Tutorial: Benefits of Using Raw Image Files

Aug 3, 2011

For Contractors and Designers who want quality photos of their finished renovations, but can't always hire a professional architectural photographer, this series of articles will help:

  1. How to get the most from your interior photography
  2. More tips to improve your interior photography

But there's ONE thing you can do that will have the greatest impact on the quality of your photographs - shoot RAW image files!

Remember the days of film? Well the difference between a film negative and a physical print is like the difference between RAW image files and jpg format (the predominant digital image format used in most circumstances). With a negative, you can change the cropping, exposure, color and other attributes during the printing process - without losing (much) quality. Once you've exposed the photo paper, it's set in stone (or silver, so to speak).

Same thing with RAW image files. Your digital camera's sensor actually captures a LOT more image data than any medium can render at a time. All of that data is stored in the RAW file. Depending on the make of camera you have, this file will have a different file extension - .NEF for Nikon, for example, or .CRW and .CR2 for Canon. These file formats require proprietary software made by the camera manufacturer, or third-party photo editing software like Photoshop in order to use them. But it's easier than you might think - and the results are well worth it.

Let's say you're shooting a beautiful bathroom renovation with a dark cherry wood vanity, white stone counters and a large, bright picture window in the exterior wall. It looks gorgeous to the human eye - but try to take a photograph and the result can be disappointing. Either:

  • The vanity is so dark you can't even tell it's cherry wood, OR
  • The window is so bright it looks like a huge white blob that takes over your picture, OR
  • Your camera flash went off and it looks....well like a snapshot from a disposable camera. And what happened to that beautiful lighting you installed or spec'd? Washed out in the flash.

Now let's set aside more advanced techniques like bracketing & layering for a moment. If you do nothing else different but shoot the same photograph with your camera in RAW mode, you can vastly increase the quality of this image later in your photo editing software. Some examples of what you can do without sacrificing (much) quality:

  • Increase exposure on the vanity part only so the details of the cherry wood stand out.
  • Decrease exposure on the window so you can see some of what's outside (or at least so it's not a huge white blob).
  • Eliminate the need for flash.
  • Balance the color of the image so both the interior lighting and the outside ambient light look the way your eye sees it.
  • A myriad of other powerful image adjustments that will take your photos to the next level of quality.

Professional architectural photographers work with RAW files almost exclusively. If you can't or don't want to hire one, don't get stuck with bad photos - shoot RAW image files!