5 Reasons To Should Shoot Your Landscape Images in RAW

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Detail recovered from a RAW file, before and after

Detail recovered from a RAW file, before and after.

There is often a debate among photographers about shooting in RAW. Try it out – next time you are with a group of photographers, ask them who shoots in RAW. Better still, ask them why they don’t shoot in RAW. The conversation will become pretty interesting. When I first started photography, I was told that shooting in RAW was a waste of time and that I won’t need all that “information”. I was told it was better to shoot on JPEG as it saves space. Yes, RAW files are bigger, especially on a high-resolution camera, but is it true that we don’t need all that “information”? Over the past few years, I have done a fair amount of research into the RAW vs JPEG debate and I now shoot completely in RAW. Yes, my image files are MUCH bigger; yes, I need more space to store my images; yes, it does impact my image editing workflow. Is it worth it? A categorical yes. Here are five reasons why you should shoot your landscape images in RAW.

1. Details

RAW files are big because they don’t discard any image information that is captured in the scene. When you shoot on JPEG, the algorithm for JPEG determines which information is discarded and which is kept without changing the way the image looks. That is great for saving space on your memory card, but not so good if you intend to edit your images in Photoshop.

The reality is that your camera can capture a significant amount of data if you shoot in RAW, which in turn gives you much more flexibility in Photoshop later. On average, a normal JPEG file will be between four and six megs per image. The same image shot on the same camera in 14-bit lossless RAW format will be 25 – 30mb, five times bigger. The reason is that there is much more information in a RAW file. That information is critical in post-production. You can get so much detail out of a RAW image, such as pulling back blown-out highlights and bringing back detail in the shadows that would be impossible to recover in JPEG format. This doesn’t mean you should be sloppy and not pay attention to your exposure. What it does mean is that in tricky lighting conditions, you will be able to get a shot that’s usable.

Recovered details in a street scene, overall much more detail can be seen.

Recovered details in a street scene, overall much more detail can be seen.

2. Color

We all shoot on color nowadays. If you don’t, you should, even if you are going to convert to black and white – but that’s for another post. Shooting in RAW means that you are saving as much color information as possible from the scene. This is really important in landscape photography, portrait photography, food photography and even street photography. The color in your scene can make the difference between a good image and a great image. By shooting in RAW, you will have all the color information possible. The important part of that is the subtle color. For example, the gradation in the sky will look better than it would on JPEG, even if you think that JPEG will be fine from a color perspective.  If you are shooting a landscape scene, you want to get as much color information as you can. RAW would be the format to do this. In Photoshop, the vibrance function will saturate the colors in your scene which are undersaturated and this can give your RAW file that subtle boost to make the image pop.

Much more colour can be rendered from a RAW file

Much more color can be rendered from a RAW file.

3. Exposure

The exposure in your scene should always be as good as you can get it in camera. In the past, most photographers would underexpose a little to make sure they didn’t blow out the highlights. In recent years, most photographers shooting in RAW have been exposing to the right (ETTR). The new generation of cameras have a really good dynamic range and are able to render details in the shadows and the highlights in one shot. This was not possible a few years ago. ETTR means that when you look at your photograph’s histogram, try and push it over to the right a little – in other words, overexpose it a little. The reason is because RAW can handle highlights in a scene really well and if your shadows are a little brighter there won’t be as much noise in the shadows. This is really a good technique to use in landscape photography and architectural photography. Your images will be cleaner and have very little noise in them. Once you adjust the image in Photoshop, you will have a well-exposed image across the dynamic range.

Blown out highlights in this scene were brought down, but the overall exposure was brightened.

Blown out highlights in this scene were brought down, but the overall exposure was brightened.

4. Flexibility

The best part about RAW files are that they give you flexibility. If you shoot landscape images or street photography, you have a lot of information to work with and you can use that information to create the best possible image. Also, Photoshop is always improving their tools and functions. I have gone back and reworked older images: the RAW file had all the information and the new functions brought out the best of that scene. This has happened quite a few times, so don’t delete “throwaway” images so quickly. For this reason, I am also not a fan of chimping too much. Wait until you download the images to see what is worth keeping. Use RAW to give you as much flexibility as you can, even on older images.

