For the newbies…RAW vs JPEG – Fix your photo in under one minute!

For the newbies…RAW vs JPEG – Fixing your photo in under one minute!

So Christmas morning you woke up to find a shiny new digital camera under the tree. Ahhhh! Just what you wanted! You already took it out to shoot and maybe realized that your images look flat, washed out, or even really dull. This has happened as I received no less than 6 questions about this yesterday! All from people just getting started with photography and they were not too thrilled with their cameras output after viewing their results. If this sounds like you, then keep reading as there is a quick and easy way to improve the look of your pics!

I was at the Zoo yesterday and saw approximately 16 teenagers walking around with cameras they obviously received for X-mas. 90% were DSLR’s which were obviously sold to their parents by some Best Buy employee who told them THE hottest camera to get was a Canon Rebel. The Rebel is a good camera, don’t get me wrong, but if I were working at the best buy I would be pointing people to other choices. Regardless of that, as I already mentioned above,  I received a few e-mails in the past 24 hours asking me why photos come out looking flat, so this is in response to those e-mails.

Basically, for the newbies who are shooting their cameras in JPEG mode, turn it to RAW or RAW + JPEG. This way you can adjust your image settings after you take the photo. Now I know that 99.6% of the readers here already know this but believe it or not, there are quite a few who come here via google who have no idea what RAW even is. So THIS is for them!

I will keep it simple. I made a video that explains how you can take your flat dull lifeless photo and enhance it in about one minute just by adjusting your RAW file. Now most people who just bought a shiny new camera may not have Photoshop or Lightroom, but the tips in the following video will work with almost any RAW software. Usually, there is RAW software included with your camera. 🙂

I have included the two photos from the video below, under the video. Enjoy!


The files use in the video above:


AFTER – Shot RAW and after a one minute adjustment


  1. I dont get it. You can do the same with JPGs easily. The function is called “auto contrast” in Photoshop.

  2. Correct exposure is first and foremost what everyone should aim for, over whether you shoot JPEG RAW or Film. Correct exposure and also composition are everything. You should get those right before you even take the card or film out of the camera. The debate will continue over RAW VS JPEG while the pros will still be shooting JPEGS and getting paid. I like to shoot both. Raw is nice and has more data, but when shooting weddings, sports events, news, many pros shoot JPEG. They still get paid, they still get great quality work that goes into printing and online on various websites. Do what’s right for you.

  3. @Rob Oresteen:

    That pretty much sums up my first thoughts when i read that article. Especially amateurs shouldn’t waste their time with developing images in a RAW converter. The time is better spend in shooting and practicing.

  4. @ Bob Bowne

    “(why anyone would shoot them who is serious about photography, I do not know)”

    Just curious – I have an extensive portfolio online to review. I put my money where my mouth is. Where’s yours? Where are your awesome RAW images for us to take a peek at? When was the last time someone said your pictures made them cry, or we want you to shoot our kids regardless of cost? Never did they ask what camera I use or if I shoot RAW.

    The truth of the matter is that you really don’t need a RAW file to make good photography. Unfortunately, Steve had to create a file that doesn’t deal in reality with what most, as you say, “serious” photographers would produce in the first place. But, to his credit, he does say for “newbies” so that should tell you something.

    Because you might lack some points of reference, let me introduce you to who I would call a “serious photographer”. His name is Bob Krist and he is a regular contributor to a little obscure magazine called National Geographic. Bob admits his favorite setup, or at least 2 years ago, was the Nikon D90 and the “consumer” 70-300. And he shoots jpg fine. Hmmm. Why? Because in the big picture, RAW really doesn’t matter if you are a decent photographer. You can talk about all the information that is there and what not, but real pro will either call it a keeper or not in a second and not have to spend a lot time fretting over dog poop and “saving” it because it’s shot in RAW. It’s just a false sense of security 95% of the time. And even guys like you would be hard pressed to tell the difference from a16x20 print made at the same time, one RAW one jpg.

    If you want to shoot RAW that’s fine. You might have an edge. But it won’t get you published or hired to do any work. If it makes you feel better, that’s fine, but I can shoot side by side with you and after we mix up all our files and ask people to pick out the ones they like, it will be the strengths and merits of the picture itself, not the silly little pixel peeping that some here are obsessed with.

