March 19, 2021 | 10645 Views | By Patrick Smith

10 Facts About Raw Files & How To Process Raw Photos

A recent post in our Facebook community asked about raw files and also about processing them. Here are ten facts people should know when considering shooting in raw files and then processing them. If you want to make raw photos look better, keep reading.

In this article:

  1. What are Raw Files & What is a Raw Photo?
  2. Process Raw Photos with ON1 Photo RAW

What are Raw Files & What is a Raw Photo?

  1. When you shoot in raw (which we usually recommend), you capture a ton of image data. This equates to your camera’s sensor capturing all of those unseen details in the highlights and shadows, allowing software to bring back those details in post-processing. When you shoot in jpeg, you are trusting in your camera’s processing to use that raw data to recreate the scene before your eyes.
  2. One way or another (either on your camera or computer), the raw data we capture on our camera needs to be interpreted into a normal photo with software, like ON1 Photo RAW. Interestingly, raw photos only measure one color; red, green or blue, per pixel and then software was to interpret that to create a normal photo through a process called Debayering. In other words,when you open a raw file using software, you are not viewing an image; you view how all that math interprets the data into an image. Pretty cool, huh?
  3. Since raw photos have a higher dynamic range, meaning they can contain more detail across a larger brightness range, you will have a lot more color range and shadow details to work with when processing raw images over jpeg files. Your photos will simply look better, have more vibrant colors and crisper details over an in-camera jpeg.
  4. Unlike jpeg files, none of the data or information goes through compression with raw files. This allows you to process higher quality photos and correct problems in images that would be throw-away shots had they been in jpeg. Raw files give you more to work with in post-processing.
  5. Jpegs were designed as a transmission format, for sending and sharing photos when drive space and bandwidth were at a premium over 30 years ago. Jpeg files discard data through compression, which will leave you with one convenient, smaller file size.. Raw files are designed as a preservation and storage format, preserving all of that critical image data to give you the best possible results. Storage is pretty darn cheap nowadays, so don’t fret with large file sizes. It’s just not worth your energy. Plus, if you need a jpeg file later, export it to that format from your raw file.
  6. If you’re shooting in jpeg, you are letting your camera process the image for you and lose control of the ability to create the image you saw. You narrow your ability to get the image to your liking without creating artifacts in areas like the shadows and smooth gradients.
  7. If you decide to shoot in jpeg mode, your camera will apply contrast, color, sharpening adjustments on the photo by default. These adjustments are baked into the file, leaving you without any control over reversing those edits when post-processing. If you are shooting and intend to edit images, do yourself a favor and shoot in raw.
  8. Your prints will look better when using raw files. You have better color and tone, and you will be able to see all the fine details and less banding in your prints.
  9. Fun fact: Did you know raw files have amazing amounts of detail in the dark shadows. Even for a photo that appears very dark, you can lighten it to reveal a whole new world of detail. But it’s the opposite for highlights. If your highlights are overexposed it’s almost impossible to recover them. That’s why photographers say expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows.
  10. Finally, most phones today allow you to shoot in raw also. So take advantage of everything you learned today about editing raw images. 😉

Process Raw Photos with ON1 Photo RAW

ON1 RAW photo editor is a complete all-in-one photo editor, built around a modern photo organizer and a sophisticated raw processor. It’s like having Lightroom and Photoshop in one single application. Photo RAW lets you apply quick, non-destructive edits and stylized effects to your photos and perform expert portrait retouching using AI-based machine learning algorithms. Nearly all of your edits can be made globally or locally, and Photo RAW’s advanced masking tools let you make and refine complex selections with a few clicks, which makes applying filters, replacing skies, or other operations a breeze. For more detailed projects, Photo RAW includes a sophisticated layers functionality for compositing images quickly and easily—while still preserving complete re-editability. You can also combine photos into beautiful panoramas, stunning HDR images, and perfectly focus-stacked photos with the click of a button.

ON1 Photo RAW incorporates our state-of-the-art raw processor when editing raw images, which lets you work in a fully nondestructive workflow: you can quickly import, sort and view raw photos in Browse, and finish them in the Edit module without having to worry about saving your edits. The next time you open your photo, all of your settings will be remembered, and you can easily change settings, add new ones, or start over from scratch, all without having to save additional versions of your photo. Photo RAW is even nondestructive when working with such non-raw formats as JPEG, Photoshop (PSD), PNG and TIFF. When you’re done editing, you can perform industry-standard image enlargement on your photos—with full printing capabilities—and can easily share your images with friends and on social media. And, when Photo RAW is used in conjunction with the ON1 Cloud Sync service via subscription, you can capture, view and edit your photos across multiple computers and mobile devices without having to worry about their location. It’s the best Lightroom Alternative!

