RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (2022)

Have you ever wondered what RAW in photography is, and whether it’s something you need to concern yourself with?

Or have you been hearing over and over again that you need to switch to shooting in RAW, but you don’t know why you might want to, and if you did, how you do it?!

If so, you’re not alone!

When I first started out, I didn’t even have a clue what RAW in photography was, never mind why I might want to shoot in RAW!

So today, I’m going to break all of that down for you, so you have all the information you need to help you decide whether shooting in RAW is better for your photography, and if you decide to go for it, how to make the switch…

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (1)

What is RAW in photography?

Let’s start right at the beginning, with what RAW is.

Basically, RAW is just a file format (just the same as JPEG is a file format, or a PNG, or a PDF) and it’s the format your camera first records your image in when you press the shutter.

Now for most cameras, you will get the option to use two different formats: JPEG or RAW.

What is important to note is that every single camera will first take the image in this RAW format first, even if you have set it to do so!

As such, the RAW format is a data file that is completely unprocessed by the camera, and therefore contains ALL the information that was there when you pressed the shutter.

However, when you shoot in JPEG, the camera takes that RAW file, and processes it, usually by automatically adding contrast, a color boost, sharpening and running noise reduction.

It then flattens the RAW file, getting rid of any of the recorded information that it didn’t need, and compresses it to a smaller file size and saves it in the JPEG format.

So simply put, a RAW file is the “original” image data as the camera recorded it, whereas a JPEG is what you get when you process and convert that raw file into JPEG format (Or as I like to think of it: “cook” the RAW file!)

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (2)

(Video) How to Shoot in RAW from PhotographyConcentrate.com

What does RAW stand for?

Nothing! RAW is not an acronym, so technically speaking, it should just be written “raw”

However, many people in photography (probably the majority) write RAW in capitals, probably because it helps show that it refers to a file type.

I’m no word purist, so I couldn’t give a flying monkey, which is why I’ll write RAW for the sake of clarity in this guide, but raw works equally well :)

Is it better to shoot in RAW?

In a nutshell, yes!!

As the file is not compressed in any way, the quality of a RAW file is significantly higher.

This is because the full range of data is recorded, so it can help you recover highlights you thought were lost, allow you to easily change white balance, and "rescue" images that were under or over exposed.

In fact, you’ll instantly notice a massive difference in sizes between a RAW and a JPEG one, even of the same scene, because the raw file has so much more information recorded!

That higher quality is really important to most professional photographers, along with serious photography enthusiasts, which is why most (but not all) photographers will shoot in RAW.

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (3)

Why should you shoot in RAW?

I can hear you thinking to yourself “Higher quality sounds good, but what actually improves by shooting in RAW? How does this help my photography?”.

Guess what, I’m about to tell you :)

There are a whole host of benefits when you shoot in RAW namely:

#1 - Raw record the full range of brightness

Your “uncooked” RAW file contains around 4,000 - 16,000 levels of brightness, whereas a JPEG records around 256.

If those numbers mean little to you (as quite frankly, they do to me) then here is why that’s important:

When you have that full range of brightness recorded, it means that you can easily make adjustments to your image, such as exposure, highlights, whites, shadows, blacks and contrast, in order to get the scene looking exactly the way you want it to.

Let’s say you were to shoot a backlit image, and your subject is too dark, and your background is too bright so it’s “blown out” and there’s no detail there.

If you shot in JPEG, that might be the best you can do, but with RAW, you can take bring back the shadows to lighten your subject, and take down the highlights and whites in order to bring detail back into the sky.

(You can read about how to fix and overexposed sky in Lightroom here!)

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (4)

#2 - You can easily adjust white balance

When you shoot in JPEG, the white balance is “cooked” into the image, so you can’t easily change it.

But if you shoot in RAW, although the white balance you chose is recorded, you can easily change it and choose another option in your editing software, such as in Lightroom or Photoshop.

So, that’s 2 of the major components of photography - exposure and white balance - that are most easily fixed or changed, just by shooting in the RAW format!

(Video) LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY - Taking BETTER shots in BAD conditions.

#3 - YOU get to decide how the photo looks!

One of the major downsides to shooting in JPEG rather than RAW is that the editing is done in camera.

Your DSLR or mirrorless (y’know that bunch of wires and sensors that can’t actually SEE an image) applies a predetermined amount of brightness, contrast, noise reduction & sharpening, that doesn’t take into account what the image actually NEEDS.

Believe or not, you are much, much cleverer than your camera, so the very best person to edit your photos is YOU.

