Completing The Process - Why I shoot in the RAW Format

The Creative Process Continues After the Image Capture

Colorado River near Potash, Utah
Colorado River near Potash, Utah

During all my years in the darkroom I was never able to quickly go in, print, and leave feeling content. I would end up spending hours “working” the print, dodging and burning, changing scale, using a more contrasty paper, etc.


For better or worse, this has not changed for me in the digital age. I have to “work the image” for the print to convey the emotion, or vision I had at the moment of capture. This is why I never shoot jpeg files.


The RAW file format may be a familiar term to owners of DSLR cameras. I can’t think of a DSLR that doesn’t offer this as an alternative to shooting in the JPEG format. JPEGs are by far the most popular format for the masses; and for good reason. JPEG files have a lot of “baked in” settings that allow photographs to look good right out of the camera. No messing around with the images...just take the photograph and post them on the web or print them. Color, sharpness, and more are preset in the file to “normal” standards.


So why mess around with RAW? The RAW format gives me the widest latitude, the biggest leeway, and more opportunity to make my photographs the best they can be (or allow me to make them look terrible as well). With knowledge of image editing software I can add to the creative elements of the photograph to emphasize mood, drama, color, and much more.


All DSLR and advanced point and shoot cameras should have a RAW option. It is also showing up on smartphones as well. A RAW file is like a film negative….what are we going to do with this? Print on contrasty paper? Dodge in the shadows to bring out more detail? What should be the whitest white in the image? These are all questions I ask myself before beginning post processing.


RAW images straight out of your camera look plain bad. They lack vibrancy, color, contrast, and more. Shooting in RAW forces the issue of making me follow up on the picture snapping experience to “mold” the image into my vision. It lets me add the drama, the statement, the emotion that willed me to take the photograph in the first place. Of course, you have to take the time to learn some type of image editing software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, On1 Photo Raw, or Capture One by Phase One, to name a few. There are many free and low cost alternatives to these as well.


Look into shooting RAW sometime. You will find that the “hunt” for light may just be the beginning.

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Comments: 1
  • #1

    Steve Maxx (Saturday, 12 August 2017 18:46)

    Perfectly stated, Michael. I agree 100%.