Original RAW file, the image was really dark from the use of an ND filter

Original RAW file, the image was really dark from the use of an ND filter.

 

The result of the above image after being edited in Adobe RAW converter

The result of the above image after being edited in Adobe RAW converter.

5. Quality

Editing your RAW image is a two-step process. The first step is converting it in a RAW converter. (Lightroom converts RAW images, as does Photoshop and many other image editing products.) Once you have made the corrections and subtle adjustments in the RAW converter, then you can open the converted image in Lightroom or Photoshop. You will then be editing on the best quality image possible. Image quality is almost the “holy grail” of photography. If you ask any photographer what the most important thing is for any image, it will most likely boil down to image quality. To be clear, when I say image quality I include sharpness, noise, dynamic range, color, tone, chromatic aberration and so on. Anything that adds to the overall look and feel of the image. Your image quality will be fantastic if you work carefully in your RAW converter and edit well in Photoshop. You can get good image quality in JPEG too, but you will be able to squeeze that much more out of the image if you shot in RAW.

 

Look at the quality and detail of the scene after being edited in Adobe Camera Raw converter

Look at the quality and detail of the scene after being edited in Adobe Camera Raw converter.

RAW is a great format to use if you plan on editing your images. If you shoot landscapes, fashion, food, architecture and even weddings you should be considering shooting in RAW. One caveat on using RAW for weddings – you don’t have to shoot the whole wedding in RAW, but shoot the important images or images where the light is tricky in RAW. That way you can be confident you have the shot and information you will need for editing later.

RAW requires a different workflow for your image processing. If you don’t want to spend too much time editing, then maybe RAW will not work for you. The reality is RAW files are bigger, but that’s because they capture so much more information. If you are skeptical, give it a try. Shoot some scenes in RAW and try the Adobe RAW converter. Lightroom also works with RAW files. You might find that you have more details and information in your image than you thought.

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Barry J Brady

is a Fine Art Landscape and commercial photographer based in Vancouver, BC. He is also an addicted traveller and loves travelling to far off places and capturing their essence. Barry is an entertaining and experienced photography teacher and public speaker. He loves nothing more than being behind his camera or showing other photographers how to get the most out of their camera. To see more of his work, visit his site here. You can also join Barry on a photography workshop in Canada. Click here to find out more.

  • Donald Wright

    “The reality is RAW files are bigger, but thatโ€™s because they capture so much more information.” Technically…the camera captures the same information in both RAW and jpeg settings… But STORING as a jpeg (compression) on the memory card with the camera settings, the stored file size is reduced…

  • Mark M.

    I’d really like to see a comparison of the above edits made on the corresponding JPEG. In theory, I completely agree that operating on the RAW should give better results, but it would be interesting to see it in practice to understand exactly how constraining working on the jpeg is.
    @disqus_yrel9gPkLR:disqus, I think you might be splitting hairs. For most practical purposes, the storage of what the image sensor “captures” has to be considered as part of the “capture” because without the storage have you really captured anything? If you include storage as part of the capture, and you understand/agree that JPEG is inherently a lossy algorithm (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JPEG) then I think what Barry is trying to convey is correct – but I’d still like a practical demonstration of the limitations of starting with the jpeg as opposed to the raw.
    Shoot the scene in jpeg+raw and then then try making the same edits in both to show the practical differences between the two.

  • George Allen

    One other argument for shooting RAW – so what if it takes up more space, digital storage costs continue to fall, year after year. Inexpensive 1 Terabyte disk drives now cost about $40. 40,000 25Meg RAW files can be stored on a terabyte drive. Thats a lot of RAW photos. Doing the math, it costs about $1 to store 1000 photos ($2 if you are smart and back up your photos on another drive).

  • Honestly i’m really tired hearing about this subject. Try to photograph in JPEG in Adobe RGB(1998) and next edit this uncompressed file in Camera Raw and last convert to sRGB and you’ll see that is really really good not so far from RAW.