#4 You can take advantage of better detail adjustments

Editing processors like Lightroom have much, much, much better sharpening and noise reduction algorithms than your DSLR or mirrorless does, so you’ll get better detail if you do it yourself rather than leaving it up to your camera!

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (5)

# 5 - You’ll get less banding

Banding is when you see a “band” between colour gradients, rather than a smooth flow between colours. You can often see this in studio backdrops or in a clear blue sky.

(I’m not going to go into banding in photography here, but you can read this article on Wikipedia on colour banding to learn more about it!)

All I will say is that shooting in RAW gives you a much, much better chance of not getting it, again due to the fact that the raw file contains more data.

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (6)

Sounds great! So what’s the catch?

It’s true, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, so there is a bit more work required as the trade off for all those aforementioned benefits.

Here’s some of the downsides to changing to shoot in RAW:

  1. You Get Larger File Sizes when you shoot in RAW

The first downside is one that I mentioned earlier - the file sizes.

Raw file sizes are HUGE because they have to hold all that extra data!

A raw file size is around 20Mb, whereas a JPEG might be around 5 - 8 Mb, so there’s a big difference in size.

This can be a concern if you store all your images on your computer hard drive…..but I would never recommend that you do that anyway.

One of the first things I recommend to my Launch into Lightroom students is that they buy themselves an external hard drive for storing their images, and you can pick these up relatively cheaply these days, as the cost of storage comes down.

(This is the external hard drive I use for storing all my photography files!)

Because of these larger image sizes, you’ll also need a larger memory card, but again, the price of these keeps falling for larger and larger cards: at the time of writing this you can get a 128gb card for just $30 from Amazon.

Finally, larger sizes also mean that you want to make sure that your memory card can keep up without “buffering”, so be sure to buy one with a fast write speed.

2. You Need to Process the RAW File

With JPEG, the image is processed for you, and you are able to share and print your photos the second you download them.

If you shoot in RAW, you can’t, because the file needs to be processed and converted to a shareable format.

If you are incredibly time-pushed, and have no intention of editing your images ever (although I really don’t recommend that - editing is as much part of the photography process as what you do when shooting!) then RAW is not for you.

For everyone else, particularly if you intend to edit your pictures, the little bit of extra time you’ll spend on editing a RAW image is well worth the trade off. (However, I would argue it’s no more time consuming, because you would probably edit the photo anyway!)

Should beginners shoot in RAW?

A question I often get asked is whether photography beginners will benefit from switching to shoot in raw…..and the answer is YES! That way you can more easily rectify any mistakes you make.

(Video) My Photography Tips, Equipment, Lenses, Shooting RAW | Kristabel's Blog School

New photographers are more likely to get the white balance or exposure wrong (because they are usually using AUTO modes, which mostly get it wrong!)

By shooting in RAW, you can fix those before anyone even knows 🤫

So, now that you are aware of what raw in photography IS, along with the benefits of shooting in RAW - and the downsides - let’s move onto the practicalities of making the switch.

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (7)

How Do I Shoot in RAW mode?

The first thing you need to do is change a setting on your camera, to tell it to shoot in RAW.

This is the same whether you shoot Canon or Nikon (or anyone else for that matter!)

Every camera is different so I’m not going to be able to map this out for you exactly, but generally speaking, find a menu option called IMAGE QUALITY or similar. (If you can’t find it, you’ll need to search on your manual)

There you will see that you have the option to shoot in JPEG, JPEG + RAW, or just RAW.

Of course, you’ll need to select RAW.

Here’s how to shoot in RAW on a Canon 6d (but the process will be similar for all Canons) and how to shoot in Raw in Nikon on the D780 (ditto)

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (8)

If you’re a little concerned about switching to shoot in raw, and would like to have the safety net of having the camera shoot a JPEG file too, choose RAW + JPEG so you have both. (Don’t do this forever though, as there’s no point, so just until you feel a little more comfortable!)

Once you have made the switch to shoot in RAW, there’s nothing else you need to do here - you’re done with this bit!!

How to Open Raw Photos

Of course, what do in camera is only one side of the equation, because you will also need editing software to open and edit your RAW file - you can’t view it using your normal windows / mac photo viewer like other image file types.

There are loads of editing software on the market (and you will usually get a free basic editing program from Canon or Nikon that is capable of editing raw images if you don’t feel ready to invest in one) but the software I recommend is Lightroom Classic.

In fact, I recommend that you get the photography plan from Adobe, that way you get Lightroom Classic for managing and editing your photos, Lightroom CC for editing on the go when required, AND Photoshop for more advanced pixel editing. (Don’t just get Lightroom CC, get the Photography Plan - you get far more for your money!)

