Why do my RAW images look darker than the JPEG?

Started Feb 26, 2010 | Discussions thread
Richard Weisgrau Veteran Member • Posts: 3,530
Re: Why do my RAW images look darker than the JPEG?

There are some variables in the digital image process that could be the answer.

As you know all images in digital cameras start out as raw. The look of a camera-produced jpeg, as others have pointed out, is dependent upon the processing formulas in the cameras software. In many digital cameras, you can adjust those settings to get different results. You cannot adjust the look of the raw image in the camera, bit you can change it by changing exposure through plus or minus exposure compensation.

I have been shooting raw for years, and my raw file do not come out dark. They have a slightly different appearance in different programs, but the exposure values are properly represented in the image. I am not a digital techie, but I do know that dark images are usually underexposed. How your Jpeg engine treats an underexposed raw image in conversion I do not know. But I suggest that you do a test shooting in raw. Set up the camera in conditions with consistent light level and with the camera set so it will not move, and with no zooming, shot a series of shots in a single mode like aperture or shutter priority. If your camera shoots raw+jpeg use that setting. Shoot with exposure compensation on and vary the compensation by 1stop of underexposure through 1 stop overexposure in 1/3 stop increments.

Examine the files and find the raw file that has the best rendition of the subject. Compare it to the jpeg from the raw + jpeg file. Are they the same? If not, you jpeg engine has adjusted the jpeg image to make the difference. If the best rendition is one of the plus 1/3 shots, you know you camera metering is causing the dark raw files.

Evaluate the images using the histogram feature in camera or software, if you can. Otherwise, just eyeball it. In the end you want the best raw exposure you can achieve. You can make your own Jpegs form it based upon your taste, so forget what the camera produced jpeg looks like, but do get to the bottom of the dark raw files.

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Richard Weisgrau
Author of
The Real Business of Photography
The Photographer's Guide to Negotiating
Selling Your Photography
Licensing Photography

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