  • I agree that some cameras have amazing JPG rendering processors that can process an image better than most people can on their own. Personally I think I’m at the point where I can do better customized Post Processing myself rather than letting the camera apply a “One Size Fits All” post processing on the JPEG so I still do RAW.

    But there are many other benefits to camera JPG. In these days I think everybody should be doing both. Too much to re-type, I wrote up about it one time: http://wp.me/p1UoLD-1H

  • 5 reasons ‘to’ should shoot? Little typo in the title itself. Should be ‘you’.

  • Oops, thanks for letting us know Amaryllis

  • Thanks Pedro for your comment. I hear what you are saying, in some cases shooting JPEG is perfect. The idea behind this article was for those who are shooting Landscapes and want as much detail as possible to work with. No matter how you save your JPEG, you will lose information, information that will be really useful in post production. I have experimented with this. A few years ago, I used to shoot on JPEG only. I was under the impression that there was no need to shoot RAW. I have gone back to some of those JPEG images and tried to edit them. I was disappointed with the limited amount of detail I had to work with. The exposure that I was able to adjust was limited, the colour range was pretty poor and the overall ability in post production was compromised. This is not to say that we should never shoot on JPEG, but RAW is my choice for Landscapes!

  • Thanks Kerensky, agreed, if you want to do both and are happy for the space usage, that’s great. For landscape photography, I find just shooting on RAW works well for me!

  • Thanks Mark, unfortunately i didn’t shoot these in RAW and JPEG, so thats not going to be possible. However, I have gone back to some older landscape image that I shot on JPEG in the past and was disappointed in the flexibility in the editing process. I was not able to pull back the highlights as much as I could in RAW, I was not able to bring back detail in the shadows without seeing some artifacts, overall the image quality was not as good as the final result from a RAW image.

  • Mark M.

    No worries. I didn’t really expect this post to be edited. It’s something to keep in mind, though, for future such posts. If you’re going to make the (absolutely plausible) argument that one should shoot RAW, then it would be useful to demonstrate the shortcomings of JPEG by way of comparison.
    Not that it applies to this article at all since it’s not about landscapes, but I was out shooting today and was trying to capture some athletes with high frame rates and had to turn off RAW because the camera (Cannon 70D) couldn’t keep up with writing to the memory card. But for Landscapes, this is hardly a valid argument.

  • Jamb Winner

    Nice article, but you lost me on “corrections and subtle adjustments in the RAW converter”. What corrections do you make in the RAW Converter that are not or can not be made in Lightroom or Photoshop? I am new in this area – so if it is better, provide a link to learn about this. Thank You

  • Regalo vida

    Hi ! Exactly the same words they told you. To not use Raw but thank you ! helpful skill. I love camara but now more. I’m focus in fotography?

  • Hi Jamb. I make quite a few adjsutments on the RAW image in the RAW converter, you can make these adjustments in Lightroom too. The RAW converter opens when you open a RAW file in Photoshop. Once this opens up, you can make many different adjustments, take a look at this link to see what can be done: https://digital-photography-school.com/understanding-the-basic-sliders-in-adobe-camera-raw/
    Once you are done with making those adjustments, you can open the image in Photoshop and make the final tweaks.

  • Rob Strada

    Interesting article. I am rather new to photography and haven’t shot in RAW yet, because I want to focus on learning how to take good pictures before I move onto how to edit them. My only issue with this article: I would have liked to have seen comparisons of the final edited version vs a similarly edited JPEG picture. That way a neophyte like me could understand the difference, rather than just the difference between RAW unedited and RAW final.

  • joelluth

    This is a common misconception about color space – Adobe RGB doesn’t give you more colors than sRGB. It gives a wider range of colors, but the (maximum) number of colors is determined by the bit depth and JPEG is 8 bits/channel or ~16.8 million colors. If you use Adobe RGB those colors are spread over a wider gamut, if you then convert to sRGB you will either lose information (out of sRGB gamut colors have to be discarded/reassigned) or you gain nothing (your original was all in sRGB gamut anyway). If you’re going to shoot JPEG you’d be better off using sRGB from start to finish.

