Whether from an excited friend or random stranger on the trail admiring your brand new DSLR it is bound to occur. The phrase that basically means asks you if you’re a “serious” photographer which is,
“Are you shooting in RAW?”
Usually when we press, click, or tap to snap a photo with a digital camera of any kind there is a process that occurs almost instantaneously. The camera focuses light through a lens onto a sensor that absorbs light and records it as data which is then interpreted into an image by a processor. At this point you can see the image on your screen! This is fantastic for many of us as the end result is an immediately shareable picture.
But what happens when you shoot in this fabled RAW mode that is available on your camera? Well, it simply means that instead of an image processor developing the photo for you, you do it yourself with the raw data the camera sensor has collected! Still don’t understand? Let’s see if we can illustrate this better…
A camera sensor is like a sponge and light is like paint. When the sensor absorbs light it has a certain depth to it much like the sponge does having absorbed paint. Ultimately the end result in both cases could be seen as an absorption of information.
Now having saturated our sponge with information we could press it onto some paper and get a deep imprint of the paint, We could also gently dab it for a shallower imprint; Depending on how we press the sponge we have a specific result based on the same information. This would be much like developing a digital image from raw data. You would tweak settings in a processing program and get the result you want from the absorbed information. Adobe Lightroom is probably the most popular program for this. It is available for home computers, however, I will briefly demonstrate it on the Lightroom smartphone app version:
Comparing these two screenshots we see that the shadows were able to be altered. The camera had absorbed light from dark areas, but the processor interpreted the image in a way I didn’t prefer. With a quick tweak I am able to make my photos do what I intend with the light my sensor recorded. This capability is why shooting in RAW excites people so much. You have more control over how well your photo turns out after it has been taken.
Hopefully this helps some folks grasp what this whole “RAW” thing is and why it may or may not be for them. For those who are interested the Arboretum has a Lightroom Users Group that meets monthly. Keep an eye on our newsletter or check the events page at our website for upcoming meeting dates.