imaging
and portrait retouching.


It may take slightly more e ort than shooting JPEGs, but shooting raw gives you greater exibility and higher-quality images

Even some phone cameras are capable of shooting in raw format these days. To an SLR owner, this may seem daft: surely JPEGs are ne for snaps and sel es? But the same could be said for shooting JPEGs with an SLR. We didn’t buy a camera with a sophisticated image sensor to leave it stuck in second gear, did we?

The bene ts to shooting raw over JPEG are greater dynamic range and exibility. Shoot JPEG, and the camera will burn in white balance and color space. Shoot raw, and you can change these after the event.

But the biggest factor for many photographers is dynamic range. Raw les hold greater detail in shadows and highlights, so either in high-contrast scenes, or on occasions where
you accidentally over- or underexpose, a raw rescue job will allow for recovery.

There are also some circumstances where raw is essential not just for the quality it offers, but also for its veracity. For example, photojournalists and documentary photographers don’t want to be accused of doctoring their images. A raw le is as good as a negative in that there’s no way
to Photoshop over it.


Contains all the information recorded at the time of shooting as it comes o the camera sensor

Raws hold greater dynamic range than JPEGs, meaning there’s more detail at the extremes of the highlights and shadows. Depending on your camera model, the di erence ranges from around 1-2 stops.

12-bit-per-channel raws contain over 68 billion colors, compared with 16 million in 8-bit-per-channel JPEGs. More colors means smoother gradations between di erent shades – and less chance of any heavy editing you do leading to ‘banding’ of colors.

Raws are the digital equivalent of a negative in that, unlike a JPEG, there’s no chance of copying over your original or accidently resizing it. (Indeed, Adobe’s own raw le format is called DNG, standing for Digital Negative.)


Stands for the Joint Photographic Experts Group, the committee that wrote the standard

Straight out of the camera, JPEGs are ready for emailing, printing or viewing on almost any device, without any need for post-processing or importing them into extra software like Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

JPEGs take up far less space than raw les, so you can t more on a memory card or a hard drive. This has become less of an issue as storage has gotten cheaper. But it can be handy to switch to JPEG if you’re down to the last few shots on your nal remaining memory card.

Because they’re much smaller, JPEGs write to your card quicker. They may be a better option for sports or action as they won’t ll up the bu er quite as quickly, meaning you can shoot a longer continuous sequence in high drive mode.


JPEGs are the world’s favorite image format: they’re hugely e cient, light on le sizes, and open on almost any device. This is because they compress on closing (that’s when you get to choose a quality setting) then they uncompress again when opened, causing a slight loss of data each time.


TIFFs o er lossless compression, so there’s no loss of quality from repeated opening and closing. To preserve the maximum information in an image format other than raw (and especially if you want to carry out further edits), save it as a 16-bit TIFF.


Raw les contain unprocessed information straight from your camera’s sensor. Unlike JPEGs, you choose how the information is processed afterwards. Camera manufacturers each have their own type of raw le format, such as NEF for Nikon or CR2 for Canon.


Adobe’s universal ‘Digital Negative’ DNG is a lossless format, just like any other raw le, but any edits are stored inside the le rather than as a separate ‘sidecar’ le. DNG is useful when old software refuses to open new raw les, as you can convert a le with Adobe’s free DNG Converter software.



Straight out of the camera, JPEGs often look much more vibrant than raw les, because the colors have been enhanced and sharpening applied in-camera. The excess raw data is then discarded. So JPEGs look punchier because the camera has taken some of the decision- making on how it should look out of your hands.


Initially a raw le can often look at, even disappointing, as the manufacturer expects you to make your own enhancements. The look will also vary depending on the software you chose to process raw les in. Even your camera’s LCD o ers a subjective image, as it’s a JPEG copy of the newly captured raw.


So you’ve decided to shoot in raw. Now you’ll need software like Photoshop’s Camera Raw plug-in or Lightroom to process the file.

Editing raws requires a slight shift in mindset if you’re used to a linear digital work ow like: Open le, Edit le, Save le. This isn’t possible with raw, as you can’t save over a raw le. The bene t of this impenetrable shell is that there’s no danger of you ever copying over your original image.

Rather than Open-Edit-Save, the work ow is more like Open-Process-Save As. The rst step is to open the le in a raw editor like Lightroom or Photoshop’s Camera Raw. These employ parametric editing, which means you’re not actually making changes to the original pixels: instead, you’re adjusting a set of parameters that a ect how the image looks while it’s within the software.

At some stage you may want to save the image as a di erent format like a JPEG or TIFF. This is like the imaging equivalent of burning a CD, in that you’re committing the version of the raw you like best into a new format.


