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.
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.
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.)