The Incredible, Edible RAW File

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.

The image of Tracey in Vanoss with no correction, just as it came straight out of the camera
The image of Tracey in Vanoss with no correction, just as it came straight out of the camera

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.

Color, exposure and noise all fixed, thanks to shooting in RAW
Color, exposure and noise all fixed, thanks to shooting in RAW
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2 Comments

  1. Richard,
    Thank you so much for the quick tutorial Tuesday night. Had a great time visiting with you. You are the “CAMERA MASTER”. lol I cannot believe you made the same picture this clear. Blows my mind. I will be taking your next class with a few of my friends. I can’t wait! Question: Can you invent a “photo shop button” that can fix a “bad hair day?” lol I soooo needed it in this picture! :0)

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  2. This is a good, concise write-up on the advantages of RAW files. For anyone shooting professionally (say studio portraits), I highly recommend it. Mostly, I’ve found they’re great for shots that are underexposed (too dark) or overexposed (too light). In those cases, the .jpg files will lose information that isn’t recoverable.

    One point though, about white balance in dark, yellow gyms (I think Tecumseh is the worst, isn’t it?) Most dSLR cameras allow the user to select a custom white balance, and I’ve really enjoyed the control this offers.

    I bought a $3 card that is entirely “18%” gray. I shoot a picture of it before a game, under the same lights I’ll be using throughout the game. My camera takes that shot compensates for the yellow light until it’s 18% gray again, and then uses that information for all the succeeding shots.

    I only mention this for those who don’t (or can’t) shoot RAW, because it saves a *lot* of time in post-processing, if the color balance is already correct.

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