Get to grips with Photoshop’s powerful plug-in and learn how to make quick adjustments that can help your images jump o the page or screen


The Basics panel is usually the rst stop for enhancing tones. Start at the top by setting White Balance, then work your way down through the sliders. Highlights and Shadows are useful for teasing out details, while Clarity can add extra crispness to the midtones. Vibrance enables you to boost the weaker colors without a ecting the dominant ones.


The panels to the right let you access di erent options. The most useful include the Detail panel for sharpening or noise reduction; the Lens Correction panel (pictured), which lets you correct chromatic aberration, barrel distortion and converging verticals; and the HSL/Grayscale panel, which gives you control over eight separate color ranges in the image.


This tidies up marks or blemishes, so it’s useful for retouching portraits or removing sensor spots. Use ] and [ to resize the brush tip, then paint over the o ending area. You can sync spot removal over a batch of frames if you’re plagued by a recurring mark.


Cropping is often one of the rst edits you’ll want to make. The bene t of doing it in a raw processing program is that the cropped areas are never lost, so you can always go back to the tool if you want to experiment with a di erent crop or a new aspect ratio.


The work ow options are accessed by clicking the blue link below the image window. Here you can set a bit depth or color space that will be applied once you open the image into Photoshop. Similar settings are available in the Save options if you save in Camera Raw.


Camera Raw o ers three main ways to adjust your image: the Graduated Filter, the Radial Filter and the Adjustment Brush. You de ne an area with the tool, then use the sliders to adjust it.

You can make a straight blend by dragging a line between two points. To darken a sky, grab the tool and set Exposure to -1.00, then drag down from sky to land while holding Shift. We don’t want to include the cli s in the adjustment, so we’ll switch to Brush mode in the settings, then paint to add or subtract from the area.


Like the Graduated Filter, the Radial Filter creates a blended adjustment, but it’s circular rather than straight. It’s useful for subtly drawing the eye towards your subject by darkening the corners. When using either tool, click the plus or minus icons next to any slider to simultaneously load up the tool you want and reset all the other sliders.


The most powerful tool in Camera Raw, the Adjustment Brush lets you paint over an area (press Y to toggle the mask view on or o to see where you’ve painted), then use the sliders to adjust it. So you can dodge and burn, selectively boost color, and much more – perfect for enhancing areas like the background here.


Take your pictures beyond simple xes with a range of creative e ects in Camera Raw, from HDR images to classic monochrome

Camera Raw o ers excellent control for stripping images of color. The HSL/Grayscale panel has a Convert To Greyscale checkbox; you can then use the color sliders to change the tones of eight di erent color ranges within the image. In practice, this means you can create a variety of mono looks, such as dropping the blues to add de nition to clouds and drama to skies. Beware of adjusting sliders too heavily: it can break up tones in the image. Images will usually bene t from a boost in contrast too: this is best done by plotting an S-curve in the Tone Curve panel.


Although Photoshop o ers more ne control, you can still give your portraits a quick, e ective makeover in Camera Raw. The rst step is to remove spots and blemishes with the Spot Removal tool. Once done, you can get stuck in with the Adjustment Brush. To soften the skin, grab the Adjustment Brush from the Tools panel and dial in Clarity -50. Then simply paint over the skin with the brush to give it a soft, smooth feel.

Be very careful not to go over detailed areas like the eyes. (Hold Alt and paint to subtract if you do.) You can also use the Adjustment Brush to boost eyes by loading it with positive Contrast, Clarity, Exposure and Saturation. When using the tool there are a few vital shortcuts: use ] and [ to resize the brush tip; press Y to toggle the mask overlay on or o ; and hold Alt to erase parts of the mask.

The HDR Merge dialog has three controls. Auto-Align helps if there are slight di erences in the shot angle between frames. Auto-Tone enhances the tones, but settings can be tweaked afterwards in the Basic panel. Deghost xes movement within the scene between frames. Once you’ve nished, Camera Raw will merge your image into a new raw le with the su x .hdr.


For Photoshop CC subscribers, one of the relatively recent additions to Camera Raw is
a real game-changer. The HDR Merge command lets you combine a set of frames taken at di erent exposure values into a single image with an expanded dynamic range. What’s more, the combined image doesn’t have the hyper- real look that plagues many HDR e ects – and the new le the command creates is also a raw le (in DNG format).

To combine exposures, simply open a set of images into Camera Raw, hold Ctrl/ Cmd and click to select them in the Filmstrip, then click the yout menu in the top-left and choose Merge to HDR. This opens the Merge dialog where, as well as options to auto-align images and auto-tone to reveal detail, you can also choose a Deghost value, which tidies up discrepancies between stills, such as moving clouds or people in the frame.

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