The Editing Benefits of Shooting RAW
A Visual Reinforcement Illustrating the "Wiggle Room" for RAW Image Manipulation
Shooting RAW images when you can will allow you a much greater creative freedom when it comes to editing. The downside of course is the fact that shooting RAW given the amount of data it requires will reduce the amount of images you can fit on your memory cards. This is why most people elect to shoot only .jpeg images, a compressed format that allows greater quantities on memory cards but way less editing leeway 'after the fact'. Imagine if you will though just a few decades ago prior to the advent of digital imaging all photographers were stuck with a max of just 36 exposures to a roll of film! In a way this pushed the art and technical skill of photography given the fact that a badly exposed film image could not simply be erased and shot again.
Digital in a way has diluted the art of imaging. It allows new photographers to basically 'Spray and Pray' by which I mean shoot a whole shed load of imagery in the hope that at least one or two 'keepers' may by accident be prised from the card before reformatting and ready for the re-spray. In my humble opinion, digital photography removes the need for a theoretical understanding of the photographic process.
To illustrate this I have placed this before and after image that I shot recently at Cape Hedo in the Northern confines of Okinawa. By placing your Mouse cursor in the circled arrow Icon in the middle of the image and dragging either left or right you can see just how much information is held in the purposely underexposed image. I also elected this scene given the amount of potential lighting dynamic range. What you notice is the fact that once you've 'burned' the highlights of an image there is nothing you can do to get them back. Look at the area where the sun is brightest. Nothing I could do in the editing process could render any information in that glaringly overexposed 'hot spot'.
Shooting RAW allowed me the ability to recuperate a ton of information from the image within the shadows but not with the highlights if they are already over exposed. This is a failing in the RAW technology at this point in time. I'm sure down the imaging road that there will eventually be a time where cameras will simply not allow you to take a bad image, a time when the art of photography will surely be classified as extinct. As a guiding lesson you should always expose your camera settings for the brightest light source in the image in order to retain the information therein. Digital cameras inherently retain a huge amount of detail in the shadows but with current technology as it is they perform less than sterling in the highlights. Keep that in mind for your future imaging adventures.