9 comments on “10 Facts About Raw Files & How To Process Raw Photos”

  1. On March 21, 2021 at 1:45 am Martin Haslbeck wrote:

    Martin Haslbeck

    Great overview article!

    You mentioned you can easily share photos with friends, but not how.
    I would like to share a link to a (password-protected) photo album that I uploaded to the 360 cloud. That link only finds the particular album and no one but me can browse through my other photos.
    Is that what 360 can do?

  2. On April 19, 2021 at 2:48 pm Chris Grover wrote:

    Chris Grover

    It would be great to have a video to remind us all how to photograph an image and process that image “with regard to why photographers say expose for the highlights and develop for the shadows.”

  3. On April 19, 2021 at 4:33 pm Lindsay Parker wrote:

    Lindsay Parker

    Although phones allow you to shoot raw, the software processes are critical in generating the best image from the limited lenses and sensors. So in many cases the processing the camera software engineers have developed will generate a better result than you will achieve by post-processing raw. My advice is shoot in multiple modes, taking best advantages of the options the in-camera software offers and shooting raw as a backup. Then see whether you can achieve a better final result by post-processing both JPEG and raw files.

  4. On April 19, 2021 at 7:00 pm Michael Clark wrote:

    Michael Clark

    Most raw file are compressed, but they use lossless compression, so that the re-expanded file is identical to the information prior to compression. Some cameras have options to use slightly lossy compression as well. Even then, though, the amount of information contained in the file is usually much higher than what a JPEG can contain. (It is theoretically possible to create a raw file of a scene with a single color and single brightness. Such a raw file would contain no more information than the equivalent JPEG file.)

  5. On April 19, 2021 at 7:13 pm Michael Clark wrote:

    Michael Clark

    Regarding “red”, “green”, and “blue” in raw files. The colors of the filter over most Bayer masks are NOT the same colors as the red, green, and blue that is emitted by the pixels of our display devices. They’re more like the color to which our retinal cones are most sensitive: A slightly violet version of blue, a slightly yellow version of green, and a slightly orange version of yellow. So even the red values for “red” pixels, the green values for “green” pixels, and the blue values for “blue” pixels have to be interpolated during demosaicing/debayering, and that’s before the channel multipliers are adjusted for white balance. There is also considerable overlap in the sensitivity of the photosites behind each filter color, just as there is considerable overlap between the sensitivity of our eye’s L (long wavelength), M (medium wavelength), and S (short wavelength) cones. Some red and some blue gets through the “green” filters, some green gets through the “red” and “blue” filters, and even some red gets through the “blue” filters. Cameras create color the same way our brains create a perception of color. There is no particular color intrinsic in any particular wavelength of visible light or any other wavelength of electromagnetic radiation. Color is strictly a product of our perception. Other species may not be sensitive to some of the wavelengths we can perceive, just as we can’t perceive certain wavelengths to which the eyes of other species of animals are sensitive.

  6. On April 19, 2021 at 7:16 pm Michael Clark wrote:

    Michael Clark

    P.S. Thanks for correctly referring to them as raw files rather than RAW files. I almost always shoot raw, but I’ve never shot *in* raw. I’d get arrested for indecent exposure if I did that at most of the places I shoot!

  7. On April 19, 2021 at 7:58 pm Paul Molloy wrote:

    Paul Molloy

    Never again shot in jpeg since I bought On1. Sure it takes a little longer to get photos to show anyone, but the ones you show are massively better. Thanks On1

    1. On April 20, 2021 at 8:29 pm Gary Sommer replied:

      Gary Sommer

      I don’t know if all cameras have this feature but my Pentax has 2card slots. In the camera settings I can choose to record RAW format on one card while simultaneously recording JPEG on the other.
      I have used that feature for the very purpose of being able to quickly show friends & family a slideshow after vacation and still have RAW files to work on later.

  8. On April 20, 2021 at 10:32 am Pierre Geoffrion wrote:

    Pierre Geoffrion

    Points #6 and #7:
    another very important advantage is the fact that you can process your raw files with a choice of up to date image processors (2021 version), such as ON1 Photo RAW, taking advantage of the latest technologies and advances, and the immense processing power of your computer.
    Your camera is processing JPEGs with a program developed when your camera was manufactured (in my case, 10 years ago—Canon 5D mkII). But now I can process and reprocess my raw files with today’s best programs (I have been shooting raw only since 2003).
    Regards to all. Stay safe.

Leave a Comment