  • joelluth

    Nice article! Another huge benefit of raw is the ability to adjust white balance after the fact. Sometimes it’s just not practical to “get it right in camera” with WB. Outside you might have intermittent clouds, inside you could have varying lighting conditions (try shooting a rock concert sometime). Being able to handle this in post is a big one for me.

  • For sure Joelluth, its always a good idea to get it right in camera, but not always possible. RAW gives you that flexibility!!

  • Leslie Hoerwinkle

    Since switching to Fuji mirrorless cameras a few years ago, the jpegs are so clean I rarely shoot RAW any more.

  • Tony Isbitt

    I would like to see a side by side same scene or split scene with a best production raw and a best production jpeg. Then I shall make a decision to change from jpeg to raw.

  • I covered this on my blog before Tony ๐Ÿ™‚
    http://www.blog.tomfosterphotos.com/jpeg-vs-raw/

  • Tom Zaccario

    I am an amateur who shoots mainly landscape and family photos, but I still believe in backing up the backup. I have an external HD (costs little, for the peace of mind it offers), and to back that up I use Carbonite (web based, decent 1 time yearly fees). Family photos are memories that can never be replaced.

  • Tony Isbitt

    Hello Tom,
    I have now read your blog and found it very interesting. Something to think about.
    Regards
    Tony

  • Richard A. Phillips

    A couple of more reasons:
    6. Raw increases the number of usable shots. So many time a I’ve had a good composition ruined by poor exposure, which could not be recovered in post since I had shot in Jpeg. Shooting in RAW would have allowed more of those photos to be usable.
    7. If you are using Canon DPP you can’t apply lens profile to the images if they have been shot in Jpeg. I am sure there are other editing options which are disabled for Jpeg photos.
    Thanks Barry.

  • Adam Tulik

    I see it as certain religion cults. Millions of followers and no one dares to ask WHY. And if someone does – he’s damned. All PROS shoot RAW, says the dogma. FALSE! I’m a pro, I never shoot RAW.

    All these examples above – comparing ‘raw vs non-raw’ – I bet any price I could get the same results with Photoshop if all I got was the original in JPEG.

    Three most important technical aspects of a picture – focus, exposure and aperture – can’t be changed later, no matter if you shoot RAW or now. If a picture is underexposed, the matrix didn’t have enough time to catch image data, and it’s just not there. Too much exposure – the details were washed away and that’s what you’ll find in your RAW image. Blurry pictures, out of focus – nothing will fix that, and these are most common problems we hit delete button.

    Yes, we can nicely change white balance in RAW – so what? Send me your JPEGs with incorrect white balance and I’ll fix them perfectly in several seconds.

    The biggest disadvantage of RAW is the size – and I’m not even talking about storing data – I’m talking about speed of processing. I have a super fast computer at home with 16GB of RAM – and editing RAW images is way slower than JPEGs. I’d be fine with it if I was to edit a few pictures a day, but usually there are hundreds of them. Even going through, let’s say, 200 pictures to choose a few best ones, takes 5-10 times more if they’re 30MB, rather than 3.

    If you can make nicer pictures using RAWs, change your software, or learn how to use it, because with JPEGs you can do exactly as much.

  • me

    plus many softwares will only deal with JPG

  • me

    poor exposure….time better spent there than in PP!

  • me

    Same with Olympus SOC is amazing

  • me

    can do in JPG as well…

  • me

    One example? I have one many in RAW and JPG and the final result? At 100% all differences are none, except he additional time taken processing RAW. Plus many PP software will only deal with JPG ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • joelluth

    Not really. You can change color casts in jpeg, but that’s not the same thing.

  • Richard A. Phillips

    No doubt, but this is after the fact. Unfortunately one can’t guarantee perfect exposure on all shots, especially test ones. What if a test shot is a “keeper”.

  • me

    Of course not all shots. But trying to get the right exposure means less PP. Failed shots are discarded. This is on good aspect of digital. The downside is people to not TRY to get exposure right. For many years I shot on slide film for magazines. Fixed and action shots. Then you really leant expsure, composition etc….slide was sooo darned expensive!

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