Jpeg images generally look very good and will respond to post processing quite well in any of the popular photo processing programs such as iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop. So why bother to shoot in RAW? After all, RAW images take up a lot more space on the computer's hard drive, a burst of shots take longer to clear the buffer and there will be fewer images stored on a camera card before it is full. The reason is that the larger file size contains information--lots of it. It is that info which can be used to modify the image even if some of the in camera settings were not appropriate for the conditions. Most people have no idea how much information is available to be tapped.
Consider the following image. My task was to take a photo of two football players who were small in stature but were large in importance to their team. In order to check exposure on the sky, I took a shot with one of the players. It is straight out of the camera after importing into Lightroom.
As you can see, the sky was darker than desired and the player was almost totally black. It was only a test image to meter the sky but since it was taken in RAW, it was an interesting challenge to see how much detail could be recovered. The answer was, quite a bit. Lots more than anyone would expect from a badly exposed photo.
Take a look at the skin tones and especially the shoes. Yes, it's the same image. The adjustments were done in Lightroom. Everything visible in #2 was present in the RAW file of #1. If that level of transformation is possible on a poor exposure, just think of what is possible for a properly exposed image. Some may claim that they always get the perfect image straight out of the camera and therefore don't need to process with RAW but I submit that in most situations, it is impossible to control all the factors that go into a good photograph. One other thing to consider is that even if you are happy with your image now and you currently don't have the post processing skills to improve your picture, non-destructive processing in Lightroom, Aperture, etc. will allow you to go back years from now and give new life and perhaps an alternative interpretation of an old image. There are other reasons for using RAW but those will have to wait for another blog post.
The final image used a gelled speedlight (580 EX II, 1/2 CTO gel) to obtain the following shot:
1/300 sec, f/10, 16mm, ISO 100, Flash, Canon 1D Mark IV, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II
Philip S. Zivnuska