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Many digital cameras today, not just the high-end expensive ones, allow you to shoot RAW photos. If you have a camera like that then you've got to decide whether you're going to shoot RAW or whether you'll shoot your photographs as JPEGs. And it may help you to know a little about what RAW files are and the advantages of shooting RAW over JPEG in most circumstances, but not all. A RAW file is composed of the unprocessed data from your camera's sensor. By contrast JPEGs are pretty heavily processed inside your camera.
White balance is set there and colors are interpreted, the image is sharpened, and the JPEG file is then compressed before you ever see it. But when you get the RAW data from your camera, then you'll retain the creative freedom to make the processing decisions yourself, which you'll do later in Adobe Camera RAW, the RAW converter that comes with Photoshop as a plug-in. One of the advantages of RAW files over JPEG is that RAW files contain much more image data than JPEGs. You may be getting between 10 and 14 bits of RAW data in a RAW file, whereas JPEGs only give you 8 bits of data.
That extra data in RAW files gives you much more editing latitude. So if for example you're making a big print for a fine art piece, or maybe a large landscape photo, and you intend to do some really large and substantial editing, having that extra latitude of more data in your file means that you'll be able to make all your edits, without having to worry that you might end up with some visible posterization or banding in the image. Another advantage of shooting RAW is that you get to control the white balance or the overall colorcast of the image when you do the processing in the Adobe Camera RAW dialog box.
Many cameras have white balance controls in them that attempt to compensate for the color of the light in which you are shooting. But when you are shooting RAW, you don't have to worry whether you are shooting under green fluorescent lights, or whether you are outdoors, or whether you are indoors, because you'll set the white balance yourself in Adobe Camera RAW. Yet another advantage of RAW files over JPEGs is the possibility to recover blownout highlights if you shoot RAW. If you've got an image where the whites are overexposed, and so they don't contain enough detail to make the image look good.
If you've shot RAW it's possible that you'll be able to recover that highlight detail when you process the file in the Adobe Camera RAW dialog. But if you've got a JPEG then you may just have to live with the blownout highlights. And finally, an advantage of RAW over JPEG is that a RAW file is like a digital negative. It remains in its pristine state, regardless of what changes you may make as you process the image in Adobe Camera RAW. So you can always come back to that original RAW data to reprocess the file with different settings at any time.
The photos you just saw were all shot as RAW images, and processed in Adobe Camera RAW. This file is an ordinary JPEG. And I want to make the point that there are some situations in which it's appropriate to shoot JPEGs over RAW. One of those times as if you are shooting action photography like sports, because JPEGs are smaller files, and they therefore take up less room in your camera's buffer. You're probably going to be able to shoot more pictures faster if you are shooting JPEG than if you are shooting RAW. Another time when it makes sense to shoot JPEGs is when you are shooting what I call a Quickie Mart photos.
So for example, you are just shooting some snapshots at a birthday party, and you promise to give prints to all the parents, and all you want to do is run down to the Quickie Mart and have those prints made. Your life will be a lot easier if you've shot those as JPEG, because the Quickie Mart is set up to handle your JPEGs. And finally, another time when it makes sense to shoot JPEGs is if you're running low on space in your memory card inside your camera, and you happen to be out in the field and you don't have any other cards with you, because JPEGs are smaller and will just take up less space on your card. But nowadays storage space is so affordable that it's really easy to avoid this problem by arming yourself with big memory cards before you go out shooting.
So that should give you a sense of what people mean when they talk about RAW files and what the advantages are of shooting RAW over JPEG in most, but not all cases. When you come in from shooting with a card full of RAW images, what's the next step? The images need to be processed and converted into a format that you can print or that you can take into Photoshop for further editing. That processing and converting can be done by Adobe Camera RAW, which is a separate RAW converter that comes with Photoshop. I'll be covering the details of how to use Adobe Camera RAW to process your RAW photos in upcoming movies.
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