Shooting Raw is the only way I shoot. I record all my images in Raw format on my camera and convert them to JPGs before sharing them online or with clients.

shooting raw

I recommend that all my students shoot Raw as well. And I have several tutorials on this website about why shooting Raw is better than shooting JPG. Check out this tutorial for an explanation of why the Raw has fewer blown highlights than the JPG in this example:

Raw v JPG both highlights

In a nutshell:

  • Raw files are more forgiving when your photos aren’t perfect on camera. Especially when you need to darken blown out highlights or change white balance.
  • Raw files give you complete control over how much contrast, saturation and sharpening is added to your photo. When you shoot JPG, you can adjust those items before you record the photo, but not afterwards.

Even though I’ve written about why Raw is better, I’ve never written about the transition to shooting Raw. I’ve been doing it so long that I had in mind that the transition consisted of a simple camera setting change.

In truth, the transition to shooting Raw is somewhat more involved. But don’t get scared! Shooting Raw adds a tiny bit of time to your photo editing workflow, but the benefits are well worth it.

Transition to Shooting Raw: Step by Step

  1. Yes, the first step is changing that setting on your camera. This is different from camera to camera, so I can’t tell you how to do it. A quick glance at your camera manual will make it simple. Quick tip: Raw files have different formats from camera maker to camera maker, so look for these terms when searching in your manual:
    • Canon Raw files are called CR2.
    • Nikon Raw files are called NEF.
    • Olympus Raw files are called ORF.
  2. When you shoot Raw, the image you see on the back of your camera is a JPG. When you open that Raw in your Raw editor, the image will look duller because it doesn’t have the added processing that the camera showed in the preview. If you shoot Raw only, there is no way to view the camera’s JPG on your computer. However, if you look at the image in LR, you might see a quick glimpse of this embedded preview as the photo loads. It will disappear quickly and forever.
    • Why shoot Raw + JPG? Cameras allow you to record images in Raw and JPG at the same time. Shooting Raw + JPG gives you an editing model that you can refer back to make the Raw look similar to what you’re used to from JPGs. Many people shoot Raw+JPG as in insurance policy. When most of your photos come off the camera looking great, you can use the JPGs. Use the Raws only for those photos that need some extra tweaking.
    • Why not shoot Raw + JPG? – Hard drive space, baby. Raws take up way more hard drive space than JPGs, but JPGs take up a good bit too.
  3. Open your photos in a Raw processor. This sounds scarier than it is. Odds are, you already have a Raw processor on your computer. Lightroom is a Raw Processor. Elements has a built in Raw processor called Adobe Camera Raw. Most cameras come with software that edits their Raw files as well.
    • To open a Raw file in PSE, go to File/Open, just like you would with any other photo. Navigate to your Raw and click to open. That’s it! The file will automatically open in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).
    • In Lightroom, there is no difference between the way you access Raws and JPGs. Don’t change a thing!
  4. Edit your photos. Remember that JPGs have white balance, contrast, saturation and sharpening “baked in.” Raws don’t, which accounts for their dull look. Most Raw processors will add some amount of contrast, saturation and sharpening automatically, but it’s usually necessary to add a bit more. After that, all you need to do is apply the edits you’d usually apply to your JPGs. I know that as you read this, some of you are wondering how to add the contrast, saturation and sharpening that these Raws will need. Am I right? My next tutorial will cover exactly that, so that we focus only on the editing aspect of this transition. If you want a head start, read about camera calibration in Lightroom or ACR.

Convert a CR2 to JPG. Convert a NEF to JPG. Convert an ORF to JPG.

After editing your photos, the last step is the Raw conversion. This sounds scary, but it’s not at all.

Why is the conversion necessary? Well, Raw files can only be viewed in the Raw processing software. They can’t be posted online or sent to the printer. A less scary way to think about the Raw conversion is to think of it as using the Save As command in Microsoft Word.

You know how you can save a Word document as a PDF so that everyone can read it, regardless of whether they are Mac or PC or don’t even have a computer? When you save a Raw file as a JPG, you are making your photo accessible to everyone in the same way.

  • To convert a Raw to JPG in Photoshop Elements, after you finish your ACR edits, click Open to bring the file into Elements. You have just completed the Raw conversion! Once the file leaves ACR, it is no longer Raw. In PSE, save the file as a JPG, Tiff, or whichever file type you normally choose. That’s it!
  • To convert a Raw to JPG in Lightroom, complete your edits and Export the photo. That’s exactly what you do with JPGs, right? There is absolutely no difference between exporting Raws & JPGs in Lightroom.

The transition from shooting JPG to shooting Raw sounds intimidating. But I predict that you’ll end up like me: once you make the switch, you’ll find that it might add a minute or so onto your total workflow and that you’ll never consider giving up the benefits of shooting Raw in order to save that minute!