Of the 3 you will probably use Lightroom Classic the most, but having access to Photoshop gives you a whole wealth of options for editing that you’ll definitely want at some point!

Whatever software you use, once you have uploaded your pictures, open your raw image processor.

If you are using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, go to FILE / OPEN and open your file - this will automatically open your image in ACR (Photoshop Elements RAW processor).

In Lightroom, you don’t need to do anything different as it opens RAW photos in the same way - you'll just need to import them into Lightroom first to view them.

I won’t go into how to do edit your photos here, but if you download our free LIghtroom Starter Kit, you’ll get a Lightroom editing checklist, plus a guide to importing and exporting in Lightroom Classic , PLUS I’m going to send you a free training with some editing steps to help your photos pop like the pros!

(Video) RAW WORKOUT | Chest and Back

Go ahead right now and download that. (I did mention it’s totally free right?!) before you forget so you’ve got a wealth of resources to help you with all of this!

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (9)

After you have edited your photos, you then need to export them as a small resolution image for sharing your beautiful photography with the world on social media, or in full resolution for sending to the printers.

Why Do Unedited RAW Images Look So Bland?

So many of my photography students get a shock because they see that their JPEG looks better than their RAW counterpart, and there’s an easy reason for that! (You can see some RAW examples and the finished image here!)

As we said earlier, RAW photos are completely unprocessed, whereas JPEG have some processing applied, which mean they will have better brightness and contrast . YOU need to edit your image to make it look as good - in fact, BETTER!

I actually have a preset that I use on import into Lightroom that gives me a much better image straight off, which I then tweak for each image. (You can get these import presets, plus a whole load of other ones inside my Launch into Lightroom program!)

RAW in Photography: What, Why and How to Shoot in RAW — Live Snap Love | Lifestyle Photography Education (10)

Raw in Photography Summary….

There really is no contest - shooting in RAW gives you more control in editing, so it’s an obvious choice for those serious about their photography.

HOWEVER, there are times when shooting in JPEG makes more sense. If I’m being a happy snapper taking hundreds of images on a day out, let’s say in Disneyland, then I might switch away, just because it’s a little bit quicker and easier at the other end.

But when I care about the final output, and I have my “photography” hat on, then I would always shoot in RAW, because of the extra options it gives me in editing.

Some other posts I think you’ll like….

How To Make The Switch to RAW (step by step guide)

Lightroom Workflow for Beginners (great even if you don’t use Lightroom to see the steps after uploading your photos!)

7 Deadly Photo Editing Sins (and how to avoid them!)

12 Lightroom Before and After Examples

And don’t forget to download your FREE Lightroom Starter Kit too!

Are you ready to shoot in RAW?!

I hope you enjoyed this introduction into what RAW in photography is, and most importantly, how you can make the switch to shoot in RAW.

Will you be making the switch and shooting in RAW? Let me know in the comments below!


Audrey Ann


1 Comment

(Video) 5 tips to INSTANTLY up your PHOTO GAME


Why do you shoot in RAW? ›

One of the largest benefits of RAW is the ability to recover shadows and highlights in post-processing without bringing in the grainy noise usually associated with high ISO settings. RAWs are very forgiving if you have severely underexposed or overexposed areas.

What does RAW stand for in photography? ›

A camera RAW image is an unprocessed photograph captured with a digital camera. It contains the raw image data captured by the camera's sensor (or CCD), saved in proprietary file format specific to the camera manufacturer.

What are five benefits of RAW photography? ›

Shooting RAW vs JPEG: Advantages
  • Get the Highest Level of Quality. This is one of the biggest benefits. ...
  • Record Greater Levels of Brightness. ...
  • Easily Correct Dramatically Over/Under Exposed Images. ...
  • Easily Adjust White Balance. ...
  • Get Better Detail. ...
  • Enjoy Non-Destructive Editing. ...
  • Get Better Prints. ...
  • Select Colour Space on Output.
Mar 18, 2020

How do I edit RAW photos? ›

How to Edit RAW Photos in Photoshop | Day 19 - YouTube

Should beginners shoot RAW? ›

As a Beginner – RAW Will Cover Your Mistakes

RAW files are more forgiving to your mistakes. If you did not get a proper exposure during the shoot, RAW images give you a much better chance of recovering the images during post-processing.

