Raw vs JPEG: A Simple Guide

As a photographer, the question of shooting Raw vs. JPEG is common and can get confusing.

We’re here to give you an easy-to-understand explanation of the two formats, so that you can determine which to use along your journey as a photographer.

Raw vs. JPEG is to Wet vs. Dry Cement

To start out, let’s use a metaphor inspired by David Molnar’s video about the two file formats. While cement is drying you still have some power to mold and shape it before it becomes rock solid. On the other hand, once the cement is completely dry it becomes solid and inalterable.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61tYSdl2fto&t=1s

A raw file is comparable to the wet cement in this example and a JPEG file is comparable to the dry cement.

Shooting in raw produces files that can still be molded and altered to a fairly high degree.

Dark shadows and bright highlights are recoverable in a raw file and are not in a JPEG file. Although you can still adjust a JPEG file to some extent, the settings you chose while shooting will more or less determine the photo’s success.

Comparing Raw vs. JPEG

So why would anyone prefer to use JPEG files over raw files then? Although raw files allow for a higher degree of control, they require post processing prior to printing and take up much more space. They also come out more dull and less sharp than the alternative.

JPEG files are ready to print immediately and usually look great without any major editing.

When to Choose Raw Over JPEG

Now you can use this information to determine when to use raw over JPEG. Generally raw is recommended unless you have space or time constraints. Here are some general guidelines you can use:

Choose raw when…

  • Shooting any professional photography
  • Photographing an event, people, or any other scenario you can’t easily recreate
  • Lighting isn’t ideal during a photo shoot

Shoot in JPEG when…

  • Shooting any professional photography
  • Photographing an event, people, or any other scenario you can’t easily recreate
  • Lighting isn’t ideal during a photo shoot
  • When you absolutely have to! I don’t suggest shooting in JPEG format

When in doubt, use both!

Most modern DSLR cameras have a raw+JPEG option, which works well as a go-to option for obvious reasons.

Raw vs. JPEG In Action

Now let’s take a look at what the two file types actually look like when put side by side.

Here are some images right out of the camera

The images shown above were both shot at 1/200th shutter, f/4.0 aperture, and ISO 800 with no editing. As you can see, the raw photo came out dark and with less contrast than the JPEG image.

Edited Raw vs. JPEG

The images shown above were both shot at 1/200th shutter, f/4.0 aperture, and ISO 800 with no editing. As you can see, the raw photo came out dark and with less contrast than the JPEG image.

Clearly the raw file is in much better shape after the edits than the JPEG image. Any JPEG images taken in less than ideal lighting will appear distorted when you try to fix them.

Shooting in raw gives you more power to fix your photos after the fact, for problems you may not have known were there prior to loading them off your camera.

How to Process Raw Images

There are lots of software programs that can help you process and organize your photos And I recommend using Lightroom for just $10 a month with Adobe’s Photography Plan.

When you load a raw file into Lightroom, you can start making adjustments. One click adjustments can be made to transform your images when you use Lightroom Presets.

By now you should have a much better understanding of shooting raw vs. shooting JPEG.

They both have situations they’re better suited for over the other, but overall if you’re passionate about photography, you should at least experiment shooting in raw.

Take your images as far as they can go and see what you get!

So what do you say…Raw or JPEG?

 

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