The first surprising thing about Raging Bull as a film is its black and white photography, with the only colour footage being the short home video sequence of La Motta's wedding. Originally, the decision to shoot the film in black and white was based specifically on cinematographer Michael Chapman and Martin Scorsese's memories of 1940's boxing bouts, which they remembered as black and white flash photos in magazines. People's memories of Jake La Motta's fights would have been black and white ones and therefore it seemed right to shoot in black and white, even though at first they had fears this would be seen as too pretentious. The particular visual intensity of the fight scenes, however, was partly due to financial difficulties rather than directorial choices. In an attempt to keep the picture on schedule, two separate lighting styles had to be adopted. Jake's life outside the ring would be kept as simple as possible, and this meant that the scenes in the ring could be concentrated on more. They would be shot entirely in the Los Angeles studio and would be highly stylised. This is how the dazzling visual nature of the fight scenes was allowed to come about. Scorsese, suffering from a low point in his career, was convinced this film would be his last and wanted to go out with a bang. Hence he decided to give the fighting scenes all he could, since he had nothing to lose anymore.
What Scorsese disliked about the previous boxing films he had seen was the way the fights were shown from ringside, adopting a spectator's view, which protected the audience from the brutality inside the ring. For Raging Bull, Scorsese was determined to get as close as possible to the raw violence of the fights. He would film inside the ring and make the audience feel every punch. His plan was to shoot the fight scenes as if the viewers were the fighter, and their impressions were the fighter's, and never to insulate the audience from the violence in the ring. The viewers would think, feel, see and hear everything the boxers would. Aside from the opening fight, La Motta's first professional defeat against Jimmy Reeves, there would be no cuts to the baying of the crowd. For the Reeves fight Scorsese chose to include some chaotic backlash from the crowd showing their disapproval of the judge's decision, but apart from this scene, Scorsese's mantra throughout the film was 'Stay in the ring'. Each intricately choreographed fight would have a different style in order to reflect La Motta's different states of mind at the time of the fights.
Jake La Motta was consultant for the film, and the fights were depicted as he remembered them. For example, in his second fight against Sugar Ray Robinson, the ring is wide and brightened by the radiant white of the canvas making the scene feel free and open, and a relatively comfortable atmosphere. This is because La Motta won this fight, a great victory against his great rival. In contrast to this, the ring in his next fight against Robinson, which he lost on a controversial decision, was designed by Scorsese as a 'pit of hell'. In the opening shot of this fight, Scorsese has made everything look unclear and indistinguishable. This time, the ring is very dark and smoky which increases the blurred, unfocused feel of the fight. Often during this fight, faces are out of frame. For example when the two men are boxing La Motta's face is often blurred out by smoke or hidden by his opponent's body. This is seen once again when he is in his corner for the break in between the rounds; the shot has his face completely covered by one of the ropes of the ring. This was how La Motta himself remembered it; these events will remain unclear in his mind since he could not work out why he had lost. This sequence depicts a particularly upsetting part of La Motta's memories, and perfectly illustrates how he was feeling at the moment of the fight.
Just as important as the look of the film was the sound. As with the cinematography, two different styles were adopted to differentiate between La Motta's life in and out of the ring. The fight scenes were recorded in Dolby Stereo with heightened, often animalistic sound effects and a striking use of silence. This contrast with the dialogue in the film, which was recorded normally, was used to emphasise La Motta's heightened sense of awareness in the ring. The most memorable use of sound in the film, in particular the use of silence, is in La Motta's fourth fight against his great rival Sugar Ray Robinson. The rounds are punctuated by eery silence, giving an impression of slow motion and evoking the idea of what would be running through the boxers' heads. Just as memorable was the decision to use an animal's breathing for Robinson's final attack on La Motta. Everything is standing still, there is a striking silence throughout and all that can be heard is the bestial breathing building the suspense, as if Robinson was a lion about to strike on its prey. The next sequence is an extremely fast montage of cuts showing La Motta being badly beaten by Robinson. This scene moves between Robinson and La Motta at a rapid pace to suit the lightning fast boxing of which La Motta is on the receiving hand. This was carefully planned out and storyboarded beforehand by Scorsese and then skilfully brought to life by editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who won an Oscar for her work.