Sign up Login
Home Forums Articles Galleries Members Galleries Master Your Vision Galleries 5Contest Categories 5Winners Galleries 5ANPAT Galleries 5 The Winners Editor's Choice Portfolios Recent Photos Search Contest Info Help News Newsletter Join us Renew Membership About us Retrieve password Contact us Contests Vouchers Wiki Apps THE NIKONIAN™ For the press Fundraising Search Help!

How-to's Software Reviews

Why Post Process RAW Images?

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: postprocessing, raw, jpeg

Some have asked what is the point of post processing images. Here is an example of why I shoot in RAW and post process afterwards. This image was taken in RAW+JPEG mode so that I had a RAW and a JPEG image to work with. The image on the left is a camera-created JPEG, with no post processing—the famous SOOC (straight out of camera). The image on the right is a RAW image after minor post processing and conversion to the final JPEG.

Notice how my interpretation is quite different from the camera’s? That’s the point!

Camera-created images will rarely have the snap of a post processed image. Notice how I have pulled a bit more detail out of the water, where the camera burned it out. RAW images simply have more “headroom,” or the ability to access a larger amount of highlight and dark image data. At the same time, I selectively raised the brightness, increased contrast, and added a small amount of extra saturation to the colors. If you had done the brightness and contrast increase as a global operation on a JPEG, the background would have improved, but any detail in the water would have been obliterated.

Years ago, I didn’t like using flash. I told everyone that I just liked natural light photography. Secretly, flash was never one of my strong points in photography. Later, I learned how to use flash and suddenly, I found I really enjoyed flash photography. I honestly feel that shooting RAW and then post processing is similar. Many photographers don’t have the tools or know how to do serious post processing, other than global adjustments. Therefore they don’t “like” post processing. Later, they acquire some good software tools, learn some techniques, and finally understand the limitations of SOOC.



The camera’s built-in software can rarely give you an ultimate picture, for the simple reason that the camera is an averaging device. It wants to make things as average as possible. Unless a person seriously tweaks their Picture Controls, or uses full manual, the SOOC image is created according to the standards of the software programmers at Nikon.


To read the rest of the article, please log in. This article is available to all Silver, Gold and Platinum Nikonians members. If you are not registered yet, please do so. To discover the world of Nikonians and the advantages of being a registered member, take our short discovery tour.


Lisa Sohngen (Swampgirl) on April 12, 2017

very informative...I recently bought your book on the D500 and am in the process of setting it up. Have learned things already from your book and you have convinced me to try shooting in RAW and getting some new software for post processing. Thank you.

Darryl R. McClure (DarrylMc1) on October 3, 2014

Important to note: Do not let post-processing software availability restrict your on the scene adjustments, thus dis-allowing the maximum result of software usage without over challenging the image and allowing the JPEG to appear as close to un-retouched as possible The more you put in initially the greater the final outcome (message to the novice).

User on September 10, 2014

Great thread, I agree with you 100% with that.

Daniel Sauter (dadosaur) on August 11, 2014

Thank you for the great advice. I never considered myself an artist, but down inside, that is the kind of Photography I want to create. So, thanks for the inspiration too.

User on August 5, 2014

A fine and plain explanation to make one that much more involved with the practice and art of photography!

User on July 7, 2014

I, all the time, was asking myself why the cameras themselves do not give the image what is necessary to make it good for human eyes and all the time I needed to shute on Raw as recommended, then process the image to satisfy my eyes. I understand now that those films or sensors cannot replace the human eye....untill it techniligical insufficiency? Anyway this is a great explanation which closes lots of useless ambiguities and I will have after it to have more pleasure in processing my images. best regards. Oldy

Frank Villafane (frankmv) on June 30, 2014

Darrell, Good article. I have read a great deal about SOOC, and while I agree that one should strive to get as close to perfect an image as possible out of camera, there is no substitute for accurate post-processing. I would venture to say that virtually ALL commercial images are heavily post-processed. I shoot in RAW and post-process ALL my images. Some require more processing than others, but ALL are funneled thru my "digital darkroom" workflow. Frank V.

Harry Frank (hfrank) on June 27, 2014

One of the great advantages of RAW is that one can increase or decrease the exposure of a single shot in Photoshop's Camera Raw (or use the Recovery or Fill Light options) with little or no artifacting. With images at different exposures created from the same RAW file, one can then copy them as layers onto the original, convert them to hidden layer masks, and uncover different portions of the image at different exposures.

