The best explanation I’ve ever gotten as to why I should always shoot RAW was this:
Imagine you’re baking cookies. RAW files are the equivalent of a big sheet of cookie dough. Photoshop is the oven and the final JPEG are your small, individual, finished cookie. A good cookie depends on the cookie dough so without it, how could you bake? You now understand that RAW files are the basic structure of your soon to be completed image.
However, there are some real technical advantages to shooting in RAW.
Shooting RAW gives you very large files, which allow more room and compression when editing.
Shooting RAW also allows you to record all of the data from the sensor. This allows you cut out the part where your camera physically processes the image when it is in JPEG mode. This gives you better editing capabilities and versatility that your camera would not be able to achieve on its own.
RAW also means brighter images. Cameras measure brightness through “bits”. Where JPEG records roughly 256 levels of brightness or 8 bits, RAW mode has the ability to shoot in 12 or 14 bits which are anywhere between 4000 and 18000 levels of brightness.
That difference is substantial in any future adjustments you make with exposure, shadows, contrast or brightness.
Sometimes you’re going to be in low light settings or somewhere that is really bright or may simply have goofed up your settings causing the picture to be underexposed or inversely, overexposed. All the information that shooting in RAW will give you, allows dramatic recoveries in under or overexposed images without hits to the quality of the image.
For example, take this original file:
One of the first things you notice is how dark the photo is. Parts of the face are a bit too shiny while others have deep shadows, also some of the colors would look better if they were a little more vibrant.
Shooting in RAW allows me to manipulate everything in this photo – brightness, highlights, colors, exposure, shadows, contrast, etc. The end result looked like this.
While the finished product is certainly a testament to the wonders of Photoshop, the contrast between the beginning and end product are the result of the original file being RAW.
As you can see, I showed you here the before and after which highlights another wonderful feature of shooting RAW.
My original file has not been altered. It remains the same and untouched. However, every edit I make creates instructions on how the new JPEG file will be saved. Worry no more about losing images, accidentally ruining them or saving them without being able to make changes. This way you can do different things with the same file without duplicating the image and slowly losing quality over time, as you would with JPEG files.
This brief overview should help you understand and hopefully convince you to try shooting in RAW. For more information, check out this video on all the technicalities of RAW mode.
Hope this helps and happy shooting, y’all!