Raw Tuesday: shooting raw files the right way

Shooting raw files the right way: set up your camera to ensure you capture the most detail possible

In our latest Raw Tuesday post on using the raw format, we take a closer look at shooting raw files. By now we all know that you capture more detail when you shoot raw files, but if you don’t set up your camera properly it’s a wasted effort. In this tutorial we explore how to set up your camera to shoot raw and get it right in-camera, as well as answer some of the common questions about shooting raw files.

Shooting raw files the right way: set up your camera to ensure you capture the most detail possible

Raw files are a way of maximising the quality of your images, but they aren’t a kind of ‘magic bullet’ that can solve everything. They can help you make a good shot great, but they can’t help you turn a technically bad shot into a good one.

Think of them as providing the icing on the cake. With a raw file you might get better colour from a shot taken in mixed lighting than if you’d shot a JPEG, and you might be able to recover some detail in an overcast sky that would be blown in a JPEG. But gross exposure errors or focusing mistakes, for example, simply can’t be fixed.

Part of the knack of shooting raw files is knowing what you have to get right at the shooting stage, as opposed to what can be made right later on.

Best camera settings for shooting raw

Best camera settings for shooting raw
Should you shoot differently in order to make the most of the raw file format? We’ve explained that images can retain a greater dynamic range, and that you can alter the white balance, sharpness and more when you convert them, but do you have to set up your shots differently in order to make the most of these characteristics?

There are certain things you can do, but beware of altering your technique to the extent that every shot you take requires some kind of correction before it becomes serviceable – don’t let image-editing take over from photography.

To start with, your focusing technique and choice of lens aperture should be the same. You can save time by leaving the white balance on auto, and the contrast, saturation and sharpness settings at their default values.

These parameters are saved with the raw file to allow quick conversion, but can be ignored when you want to adjust the conversion settings manually. The single principle difference is in exposure technique.

Expose to the right…
Digital sensors mean that highlight detail is more easily ‘blown’ than in the old days of film. Blown highlights with no recoverable detail look nasty, and it can be tempting to underexpose when you’re shooting to be on the safe side.

However, because less data is captured at the shadow end to start with, brightening underexposed areas is always less successful than darkening bright areas, which have a better ratio of image data to noise: lightening dark areas rapidly brings out noise and causes posterisation or ‘banding’ of tones and colours.

The best strategy when shooting raw is to ‘expose for the highlights’ as far as you can – keeping as much of the data on the right-hand side of the histogram – without overexposing, then darken down if need be, pushing detail down into the shadows. ‘Clipped’ shadows look more palatable than blown highlights anyway.

PAGE 1: Best camera settings for shooting raw files
PAGE 2: Common questions about shooting raw files

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