User on June 26, 2014

good and very usefull article thanks

Jim Duke (jimduke59) on June 25, 2014

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Good article. I recently started learning Lightroom and have been amazed at what I was able to do with some of the files I initially thought were going to the trash bucket. The amount of detail and ability to bring it out post has made me stop deleting on the camera just in case...

Dave Smith (smitheroosky) on June 25, 2014

Thanks for writing this... as a beginner, I've been trying to understand the differences between RAW and JPEG and understand why everybody is so loyal to RAW. One thing I think would have been helpful is some images to see the difference between a RAW image and a JPEG image that had been given the exact same adjustments in post. I get the difference between a SOOC image and one that you create to your liking in post, but I would love to see the difference in how much having a RAW or JPEG image to work with makes when getting the same adjustments. I did this a few weeks ago on my own and for the life of me couldn't tell a difference. Maybe I chose a poor subject to test the limits, and admittedly I didn't know exactly what to look for, but even after making extreme adjustments in Lightroom that went far beyond what I would do for a normal shot, I still couldn't find a distinguishing component. I'll give it another shot and try to recreate some of the components you highlighted here to see if I can get that "aha" moment. Thanks again!

kam leung (professorune) on June 25, 2014

After reading this & trying out post processing a RAW file taken to test out the process, I realize the advantage of shooting RAW images. But still a long road ahead...

Mike Goodman (mrginhop) on June 25, 2014

Exactly right. But Darrell you missed one of the best aspects of post raw processiong-- the ability to seriously correct or adjust exposure errors/problems. What shows up as blinkies in the SOOC can often be corrected in raw. Similarly underexposed images can be corrected because of the raw headroom. Finally, dealing with noise in raw offers so much more lattitude. I really believe that post processing is just part two of the photographic process- Part 1: capture as accurately as possible; Part 2: post process to bring out the details & nuances & make any corrections needed.

J Robert Kinkle (po1wd5er) on June 25, 2014

Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Darrell, why do you convert the processed raw image to a JPEG?

User on June 25, 2014

Very good, Darrell! I would like to add one very important reason for shooting RAW. And keeping those RAW files! Over the years I have acquired several programs for post processing as well as constantly newer versions of those programs. At the same time I have improved my processing skills. This means that whenever I need to use an old picture I take a close look at the original RAW file as well as the jpg I then made - and in most cases I now make a better jpg than the first! Sometimes I choose to make a different kind of picture than in the first place because I also have changed my way of seeing and my perception of photography. Shoot RAW - and keep the files! It's simply amazing what you can extract from those.

Vassili Kurman (Instructor79) on June 25, 2014

Good starting point for beginners who just started to think about bringing their image quality to the next level. I have switched on to shooting only in RAW a year or so ago for the same reasons as described in the article: when camera is saving an image in JPEG format, it is throwing away some details that cannot be re-stored later.

Ray Valdovinos (rayvaldovinos) on June 25, 2014

Thanks Darrell for the inspiration. Until now I only processed a raw image if the same jpeg image had issues. It's time to take it to the next level.

Anthony J Carroll (tonycarroll) on June 25, 2014

Thank you. This just confirms my decision to shoot Raw all the time. I am constantly amazed at what can be improved upon in images worth tweaking.

Daniel Sauter (dadosaur) on June 24, 2014

Thank you Darrell. As usual your article is informative and a great help to me, a relative newbie to the world of high end Photography. I am just learning to shoot and process Raw images. So far I like it.

Alan Dooley (ajdooley) on June 24, 2014

Awarded for his frequent encouraging comments, sharing his knowledge in the Nikonians spirit. Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2017 Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the 2017-2018 fundraising campaign Awarded for his in-depth knowledge and high level of skill in several areas, especially photojo Ribbon awarded for his repeated generous contributions to the 2019 Fundraising campaign

Concise... accurate and persuasive. I think this describes Digital Darrell's discussion of "Why RAW?" The bottom line is simply, everything that the camera was capable of capturing will be in your RAW file. SOME of what the camera saw will be in your jpg. Maybe that's enough for a quick shot for posting on your Facebook page, but you never know when you are going to wind up with a great deal more than you anticipated, and it will all be there in the RAW file. Arguments about storage space and time for processing are at best, excuses, IMO. Mostly the truth is that the person stating these "reasons" is either too lazy or is unwilling to learn. I frankly enjoy finding the hidden things in my images during post processing. KUDOS Darrell!

Ron Caimi (caimi) on June 24, 2014

Good, basic article for beginners and those who were scared by RAW at an early age.