    I would love for Steve to let me shoot Seal side by side with him. He can have his M9, Leica glass, and shoot RAW. I will shoot with a 5D with 20 & 24-70 zoom. I’ll shoot jpg fine. We would each have 1 hour to do post and present images. The readers of the blog can vote on the images they think were made by you or by me and why. Maybe a friendly wager of some sort? 🙂

  5. Hi Steve. Question about Camera RAW 6.6. Just installed it yesterday and tried to play with some files. One issue I am having is that when adjusting sliders in Detail tab (noise reduction, masking, color detail etc) changes are visible ONLY when I click and hold the slider. Once the slider is released then the picture becomes more noisy and pixilated as if I didn’t adjust anything. Is it normal? It’s like adjustments I make don’t hold after I release the slider. Also the file looks very noisy if I fit it on the screen, but once I select 50% zoom the noise diminishes. Im not sure if I need to adjust the settings, or if my PC is not powerful enough (it should be, I have a quad core AMD, 4 gigs of ram and 1 gig Geforce graphics card). Please help if you have any suggestions. Thanks.

  6. Thanks for this Steve, very useful
    After almost two years of taking photos every day, I’ve only recently got into shooting RAW & JPEG using my Canon S90 and recently acquired second hand EPL1.

    The EPL1 takes lovely JPEGs but trying things out in RAW gives more options.

  7. Hi Steve.. I have Aperture.. when I download photos to Aperture and when I open them will it specify and reconize a Raw image.. how do I know it is Raw or Raw/Jpeg or Jpeg?

  8. RAW is the original uncompressed data directly from the image sensor.

    JPEG is heavily compressed data generated from RAW by in-camera process.

    Try overexpose/underexpose your picture by one stop when shooting RAW, you can adjust it back to normal easily. Try the same with JPEG, the picture is useless.

    • Umm..not always…try using duplicate layer/multiply or screen/ adjust opacity for under or over pics…when you do goof, a stop loss either way can be recovered without much of a difference.

      I have a few in here:

      “RAW is the original uncompressed data directly from the image sensor.”

      Technically it’s not. There is always some manipulation done to a RAW file before it becomes an image – see Ken Rockwell. A RAW file is simply that manufacturers idea of what it should be – nothing pure or holy about it.

      The only true RAW data is found inside a film negative, but even that can be manipulated during developing.

      • I think that the raw output is the output from the sensor before doing the Bayer interpolation.

        On the other hand I guess Bayer interpolation is needed to shown the image for further processing by the user (WB corrections etc.) and that is also why the different raw converters (Phase One etc.) achieve different results because the interpolation etc. is different.

  9. Don’t agree with you on this one. There is plenty you can get out of Jpeg file. Rob Oresteen has it right regarding the bloated RAW files.

    Yes, RAW files have the “potential” to b e better, but at a cost in time and memory and other drawbacks. And in many instances you can waste a whole bunch of time tweaking your RAW file only to get an inferior image to your identical Jpeg file.

    For a beginner (for anyone, really) the photo basics of identifying quality light and its characteristics, along with aperture/shutter relation and exposing to taste are FAR MORE important than shooting RAW. Familiarity with your camera is more important than what camera you happen to use, too.

    I’ve seen plenty of highly interesting photos made by teens…relative beginners using their digital Rebels, cranking out quality Jpeg files. They don’t seem bothered by their gear, or the rule of thirds, or which program they might use IF they shot RAW.

    • Amen Kevin! A badly exposed photograph is a reminder that you need to practice more (not Photoshop, but to take more photographs). Photography is about exposing and composing, recognizing the moment. Neither raw or jpeg can fix that in my opinion.

  10. Steve, can you or anyone else please tell me how to open my Nikon RAW (NEF) images in PS CS5 ? I don’t have a card reader (yet) so I’m taking them out of the camera with Nikon’s ViewNX2 software. It has a RAW processor, but I find I have to convert them to a .tif or .jpg before I can open them in PS to really work on them. I’d like to do it all in PS at once.
    Thank you.

    • When you camera is hooked up to your computer you should be able to open Photoshop CS5 and import them from the camera. In this video I used Bridge to open the RAW files. Should work the same for you but you would just be opening them from your camera while the card is inside.

  11. Steve – I “fixed” that grossly under exposed jpg in about 45 seconds..and I am no Photoshop guru or God…just a few simple tweeks that are easily learned. Here are my results on Tumbler.

    Of course there are some toal differences compared to your file – I did not have the benefit of being there when the image was made, but I could match the tonality of this image rather easily in PS if so inclined. The point is, in my experience, most jpgs can be “saved” as easily as most RAW files.

