I always shoot in RAW. But I take lots of pictures, when I am out shooting I might come home with 600+ pictures. Many of these pics are copies of the same motive, but with different aperture, shutter, D lightning etc. I do this because I'm an amateur and I like to experiment and I have a happy trigger finger.

Some of the photos look just fine the way they are, but is it necessary to post-process it in RAW? Now, I do not mean simply to convert it to JPEG so others can view it, but are you "obliged" to post-process it by altering white balance, sharpness etc?

I like to edit pictures, but if I like 70-100 photos out of 600, I do not have time to edit every single picture. Except for converting JPG, even though I am not uploading the pictures nor sending them to someone.

Thanks in advance for answers!

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    '...are you "obliged" to post-process it by altering white balance, sharpness etc?' Why would you think that you are? Apr 8, 2016 at 12:59

9 Answers 9


From what I understand of your question, you're asking whether a Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC) RAW file should be edited to look "good". The short answer is "Yes, it should go through post-processing".

Most (all?) cameras apply their own algorithms to jpg images - in other words, the manufacturer set up the camera to apply what they believe to be universally appealing adjustments - colour balance, tint, contrast, sharpness, etc.

By very definition, a RAW file does not have any colour balance, tint, contrast, etc. adjustments - what you see on a computer screen is a software interpretation of that RAW file - the sensor recorded a scene and you see an image that represents that scene when you import it to your post-processing software.

A SOOC RAW file has not been adjusted in any way to be appealing; when displayed on screen, what you see simply represents that raw information. When you export that "unedited" file to .jpg, the format changes, but it looks the same.

To answer your question literally, no, you are not required to edit anything, ever. In fact, some people and organizations actually discourage it. However, if you shoot in RAW and share SOOC images, those images will often appear "flat" and somewhat lifeless.

I would suggest that going forward, you shoot in both RAW and .jpeg - most cameras have an option to save both files to the memory card. What that will do is create SOOC images that do not need to be edited - you'll have a "nice" .jpeg that you can export and share right away (if you choose to) and you'll also have the RAW file if you choose to do more intensive editing.

With regard to the adjustment brush, it depends on which software tool you're using. I would suggest a quick google search for something like "show mask in software x" or "show adjustment overlay in software x".

  • That was the question, yes. Thanks for the answer. But what happens to a RAW file if you apply, lets say, white balance in the camera? Should you not do that?`I've also found Picture Control in the menu where you can alter white balance, D lightning and things afterwards and specific "RAW Editing" option.
    – Chris
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:37
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    There's no such thing as a raw image. There is only raw data. Whatever you are viewing on the screen when you open a raw file is a conversion of that data. A light curve must be applied. Demosaicing must be applied to the monochromatic luminance values from each pixel well. Color balance, tint, contrast, etc. are all being applied to the image by the application with which you view it.
    – Michael C
    Apr 8, 2016 at 13:39
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    A big +1 for raw+jpeg -- leave the camera on that and it's ready for anything, meaning family snapshots can go straight to facebook with no messing around but you're ready for fine shots as well.
    – Chris H
    Apr 8, 2016 at 16:01
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    @whatsisname I think what Michael Clark is getting at is that the raw image data must be "post processed" before it can be displayed. When you import a raw file, a default group of settings is applied to begin with by the software as a starting point. So there's no such thing as a SOOC raw image. Apr 9, 2016 at 4:23
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    I should point out that Michael Clark is 100% correct when he states "you are either viewing the jpeg preview... or a conversion of the raw data". What you've done in camera is told the software how to interpret the raw file. Apr 12, 2016 at 16:10

Raw data must always be converted in one way or another for it to be a viewable image at all. When you open a raw file using any image viewer application you are not viewing the raw image (because there is no such thing - there is only raw data). You are either viewing the jpeg preview created in camera and embedded in the raw file or you are viewing a conversion of the raw data into a viewable image. How the raw data is processed into the image you see on your screen is determined by the default settings of the application with which it is opened. Some applications apply a generic profile to all images. Some will attempt to apply a series of automatic filters for things such as white balance and saturation. Some will attempt to read the metadata of the file and apply the in camera settings in effect at the time the photo was taken. Many can be set to do it in any of several ways including those listed above.

