Routebear in the RAW

Routebear in the RAW: why you should always shoot in RAW format.

Routebear in the RAW: How to fix a bad shotCopenhagen
29 Sep 2014

My mate Routebear

It’s sad to see a man in his seventh decade carting around a toy bear. But there it is. He’s my travel buddy, been around the world nine times with me, and I’ve done my best to photograph him in front of every tourist icon I can find.

This was a particularly difficult shot, as I recall. There were hordes of tourists, all trying to get their own iconic photo, I was shooting into the bright morning sun, and I wanted to have both my bear and the statue in focus.

This is where shooting with a good camera really pays off. One that allows the photographer to choose the exact settings, and to save in RAW format, rather than JPEG.

Camera fiddling

I had to pick my spot and my moment, I had to get the settings right (ISO 1250, 40mm focal length, ƒ/22, 1/100, Olympus OMD EM5 12-40mm handheld), and I needed to stop the lens down to a near pin-prick to even try to get the mermaid anywhere like in focus.

I took about a dozen shots at various settings. Luckily, my son – we were travelling around the world just the two of us together on a fabulous trip that involved a lot of cars and beer – is a whole lot more patient than my wife, who starts walking off without me once I begin playing with my camera.

Routebear in the RAW: shot straight out of camera.Even then the shot looked like crap when I chimped at the screen, and I hoped that I could rescue it in software. Here’s a similar shot, straight out of the camera. (Click to enlarge.)

Almost every digital camera saves photographs in the JPEG format. This does most of the processing in the camera, and you can immediately swap it onto your smartphone and shoot it off to Facebook. The more sophisticated cameras can shoot in RAW format (or both RAW and JPEG, if you want) which is just the unprocessed file of numbers showing the light and colour values recorded at each pixel on the camera sensor. It’s a bigger file, but it lets you do a whole lot more than a JPEG file once you get it into Lightroom or Photos or whatever software you use.

I think the results speak for themselves. Apart from choosing my shot, cropping to get a tighter frame, and levelling the horizon, most of the work involved juggling the light values to bring out detail. I boosted the colours as well.

Routebear in the RAW, a wider shot (12mm)This is simple in RAW format, but if I’d tried the same in JPEG, every adjustment I made would have degraded the image, making it muddier and fuzzier until it wasn’t worth the trouble. With RAW,  I can tilt and crop and uncrop as much as I want, I can play around with the shadows or the contrast, and nothing is lost. I can revert to a previous version, or scrap all my work and start over.

Maybe it’s cheating, but realistically, as a traveller I don’t have the time or the opportunity to be at every location when there are no crowds, the lighting is perfect, I can take shot after shot after shot, changing the settings until I get everything just right. More likely, the bus stops for five minutes, I have a few seconds to take a photograph, and off we go again.

As a traveller, you owe it to yourself to get a good camera, learn how to use it, get some processing software (I heartily recommend Adobe Lightroom, but there are dozens just as good) and learn how to use that. You’ll end up with photographs that you don’t have to mumble excuses for, you’ll be happier, and you’ll last longer with less stress in your life.

Everyone wins!


Routebear in the Raw

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