    For the newbies: perfect wb isn’t always what you want. They sell things call “warming filters” for a reason. Often, neutral wb leaves portraits feeling cold…wb isn’t all that it is cracked up to be, imo. Remember, bad light is bad light. Get over it. Nothing will ever change that unless you want to re-construct an image in Photoshop…then it becomes less of photography and more of something else…hollywood special effects or what not. But that’s heading to the “me too” pool which I am sure everyone wants to be..;)

    I get where there are some times it might make sense to shoot in RAW, but for the most part, you can either pull a custom white balance, or simpler yet, just select the color temp in K in your menus and use your LCD as a reference. You can get exposure/wb spot on, if not very close. Also, on lesser cameras, try the presets – they will put you in the ball park.

    If you understand the concept of “exposing to the right” (see Darwin Wiggit for a pdf..), 95% of your exposure issues simply are fixed at the time of exposure. If you need to alter your image due to artistic motivation, have at it…it also can be done as jpg.

    I have issue with teaching newbies that RAW will fix things – why not teach them how to shoot first? I’m sure everyone would rather deal with a properly exposed RAW file than a poor one, and I’m sure it would ultimately print better. Instinctively, we as photographers try to nail it at the exposure – I doubt there are many who just set it to RAW, shoot a wedding then make adjustments later in Photoshop.

    • It looks oversaturated to me. It loses some highlight detail. The blacks has magenta shift and not nearly as deep. Your post is just add more proof that RAW is better than JPEG. 1 minute or 45s is just a hyperbole to show how easy it is.

      Wether the picture is underexposed or not, it is because of the camera. I don’t think you understand what Steve trying to prove here. Your perfect exposure method is not applicable in all shooting scenes, like street and sport photography. And here Steve came to say you can get better picture even though your exposure is somewhat off.

      Teaching everyone how to shoot is pretty much what Steve has been doing here for years. Some newbies here might have had enough and ready to the next subject. Personally, I already know most of what this blog tells about technique. But that doesn’t stop me from appreciating.

      • “Wether the picture is underexposed or not, it is because of the camera.”

        Really? It’s the camera’s fault? Please. It’s underexposed this much because of the operator – only a chump would blame his camera.

        And yup I know what Steve is trying to prove – I just offer another viewpoint.

        Given that Steve’s “fix” is his interpretation because we don’t know what the colors really were, only a guess, you speak out of your ass referencing “deep blacks”, “magenta shifts”, highlight loss”, etc. You have no point of reference other than the interpreted one done by Steve. Any highlight loss is simple due to the fact I pulled the highlight slider a bit too much – if I backed down a bit it wouldn’t be as bright.

        If the 2 images were reversed you would make note of how much “life” there was in mine and how Steve’s look muted…no doubt.

        Steve – sorry to always be a dissenter on your site…it’s nothing personal. My comment on Tumbler speaks for it self…I just have to point out the other side of things from time to time which I am sure have aggravated some of your readers.

        Best – Rob

        • “Really? It’s the camera’s fault? Please. It’s underexposed this much because of the operator – only a chump would blame his camera.”

          It’s the camera’s metering fault if you ask me. That shot was obviously on the street. What if you’re meeting someone in 5, take a look at a nice scene, snap it once, and go hurriedly? Would you blame the photographer for not having time to see the histogram and expose to “the right”?

          “Any highlight loss is simple due to the fact I pulled the highlight slider a bit too much – if I backed down a bit it wouldn’t be as bright.”

          I damn know I don’t have reference and so are you. You speak your ass about pulling too much highlight making a loss in detail while knowing Steve has done exactly the same thing while retaining much more details. Yea, that pretty much show how much better RAW is. Your statements has confirmed it in a way. Yet you still don’t want to admit it? Sigh…..internets…

          • ZF – “It’s the camera’s metering fault if you ask me.”

            I wasn’t.

            Of course, a properly executed RAW file will render a better file than jpg, not necessarily anything you can see on a computer screen or better yet in a print a lot of the times. And often it is a slight difference that doesn’t matter to most clients.

            98% of jpg fine files are perfectly suitable for commercial and portrait/wedding work. The dirty little secret in the industry is that many successful photographers shoot jpg because they know what they are doing in the first place.

            Gary Fong (weddings), Bob Krist (Nat Geo), Rob Provenchurer (weddings & portraits), and the list goes on and on.

            Whether you shoot in a studio or on the fly, if you pay attention you should be nailing almost all of your shoots – this is digital…it’s easy, you have a fricking LCD and can change ISO and color temp on the fly…in seconds. There just isn’t an excuse regardless of your skill level not to get a decent exposure.

            Again, we should be teaching newbies how to shoot and not need RAW first.

