How to Shoot a Raw Photo

Winter slough
Frenchtown, Montana


You may have heard or read about the advantages of capturing your photos in the raw file format. I've written about it several times on this blog! (See Wonders of Raw.) But how do you actually shoot in raw? Here's how to set up your camera to record pictures as raw files. The menu choices vary among camera brands. Consult your camera manual for the specific steps.

  1. Set your camera's exposure mode to one of the "letter" settings: P, S (Tv), A (Av), or M.
    Raw capture is usually not available in any of the automatic exposure modes (such as Auto or Landscape). If you are not familiar with the letter exposure modes, choose "P" for Program exposure mode. This is similar to automatic exposure and will get you started.

    Canon camera set to Aperture Priority (Av) exposure mode

  2. Go to the Image Quality menu in your camera and set it to raw.
    If you are feeling a little uncertain, you can set the camera to shoot raw + JPEG images. This saves two copies of the same image to your memory card. One is a raw file and one is a JPEG file. You can often tell the camera to save a smaller JPEG than the largest size to conserve storage space. Note that if you decide to delete a picture in the camera, both the raw and JPEG photos will be erased.

    Canon Quality menu displaying Raw format

    Canon Quality menu set to Raw

    Canon Quality menu set to Raw + Medium Fine JPEG

Now you are ready to capture raw photos. When you find a subject or scene you want to take a picture of, keep the following suggestions in mind.

  • Get the best exposure for the scene that you can.
    With raw files it is better to slightly overexpose than underexpose the picture. But beware of clipping (overexposing) any important highlights, such as clouds in the sky. Check the camera's Histogram display and  Highlight Warning for help. (Consult the camera menu for how to display these features.) If any important bright areas are blinking, reduce the exposure slightly and take another frame.

    Canon Brightness Histogram

  • Set the White Balance to Auto.
    The overall color balance of your raw photo can be easily adjusted during the editing process. So you don't need to get the color exactly right at capture.

    Canon White Balance in Quick Menu

    Canon White Balance menu set to Auto White Balance AWB

The rest of your camera settings---shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focal length, focus---can't be changed later, so make the appropriate choices for how you want motion and depth of field to appear in your image.

When you play back your photos on the camera, you are looking at a JPEG version, even if you are not saving JPEG copies. So your raw file may look different when you download it to the computer later.

In my next post, I'll provide an overview of how to download and organize your raw files using the Adobe Photo Downloader and Adobe Bridge, both of which are included with Photoshop.

Learn more tips about raw photos in my upcoming online class Shoot, Organize & Edit Raw Photos with Photoshop, beginning March 1, 2022. Click this link for details and registration.