The Best Reason To (Almost) Always Shoot In RAW

I went to shoot the Milky Way last week. I live in NYC, which is probably the most light-polluted place in North America. Because I live in the city, I drove to someplace with somewhat darker skies.  The drive to the shooting location was about an hour an a half away, on Long Island.   Long Island is still plenty light-polluted, but not as much as the city itself.  

Due to the light pollution and the light from the beaches, I could not see the Milky Way with my eyes.  Fortunately, I had a phone app (Sky Guide) which told me where the Milky Way was going to be. I set up my camera, pointed it in the direction my app said to, and took the shot — the image below. 
I couldn’t see the Milky Way with my eyes, but my camera did see it and managed to capture it. But even in the captured image, it’s barely visible — just a smear of dim lights across the sky.

Not too impressive, right?

That’s where the magic of editing comes into play. Even though the picture straight out of the camera didn’t show a lot of detail in the image, the data was actually there in the RAW file — it just needed to be brought out. Thankfully, because it was a RAW image, the data was still there and I was able to bring out all that wonderful detail. Had I shot in JPEG, a lot of the data would have been “thrown away” by the camera before I ever had a chance to edit it and grab that detail.

Now this is much better! And it's all thanks to having a RAW file.

So, what’s the lesson — (almost*) always shoot in RAW. It will give you many more opportunities for editing in post-production.

(* Writing a RAW image to your camera’s card does take longer than writing a JPEG. So, if you absolutely MUST shoot multiple frames per second, *perhaps* you might be better off doing JPEG. But generally speaking, always shoot RAW.)

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