            As far as referencing the test file in this thread, you can eaily make it look just like Steve’s “in one minute” – and anyone can. You miss the larger point – jpgs are not really limited like some in the press pretend they are.

          • Rob ..your tweek on the Steve’s jpg (why anyone would shoot them who is serious about photography, I do not know) is totally lacking. I totally agree with zf. You blew out the highlights and oversaturated it…why…because as Steve says..there is no info there. The raw file has tons more info to work with. Rule of thumb…always record the biggest file you can at the time of exposure …it gives you more to work with later for whatever your needs are. If you need less you can always make it smaller…if you need well.

  12. Nice article for the beginners, when you shoot JPEG or RAW, the pictures always need some post processing!

    another thing to reconise the DSLR beginners is the popped up build in flash, i’ve turned it off!

  13. Honestly steve te rebel is a perfect first camera. Better than mft and cheap. Not too big and easy access to learn the basics!

  14. Ciao Steve and thanks for this article, I belong to the 0,4%… amazing how you can totally change the look of a pic in raw in a while ! However I do not know why, but I feel that working later with PS on photo you shoot is a bit of cheating. At the moment I keep on shooting in jpg even if… well I am afraid sooner or later I will start to cheat me too… However thanks for this article for newbie as I am 🙂 Cheers

  15. Your camera sees the world in 18% grey, so if you want to shoot something white or something black the camera shows this as grey!
    So you need to underexpose to get the dark sky black, over expose to get the white wall white!
    One sidenote, the sky is blue, so when you shoot a long exposure at night the sky will get a blue.
    For rhe things you like to shoot use a tripod and set the aperture at 8 or smaller to get everything sharp in focus and compensate for the black sky, so under expose -1 or -2 e.v.

    • Yes and no… My Canon EOS 50 in the film era (Elan II in USA) could already “recognize” some scenes and know not to expose for 18% grey. I took beautiful snow landscapes with no exposure compensation — using slide films!

      Every exposure metering system will react differently to different scenes (modern algorithms are complex to “recognize” luminosity patterns, and there’re all proprietary), and the best exposure in RAW is not necessarily the one that looks the best for the final picture but the one that records as much info as possible given the dynamic range of the sensor (exposure of the final picture can be adjusted later). That’s part of learning your gear. And then there’s a bit of personal preference for the exposure of the final picture, too…

    • Daan, thank you for your response. I am very new to this whole photography thing. I had just gotten my 1st camera a few weeks ago. I don’t know if I explained my issue correctly, as I don’t possess the proper terminology as of yet. What I tried to describe was not just the sky that turned blue when I took the pictures at night. The whole dark area of the picture was covered by this bluish noise. I am sorry for my ignorance but I am trying to learn as much as I can. I am trying to achieve a deep black background while maintaining a bright and crisp object I am shooting (i.e. decorated houses in my neighborhood). I read that when shooting in low light I should open the aperture as wide as possible, in my case my lens is wide open at 1.4, while reducing the shutter speed. My EP3 set ISO at 1600. I am trying to figure out how to program the settings so that I get rid of this bluish noise on the dark background.

      • Hi Vlad, there are several ways you can reduce noise. First of all turn down the ISO and use a tripod. The Oly sensor is very noisy when it is dark at almost any ISO setting, but a low value will produce the best result.

        Then you can remove noise with one of the many applications around. Personally I use Acdsee Pro which is also very good at fixing white balance problems.

        Unfortunately fixing noise usually also removes details in the image, so turning down the ISO would be my first choice when shooting Olympus Pen,

  16. Thanks Steve! I am a real newbie when it comes to RAW, as I have been brought up with only JPEG photography (Dad never wanted to mess with RAW, he’s bad with computers). I’ve ordered a NEX-7 and look forward to doing these simple adjustments to making my photos look great!

  17. Hi Steve! Love your site. Been a fan for awhile. I have a problem that I don’t know how to resolve. I love taking pix of people’s Xmas decorated houses at night. I use Oly EP3 with a Panasonic 25 mm 1.4 lens. I have it set to Aperture priority at 1.4 and the rest is determined by the camera. When I take a shot at night all that should be black has a bluish tint to it when I open up a file on my computer. How do I set up my camera to get a deep black area around the object at night and a bright pocture of the object itself? Please help! Thank you in advance!


  18. Hi Steve!

    Isn’t it possible to do all the adjustments you showed for a JPEG in PS aswell? Colour, exposure, levels… Maybe I’m wrong. If not, what’s the difference then?

    Thanks and happy holidays


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