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Quick tips on getting better photo prints. Part 2: RAW files

Photo: Juan Carlos Hernandez, 50mm 1/800s f1.8 ISO 64

Here we are at the top of your workflow and your digital camera or camera-phone will be responsible for capturing and storing images. Since you want to get the most out of your digital files you want to be capturing all your images in RAW format. What does this mean? In layman’s terms a RAW image file is one that hasn’t been processed by your device’s software. The RAW file encompasses all the unaltered data captured by your device's image sensor.  

But why is it so important to capture RAW files? The one-word answer to this question is control. Not shooting in RAW has your device use generic algorithms designed to enhance color and sharpen sharpen images as they are captured. This is not bad by any means, but if you did not like the results or want to change you will not be able to while maintaining the highest quality. On top of this, your camera will reprocess your image file and compress it which will make you lose an enormous quantity of valuable pixel data permanently. 

Mosts all of today's digital cameras will allow you to capture RAW images. In order to activate the setting go to your user manual and follow the step by step directions on how to set it up. iPhones are a little more complicated since the native camera app will not save images in RAW format. In order to do so download and shoot with one of the following apps: VSCO, Adobe Lightroom CC, Camera+ and some others. Here’s a link to the compiled list available in the AppStore: Desktop Link - Image Editors and Mobile Link - Image Editors.

For Android devices check your phone settings and if your device is using Android 5.0 Lollipop and has the Camera2 API enabled you should be good to go.

Now that you know the basic on what a RAW image is, here are our top 5 reasons why you should start doing this today!

1. Wider Tonal Range

Remember we talked about your images being processed and compressed by your image capturing device? Well, one more thing you will lose in this process is bit-depth meaning that the total number of colors / tones is vastly reduced in order to accommodate a smaller file size. JPEG images are 8-bit or the equivalent of a total 256 color values (2 to the power of 8)  but RAW output files in contrast can contain up to 16-bit or the equivalent of 65,536 color values.

If you're keen on learning more hit this link and enjoy! 8, 12, 14 vs 16-Bit Depth: What Do You Really Need?!

2. Retain the Highest Amount of Data 

We can't stress it more, compression even at its lowest forces you to lose data. This could be a game changer when it comes to color gradation, image sharpness, noise and printing your photos

3. Gain Wider Latitude for Edits

So your images are over / under exposed? Shooting in RAW will provide you added flexibility during your edit because of the higher bit-depth. 

4. Detail Control

With RAW files you make decision over how sharp or soft you want your images to be. In-camera processing constrains this dramatically as it will sharpen your image and compress it permanently. 

5. Select Color Space

We will be writing a separate post on this topic because it is extremely important when printing your digital photos. For now just know that Color Space defines the variety of tones available in an image file. When shooting in RAW you get to decide what color space you want your image to have. This will vary depending on output, for example, all web images are in the sRGB color space which is the smallest of the three main color spaces we will discuss. 

In general, unless your camera enables you to, when you capture processed images (JPEGs) your camera by default will assign the sRGB color space to you image. This is particularly true to every image captured with a mobile device. 

Larger color spaces like Adobe RGB and ProPhoto RGB allow to retain and reproduce a wider variety of colors. This is essential when thinking about printing your images and you'll have the best results when you define your Color Space when working on your RAW file. At Photo Innovation Lab we encourage you to send your images on the Adobe RGB color space. 

If you have any questions regarding this or any topic, drop us an email to hello@photoinnovationlab.com We would love to hear from you.