Whether your photo needs further processing depends on several factors:

  • What application was used to open the file and what settings were applied to the file when it was initially opened. Example: If the file was opened with a predefined color temperature of 2800K and the photo was shot in direct sunlight it will most likely need additional editing.
  • If the file, as initially converted by the application with which it was opened, is suitable for the intended usage. Example: If the image is 20+ megapixels in resolution and is intended for web usage it probably needs to be downsized.
  • Does the photo as initially rendered by the application that is displaying it fulfill your artistic vision of the photo you desired to take? Only you can answer that question - not anyone else.
  • Ah, I see. I have the default Photo Viewer that comes with Win 10. So, even if don't want to edit a photo, I should at least convert and save it as a JPEG.
    – Chris
    Apr 8, 2016 at 14:23
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    I think you should also mention the embedded JPEG preview...
    – user
    Apr 8, 2016 at 15:26
  • @Chris yes, Windows does come with the ability to view RAW images, and if you're just planning on storing the images, that may be viable for you. However, most services expect a .jpg to be uploaded to them, so you should convert them - keep the RAW files though for future edits. RAW for editing, JPG for general use.
    – Jake
    Apr 8, 2016 at 15:28
  • @Chris The point is Windows is converting it into a very jpeg type form just to display it on your screen.
    – Michael C
    Apr 8, 2016 at 16:06

I always shoot in RAW. ... I do this because I'm an amateur and I like to experiment and I have a happy trigger finger.

It's good to know this about yourself. When you're learning, spray'n'pray is a natural trap to fall into.

Some of the photos look just fine the way they are, but is it necessary to post-process it in RAW? ... I like to edit pictures, but if I like 70-100 photos out of 600, I do not have time to edit every single picture. ... I am not uploading the pictures nor sending them to someone.

Ok, here's the thing I think you have to learn.

Not every shot looks good or needs to be kept.

We love our own images, true. But you do have to stop and think about whether or not you actually want to keep all 600 of those images. Has taking them taught you what you wanted to learn? Which ones are the ones you are going to send to people or upload? Which ones are the ones you want to print out and display on the walls? Which are special because of the subject matter, even if the shot isn't great? Those are the definite keepers.

Where you're probably getting hung up is which ones might you change your mind about in the future. But in general, if you're not a pro, you're not shooting things that are likely to become new material, or whatnot, then you're probably ok deleting them.

If you don't care enough to process it, is it really worth keeping?

When I download my images, my first pass is for obvious dumpers: out-of-focus, mistimed frames, accidental shots, badly exposed, etc. My second pass comes down to which shots in my experimenting are the best alternatives of what I was attempting to accomplish. I may only keep 1 in 10 images, if that many. I've had days where I've dumped the entire shoot.

(Hopefully, you eventually get good enough to mentally do similar edit passes before you push the shutter button...)

Then you process the images you care about. You may not process each and every one, but you should at least have the intention to revisit it if you're going to keep it around.

And this same principle of picking your best to work on should guide you on what you upload/share. It will make you look like a much better photographer.

  • Sometimes I may keep two or three similar images of the same scene to see which one responds best to editing, especially if shot under difficult lighting. The initial preview images won't necessarily show which one has slightly blown highlights and which one has highlights just short of saturation in the raw data, for example. Once I've determined which one gives the best final result I delete the other or put it in the "extras" bin. If it's a question of composition or other artistic expression I may keep both for a time and come back later before deciding which is the keeper to be shared.
    – Michael C
    Jun 4, 2016 at 4:03

Regards the hundreds of similar shots, pick one of the bunch and Lightroom process it, sharpen etc, Switch back and select all from the bunch bar the one. Finally get Lightroom to apply the last settings to all selected photos. That should speed up the workflow and mass produce satisfying results. Why not give it a try and see if you like it?

  • That works better if most of the images are exposed similarly in similar lighting. But if the one you picked first and eyeballed as you edited was the flyer of the bunch then all of the others may look pretty bad with that profile applied.
    – Michael C
    Nov 24, 2016 at 9:27

You are not "obliged" to post-process it. If you like the image that the raw data shows you and you feel it needs no changes then by your own criteria it looks good so do nothing to it, unless in the future you change your mind and think it should be changed. You still have the raw file and can do anything you like. I shoot raw only,I would never let the camera decide what data to keep and what data to discard (JPG). i review all raw files in adobe camera raw, make changes if i think it is necessary. I find that most all my images need some adjustment. Just like i find i rarely have a negative that i can straight prints without some contrast filter or dodging or burning. Oh to be able to get a perfect negative/file consistently.


