Tag Archives: RAW files

5 Camera Settings to Improve Your Photography

Compelling images don’t just happen, they are created. By initiating the 5 simple camera settings listed below, you will noticeably improve the quality of your photographs. Refer to your camera’s Owner’s Manual for specific instructions.

Shoot RAW Files

Shooting in RAW format is perhaps the single most important setting a serious photographer can make. (See my article ‘Why Shoot RAW Files.’) RAW files produce the greatest possible visual information and offer you the most creative latitude in post-production. RAW files are your digital negative and require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro to process the image. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this processing software, but the time investment is well worth your effort. You can fine-tune every aspect of the photograph, and correct issues like chromatic aberration, vignetting, and lens distortion. If your interest is black and white imaging, the RAW format offers the greatest tonal control. You will find many fine tutorials online.

As always, get the exposure right in-camera. Avoid the ‘fix it in post’ mentality. This is counter-productive and diminishes your workflow. In most cases, I spend less than 5 minutes processing an image.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Shooting in Manual Mode gives you complete and total control over the final image. Make photographs rather than take snapshots. By allowing the camera to make your creative decisions, you are limiting yourself to a pre-determined (and average) set of parameters, which will most often yield average results. Dynamic images are never average. Take control of Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth-of-Field.

Set your camera to Manual Focus. Don’t rely on the Automatic Focus setting. More often than not, your images will be out-of-focus because the camera is unable to decipher what elements are important. By focusing manually, you control depth-of-field, as well as selectively focusing on the key areas in the photograph, like a subject’s eyes in a portrait.

Select the Adobe RGB Color Space

Set your camera’s color space to Adobe RGB (1998). Most cameras are set to sRGB by default. sRGB was created to ensure consistent color reproduction as an image is transferred from the camera to a device, such as a monitor or printer. It is the smallest color space, and yields the least amount of color information. Consequently, some colors in an image are discarded and won’t reproduce when printed. Adobe RGB, on the other hand, has a much larger color gamut (spectrum of colors).

Set the White Balance Manually

Set your White Balance manually based on the light source in which you are shooting. Each lighting type has its own color temperature and color cast. A proper white balance setting assures accurate color reproduction in an image. White balance can be fine-tuned in post.

Use a Low ISO Setting

By using the lowest possible ISO setting, you minimize the amount of digital noise in an image. Digital noise generally equates to a degradation in image quality, and while noise can be used to creative effect much like the grain in film, it is more often undesirable. Shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. If this means having to use slow shutter speeds, consider a tripod. If you need to freeze action in low-light condition, you may have to boost your ISO setting, but try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. By shooting in RAW format, you have a Noise Reduction slider which renders a viable solution to the problem.

I hope this article has been helpful in the on-going quest to improve the quality of your photographs. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time…happy shooting!


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Why Shoot RAW Files

RAW Files vs JPEGs

RAW files are your digital negative. Like film negatives, RAW files contain the greatest range of visual information and offer the greatest latitude in post-production. RAW files are uncompressed, unlike the highly compressed jpeg file, which discards information to reduce file size. Once that information is lost, it cannot be retrieved. RAW files offer a much greater dynamic range (the ratio of brightest tones to darkest tones) and allows for greater detail in both highlights and shadows. An 8-bit RAW file contains 16.8 million possible colors, whereas a jpeg contains a mere 256 colors. That is fine for web images, but unacceptable when printing or publishing images.

Fontana Theater JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG












Fontana Theater RAW File

Optimized RAW File

RAW files require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro. I have used both, and while there is an argument for each, I choose to use Adobe CC because it is what I am most familiar with, and also I use other programs in the Adobe Suite like InDesign and Premiere Pro.

8-Bit or 16-Bit Depth

As previously mentioned, an 8-bit image contains 16.8 million possible colors, which would seem more than adequate when printing an image, but there are situations in which tonal differences are so subtle that even this many colors doesn’t produce a smooth transition. This step from one tone to the next can create a noticeable effect known as banding. Saving the processed file as a 16-bit image produces a staggering 281 trillion colors and greatly reduces the incidence of banding. This is beneficial in rendering smoother and more subtle tonal transitions in large continuous areas such as a blue sky. Be aware that a 16-bit file is twice as large as its 8-bit counterpart. Save your optimized image as an uncompressed TIFF file.

Unprocessed JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

Optimized RAW File

Optimized RAW File

Why Convert to DNG Files

RAW files are proprietary to the particular make of camera in which they are shot. Canon RAW files (CR2) are different than Nikon’s (NEF), which are different from Olympus files (ORF). As software continues to evolve, these various formats eventually become obsolete and unusable. The DNG format is Adobe’s attempt to standardize the RAW file so that it can always be opened regardless of a camera’s make or when the file was created. Whenever I work with a RAW file, I convert it to a DNG file and save it in its own folder. That way, I have a workable file ten or twenty years down the road.

I prefer to shoot RAW files + large jpegs (See your camera manual). This gives me a ready-to-use image right out of the camera that I can immediately send to a client if necessary without having to post-process the photograph. It also aids me in making early editing decisions, such as eliminating out-of-focus shots or comparing image composition. Always strive to properly expose the image in-camera. Meter using an 18% gray card, then bracket. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend optimizing an image—and that equates to more time in the field actually creating photographs. Backup all your files regularly. Redundancy is king. Store your files on multiple hard drives (at least two), and store one of those devices off-site to protect you, heaven forbid, from fire or natural disaster. A safe deposit box is optimal.

I hope you find this article informative—and if you aren’t already shooting in RAW format that it has convinced you to start doing so.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!


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