Whats does RAW mean? ›

RAWRead and Write
RAWReading and Writing
RAWResearch and Analysis Wing
RAWRobert Anton Wilson
32 more rows

What do you mean RAW? ›

Definition of raw

(Entry 1 of 2) 1 : not cooked. 2a(1) : being in or nearly in the natural state : not processed or purified raw fibers raw sewage. (2) : not diluted or blended raw spirits. b : unprepared or imperfectly prepared for use.

What is ISO photography? ›

ISO is your camera's sensitivity to light as it pertains to either film or a digital sensor. A lower ISO value means less sensitivity to light, while a higher ISO means more sensitivity.

Can I shoot RAW on my phone? ›

To shoot in RAW on your Android phone, it needs to support an Android operating system called the Camera2 API. This must be implemented by the device's manufacturer and cannot be added via an app. So if your phone doesn't support it, then RAW shooting is not available.

How do you make a RAW picture look good? ›

Lightroom: How to Make RAW Images Look More Like JPEG Previews

What is raw file? ›

What is a RAW file? A RAW file is the uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by a digital camera or scanner's sensors. Shooting in RAW captures a high level of image detail, with large file sizes and lossless quality.

What is RAW video? ›

Raw footage is the crude output of a video or still camera recording. It is the unprocessed data from a camera's image sensor. Most photographers prefer shooting raw footage due to the high quality of images that the camera sensor could possibly produce.

What is JPEG in photography? ›

JPEG stands for “Joint Photographic Experts Group”. It's a standard image format for containing lossy and compressed image data. Despite the huge reduction in file size JPEG images maintain reasonable image quality.

Why you should shoot JPEG? ›

Shooting in JPEG will save you time. JPEG files transfer to memory cards faster and transfer to computers faster, giving you more time to review your images and less time waiting for them to load. This will let you review your work faster, which is so important when you are learning what works and what doesn't work.

What does a RAW photo look like? ›

RAW – RAW files are unprocessed and un-compressed data files that contain all of the “image information” available to the camera sensor. Because RAW files are unprocessed, they come out looking flat and dark, as you can see above.

Why are my RAW photos dark? ›

Also, in Photoshop, camera raw use the GPU acceleration to render the image and that is the reason you're noticing the image shifting to a darker tone which is the actual captured image.

Do you have to edit RAW photos? ›

All raw files require subsequent editing so, unless you want to edit your digital images, there is little point in shooting raw files.

When should you shoot RAW? ›

The RAW format is ideal if you are shooting with the intent of editing the images later. Shots where you are trying to capture a lot of detail or color, and images where you want to tweak light and shadow, should be shot in RAW.

Is RAW or JPEG better? ›

The main advantage of shooting in RAW is that you end up with high-quality files to edit into the best possible image. Capturing and storing all the details that pass through your camera's sensors means RAW files contain a wider dynamic range and far greater color spectrum than JPEGs.

What RAW woman means? ›

It is also a slang term, which means "Cool." RAW is also an abbreviation used with the meaning "Rape All Women."

What does BMP mean? ›

A basic metabolic panel (BMP) is a test that measures eight different substances in your blood. It provides important information about your body's chemical balance and metabolism.

What does NDS stand for? ›

NDSNon-Deliverable Software
NDSNintendo Developer's System (game system; less common)
NDSNeuropsychological Deficit Scale
NDSNon-Development Software
67 more rows

How can I join RAW India? ›

One of the ways to join RAW in India is through UPSC Civil Services Exam (Group-A IAS, IPS, IRS & IFS Officers). The job profile of a RAW agent includes monitoring the political and military developments in countries surrounding India. The Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) is the foreign intelligence agency of India.

What is RAW agent salary? ›

The salary of a RAW agent ranges from Rs. 80,000 to Rs. 103 Lakhs per month because of experience and extensive history.

What is RAW job? ›

Research and Analysis Wing or RAW is the secret Intelligence service of India. It is a wing of those heroes who work stupendously to safeguard our national security without getting much acknowledgment. You may call it a mystery division that reports directly to the Prime Minister Office.

What does f mean in photography? ›

The “f” in f-stop stands for the focal length of the lens. While focal length itself refers to the field of view of a lens, f-stop is about how much light you allow to hit the sensor via the aperture opening.

What is S in photography? ›

The S-mode (Shutter Priority mode) is a mode which allows you to set the shutter speed as you like. In this mode, the camera automatically sets the aperture (f-number) and ISO sensitivity to shoot a well-exposed photograph.

What is aperture in photography? ›

Aperture controls the amount of light that enters your camera. The way that photos are created is reliant on an “exposure triangle” controlled by three major settings. Shutter speed controls how fast or slow your shutter closes, affecting the time of your exposure and helping you freeze motion properly.


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