I started teaching another round of beginning digital photography Monday night. One thing we cover in the initial stages of this class is file formats. Of course, my students are very familiar with JPEGs, since these files are ubiquitous, from the photos on this blog to the shots of me at the front of the class in their cameras. I make it a point, though, to tell them about RAW files, and about their strengths and weaknesses. Anyone with experience using RAW files knows about these traits; RAW files are much larger than JPEGs, and are proprietary, meaning that they need special software to open and edit. But RAW files offer a lot too.
An example of the magic of the RAW file format happened the next evening, Tuesday night at Vanoss High School, where I was covering a couple of basketball games. I shot bunches of decent stuff in the third quarter, so I went into the stands and sat with my friend Tracey, who had promised she would take my class but can’t until later in the year. We talked about all kinds of stuff, but one thing she wanted to know was why her photos in gyms around the state were too dark and too yellow. I gave her the five minute tutorial on white balance and exposure compensation, then asked her if she ever considered shooting RAW files in area venues. She never heard of RAW files, but since by then the next game was about to start, I told her I hoped to see her in class this spring.
During our talk, though, she got up to wrangle her two year old, and I snapped a frame of her with my D100, which I deliberately made sure was too dark and too yellow. That’s not hard in the poorly lit basketball courts around our area. I knew that I could fix it right up in Photoshop, since of course it was a RAW file. Sure enough, it took about three clicks and a short drag of the”Exposure” slider in Photoshop’s Camera RAW dialog to remove a ton of noise, fix the white balance, and bring the exposure to where I wanted it. If I’d shot a JPEG, I might not have been able to make these corrections nearly as effectively. RAW made it easy.