Always Shoot Raw / by Marcos Macedo

This will be the first in a series of "Before & After" articles where I will show you some of my images as they came out of the camera before any editing was done. In each of the articles, I will also try to share a tip about photography in general, editing or shooting.

This is an image that I took in the Algarve, in the southern region of Portugal, and I can tell you that it was a phenomenal sunset... However if you look at the image as it came out of the camera (on the left) you will certainly think that it is anything but impressive, and you know what? You are absolutely right! The truth is, on average 1 in every 100 great photos that you see out there, came almost perfect right out of the camera, but the other 99... Well, it's because of the other 99 that the majority of photographers chooses to shoot in RAW format instead of JPEG.

When first discovering these two different file formats in the camera, and not knowing what they mean, the first thing most people tend to notice is that the images look exactly the same but the JPEG file has about 1/10 of the size of the RAW (an average JPEG is around 2,5Mb and the average RAW file is about 25Mb), and the conclusion that many reach is that shooting RAW makes absolutely no sense because your memory card will only hold 10% of the images it would if they were JPEG.

So what's the big mystery? Let me put it this way, an image file is like an onion that has many "layers of light" within itself, and just like the onion, the more layers it has the heavier it is. When you open a file in an image editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom the software allows you to access all those layers of light within the file, giving you the ability to open up light in dark images, or bring out the colours in dull ones, exploring the full potential of the image.

Now, with that in mind, do you really think that it is possible for the 2,5Mb "onion" to have within itself the same potential as the 25Mb one? Of course not! And this is why you should always shot in RAW format because you should never sacrifice the quality of the RAW files for a higher quantity of JPEG's. Nevertheless, evidently this does not go without saying that you need to be reasonable, don't go on taking photos in pitch black scenarios and expect to be able to change that afterwards just because you shot RAW, if the light is not there to begin with don't expect the RAW file to perform any miracles!

Going back to the top, I can certainly tell you that the sky I saw that day looked very much like the image on the right and nothing like the image on the left, but the truth is, if I had not been shooting RAW I would have never had the opportunity to recover the colours I saw... Because the onion would had been too damn small!