In addition to the above I don't know if anyone mentioned in camera post processing. It's not as glamorous as photoshop but you can change color balance and lighting in addition to adding a little sharpnes (quick retouch)


Think of the RAW data file as your negative. You can post process it at any time or in any way that you want. As image processing software changes and gains new features, you can reprocess your image in any manner you wish in newer software. You should keep the RAW file because it is the only complete record of the slice of time you had wanted to capture and preserve.

It sounds as if you could do with some sort of sorting routine and software. The image filing software will let you view the RAW data without processing it and it will save for processing all of the files you wish to keep. You can then process them when you have time... or not.

It may be worth trying to control your tendency to capture vast numbers of images. You could say, for example, I want to capture images of that particular building. I will limit myself to say... 5 images. That would help you to express what is making you trip the shutter release at a certain point and you will soon find what is making you interested in the image. The desirable endpoint is that you would have a lot less images to process and a better hit rate for pictures you wish to keep.

Hope this helps


If you are routinely shooting hundreds of pictures of the same object, you should consider shooting many of these at exactly the same settings. This allows you to replace the demosaicing step where the raw processor uses interpolation to get to RGB values for each pixel. This is always going to be rather inaccurate, especially if there is a lot of noise. With a large number of images it is possible to both average out the noise and to use the small shifts in the image alignment to get to accurate RGB values at each pixel.

Now, a problem here is that there doesn't seem to be good software available to do this in an optimal way. The algorithms implemented in standard software like photoshop all use interpolation to align images, but for this purpose you have to avoid using interpolation when aligning images as the problem you want to solve is precisely to reduce the artifacts due to interpolation. That's why I'm developing my own programs to do this. So, it is not straightforward to properly implement a system to get the most out of a large number of raw files, but certainly worth pursuing.


Just to clarify what a RAW image is, it is the EXACT data from the camera sensor (and RAW images can actually be used for forensic analysis because of this) as well as information about the camera settings that were used when the image was shot (such as white balance). That means that, with a RAW image, you can basically fix any issue caused by camera settings in your RAW processing software without any "loss." Once something has been converted to JPEG, that underlying raw sensor data is lost, and so any settings that were active during the conversion become permanent. There is no way to ever get the original back.


Thinking back to the days of learning photography on film, post-processing was more involved and not easily accessible to everyone the way home computers are today (where everyone basically has a digital darkroom on their desktop). In those days it was very important to pay more attention to every setting, every shot, and to frame shots properly (eg. make sure that there weren't undesirable entities hanging out in the corner of the frame). Post-processing could be very time-consuming and not practical for shooting in quantity. A lot of shots came right out of the camera.

We've gotten spoiled with cameras now. I shoot RAW because it gives me a lot of options after the shutter release is pressed. For example, I shoot outdoor events a lot. If I am shooting a trial run and a cloud covers the sun, I don't stop and change my white balance settings. I just set it to auto and adjust in post-processing since I could end up losing my best shot navigating through a camera menu. I would not find it acceptable sending a photo to a client where everything looks yellow, so I accept that instead of tweaking camera settings, I accrue a little debt during the shot with the understanding that I will need to fix it later.

So... is it appropriate to use images straight out of the camera? That depends. If your camera is set properly, you have a good lens that produces acceptably sharp images, and you frame your shots properly, I don't see why not. I will say that, even with a great shot, a little post-processing can improve it if you don't go overboard, but that doesn't mean that you have to do it. If it was something I was going to stick on my personal Facebook page, it would just go up. If I was printing it on a 40" canvas for a client paying $500 (or my own wall), you can bet that I'd spend a lot of time post-processing and checking every detail.

Now, if you have stuff set to auto (or forget to change it), need to enlarge images or fix focusing issues, or have over- or under-exposed images, you really should spend time fixing those issues. A lot of post-processing can be done in bulk, so common, simple issues can be fixed very quickly.

  • 2
    -1: "Thinking back to the days of learning photography on black and white film, very little post-processing was possible." while "very little" is subjective and might be true for some, I disagree with this statement in general. People did local adjustments, image stitching and exposure blending even before film photography reached the masses.
    – null
    Apr 11, 2016 at 13:24
  • People did all of that even before film existed and negatives were made on glass plates!
    – Michael C
    Apr 11, 2016 at 16:45

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