Why you should be shooting raw, even if you don't know how to edit it.


So many people tell me that they don't shoot RAW for so many different reasons... files are too big, they don't edit their pictures so there is no need, they burn through SD cards too fast, that JPEGs are just fine and many, many, more reasons. 

I'm a professional photographer, my degree is in commercial photography but when I was in college I was shooting a 4x5 and 2 1/4 Bronica film cameras. As you can imagine, the photography industry has had incredible amounts of change in the last two decades and with digital photography shooting RAW is one of the most valuable technical tools you have in your tool kit, just under training your eye and having a personal vision/style. 

Now after saying all that I will admit, that even though I've shot in RAW since I started shooting digital, I have rarely edited in RAW. I shoot RAW + JPEG and 99.9% of the time I was getting what I thought I wanted with the JPEG and just kept backing up the RAW images. Well, recently a coworker, mentioned how he had accidentally drastically over exposed a shot of an eagle and by editing in RAW was able to bring back all the detail in the head feathers of the eagle. I was intrigued. 

While traveling in Alaska with my son, Martin Culpepper my wildlife photographer and all around animal expert, I told him that I expected him to shoot in RAW the whole trip, no exceptions because these were the shots of a lifetime. He gave me the standard complaints, mainly that he was going to need about 5-128 Gig SD cards if I wanted him to do that. Well the first morning, right out of the gate, he came upon this baby moose, running through the marsh by itself and his camera ISO was still set to like 10,000 because he was shooting late the night before. He was so sad that he totally over exposed this shot. I told him that I thought I could save it in RAW but he was skeptical. Looking at the before and after shots, he has vowed to always shoot in RAW no matter what. 

What I will tell you, after using the RAW editor to edit my Alaska photos, I will always use it from here on out exclusively and I am beyond grateful to myself for shooting RAW in the past as well. I had no idea how much information it really saved. It is like going from a picture of a picture of a sunset to actually seeing it with your own eyes. What I found while editing these shots is that it really isn't about rescuing images for me, it is Ansel Adams-esqu photo processing that gives me so much more depth that has been missing in my properly exposed JPEGs.

Please do yourself the favor, forget about how many pictures you get on your card when you shoot RAW. No matter how expensive it is, it will never equal the cost of film and processing in the old days. I started photography at the age of twelve and all my babysitting money went to the drug store to pay for my pictures and I had to wait two weeks just to see if I actually got any correctly exposed images. Every time I took a single picture I had to ask myself if it was worth it to take another because each picture cost money. None of us realizes how fortunate we are that we can take 600 shots at a time of an eagle flying and not have to run those money calculations and we get to see what the picture looks like immediately. 

So please, invest a little money into a terabyte drive to back up your RAW shots and buy some bigger SD cards. Even if you don't edit now, in the future, when you get into the RAW processing, you will feel like you're channeling Ansel Adams and you will go back and rework all your best pictures. Don't cheat your future self. Please let me know if you're a RAW convert. Thanks- Shannon K. Culpepper 
Photos by Martin Culpepper