Raw is a hot topic, and most advanced digital cameras now support raw capture. What is the benefit to shooting in raw formats, and why choose raw over JPEG? What tools are available for working with raw images? In our first lesson, we'll take a look at the advantages of raw and the basic workflow of getting ready for converting raw images into files that can be edited by Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
The raw image format captures the basic exposure data recorded by the camera's sensor without any additional processing applied. Your dSLR camera has a number of options that affect what happens to the image after capture. White balance settings, sharpening, noise reduction, and color balance are the primary adjustments. Actually, every photo you take with a digital camera is a raw file. The difference is that when you shoot in JPEG, all of the processing is done in the camera immediately after the capture. When you shoot in raw, the exposure settings are saved with the file but not actually applied to it, giving you the opportunity to make changes later on to the raw file.
This makes it sound like raw is the perfect format, doesn't it? In many cases it is. After all, you want control over how your photos look, and the extra flexibility is hard to beat. There are times when shooting raw isn't the best choice, though, such as event photography where you might be doing on-site printingthink Little League games, prom photos, and school photos, for example. Here the goal is to quickly take the photo and output a print, perhaps with no computer present. You certainly don't want to invest the time to edit several hundred images on the spot. Photo journalism is another area where raw is not a good choice. Most news services have specific guidelines on how to submit imagesJPEG only, certain compression and sharpening settings, and so on.
Every digital camera that supports a raw format includes some form of conversion software, ranging from the very good to the barely adequate. Photoshop CS2 and Photoshop Elements 4.0 users have one of the best raw converters included with the program: Adobe Camera Raw. But, because Photoshop isn't the program for everyone, I also look at other converters, including the ones included with Canon and Nikon cameras.