Using RAW Photos

RAW Photos

Have you heard the advice to shoot on manual and shoot RAW photos? I have. In fact, it seems to be common advice for using a new fancy digital camera, such as my Nikon D3300. I could do manual as I learned to work with aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. I just never really understood the point of RAW.

Still, I wanted to follow the advice and learn to take wonderful photos. I set my camera to take RAW and JPG photos and left it there for three years. Since I’m not rich, I downloaded GIMP, an open-source photo editing program. I soon realized that I could not directly open RAW photos into my photo editing program. Instead, I focused on the JPG version of the photos.

Then I started The Visual Toolbox by David Duchemin. Lesson five involved the mysterious RAW photos. Like most advice I’ve seen, Duchemin also recommended shooting in RAW. This time I understood the reasoning.

RAW Photos and Histograms

JPG photos contain a set amount of data. RAW photos contain more data. Basically, when making changes to photos in editing you can do more to RAW photos without hurting the photo. While you can make small changes to JPG photos, you have to limit it or the picture starts looking bad. Okay, that makes more sense. I’m sure the other places giving the advice explained it, but at that time I did not understand.

The lesson also talked about histograms. Histograms show the amount of light captured on the photo. It generally looks like a mountain range. If the larger mountain of the range is on left than the photo will be darker. Also the information from the pixels will be harder to extract. If the larger mountain is on the right than the picture is lighter and easier to extract information.


Now the whole point of shooting RAW photos is to be able to do editing post taking the photo. To do this, I needed a way to open them in GIMP. I turned to Google and looked up the information. I found another open-source program called darktable that opens the them, allows editing, and then puts them into GIMP to save as a JPG photo.

Well, I did not go out and take photos, but I looked over previous RAW photos I have taken. I took one darker and one lighter photo of the same object and played with them. Below find three versions of each photo. One came straight from the camera and shows the starting histogram. The next shows the picture and histogram after some editing. The final version shows after I did some final edits in GIMP.

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