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6 Tips For Managing Huge RAW Files

By Sean Lewis on May 31st 2019

The rapid progress we’ve seen in camera tech over the last few years is nothing short of impressive (if not exhausting), particularly in the areas of sensor and autofocus technology. Who doesn’t love gear updates that make capturing high-resolution, tack-sharp images easier than ever? It’s important to note, however, that our collection of ever-evolving gear requires evolution in other areas as well. As sensors and the number of megapixels they capture continue to increase, so does our need to adjust our workflow and other tools to keep up. This is especially true for professional photographers who regularly work with thousands of huge RAW files at a time.

To help ensure that your workflow and other tools are as up-to-date as your camera tech, here are six tips for managing the huge RAW files you’re capturing (or will soon capture) on your new state-of-the-art camera(s).

1. Find An Affordable Way To Share Large Files

Whether you’re sending a raw file to your retoucher or sending a set of files to your client, you’ll need to find an affordable way to share large files. Luckily, services like Dropbox offer large file transfers that allow users to share multiple file types (RAW images, Photoshop files, etc.) from just about any device, including Mac or Windows-based computers and tablets or other mobile devices.

2. Use Fast Memory Cards

With larger and more advanced image files comes a need to use faster memory cards. After establishing which format is compatible with your camera (usually Compact Flash CF cards and/or Secure Digital SD cards, among others), look for the card’s bitrate. A faster bitrate means the card is capable of capturing more advanced types of image files (which include higher resolution video files) with fewer dropped frames or missed shots.

Another thing to keep in mind regarding memory cards is understanding the limitations of the card’s read speed vs. write speed. Most “max” speeds are not sustainable, which means your card will not always read or write at the card’s listed max speed (such as 170 MB/s). However, a higher max speed will usually translate to higher average speeds overall. Some cards also mention a “minimum write speed” (usually marked by a “class number” of 1-10), so keep an eye out for that.

3. Backup And Organize Your Computer Files

Check your computer’s activity monitor to see which programs are using up disk space and then close or uninstall unnecessary programs. You can also adjust your settings to minimize the number of programs that startup when the computer is turned on. This will help eliminate running unnecessary programs, which when combined can prove taxing to your RAM. You might also try running a disk clean-up to remove any unnecessary applications or files, and clear your computer’s cache.

NOTE: Before you remove or uninstall any files or applications, backup your computer to either cloud storage or your external drive system of choice. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently delete important files, especially if they’ve been commissioned by your clients.

4. Add RAM & Install A Faster Computer Processor

While upgrading your RAM will have less of an impact on your computer’s overall speed than upgrading your processor (you likely won’t notice much of a difference in day-to-day functionality), it will greatly help certain operations, particularly multitasking. More RAM will allow you to keep more programs and files open at once and faster RAM will allow you to switch between them more quickly. If you run out of RAM then the computer will default to using your Hard Drive or Solid State Drive to keep those programs and files ready for you, but that is a much slower alternative. Check your RAM usage during heavy load periodically and that will help you determine if you are running out.

Your computer’s processor (CPU), however, plays a significant role in your computer’s overall speed. In most cases, you will definitely notice a difference with an upgraded processor. Sometimes, depending on how old your computer is, the hardware will struggle to keep up with the newer, more advanced software, and this can result in your computer freezing, crashing, etc. In addition, some programs are better suited to take advantage of newer processor technologies and capabilities, which can really make processes more efficient. While a newer/faster CPU will typically improve speed, some editing software are better at utilizing different processor capabilities than others, so keep that in mind if you want to get the most out of your hardware and software combination.

5. Use Smart Previews In Lightroom

Just as you’ll benefit from editing on a faster workstation, you can also make adjustments within your editing software that should speed up the process. In Lightroom, you can use smart previews that will benefit your workflow in a couple ways. First, you can work remotely in the develop module without your large original files (or the hard drive they’re stored in) attached to your computer. Secondly, the smaller file size of the smart previews will free up storage space on your computer. Then, after you’ve made your edits, you can sync the smart previews to your original library of images and your edits will automatically be updated.

If you’re unsure of how to use smart previews, you can find more information here.

6. Create Web-Sized versions of your files

Regardless of whether you’re sending your files to clients or storing/using the files for your own social media or website needs, having web-sized image files will allow you to find images more quickly and prevent slow load times due to page size. You can find a basic breakdown of common web-sized image dimensions here for a variety of uses, including slideshows, galleries, blogs, and more.

Conclusion

Whether or not you count yourself among those who tend to upgrade to the latest gear releases, it can only help to stay informed on the direction gear is going so that you’re prepared to make all of the necessary changes if and when you finally do make the jump. As you can see throughout this article, there’s more to making an upgrade than simply purchasing and shooting with a new camera.

Here’s a recap of the tips we shared above:

  • Find an affordable way to share large files
  • User fast memory cards
  • Backup and organize your computer files
  • Add RAM and install a faster computer processor (CPU)
  • Use smart previews in Lightroom
  • Create web-sized versions of your files

Do you have any additional tips for managing huge RAW files? Please share them in the comments below!

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own. Dropbox is not affiliated with nor endorses any other products or services mentioned.

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.
About

Sean fell into photography while teaching for a non-profit. What started as a minor task – documenting guest speakers and classroom activities – grew into a major obsession, and eventually led to a position shooting with Lin & Jirsa. Nowadays, at SLR Lounge, Sean’s work as a marketing associate merges his interest in the fields of photography and education.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Matthew Saville

    I remember the days when a 1GB memory card was “huge”, and high-megapixel cameras were ~6 megapixels! We shot JPG for all our professional work, haha…

    Then, I made the mistake of buying a 4GB “microdrive”. That thing didn’t last long, and I lost a few hundred images when it went kaput…

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