Our quick breakdown of RAW vs JPEG will help you decide which format you should be shooting in.

It’s the age-old photography battle — shooting RAW vs JPEG. Even if you’re a hobbyist who’s just getting started with photography, understanding the benefits (and drawbacks) of shooting RAW vs. JPEG is vital to your long-term success as a photographer. Choosing the proper format for any photography shoot can set the base for the rest of your workflow, and potentially for your ability to sell the photographs in the future.

Raw vs JPEG: What's the right format for you?
Knowing what’s the right format for you can make or break your photography. Image by Rawpixel.com

In the following article, we’ll be sharing a few quick tips on shooting in RAW format, and how it compares to shooting in JPEG format to help you decide which is right for your photography work.

Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG Explained

What is RAW?

Most professional and consumer cameras (even phones) now offer the ability to capture information in RAW format. In short, RAW is a lossless file created by your camera that captures the maximum amount of information from the camera’s sensor.

What are the benefits of shooting in RAW?

RAW is the format of choice for the professional photographer as it captures the most information, allowing you to tweak and edit the photo in a seemingly unlimited ways. The benefits of RAW include:

  • Higher dynamic range: RAW contains a higher dynamic range and color spectrum in a lossless format, so you can push and pull the exposure and color much further than with a compressed JPEG file.
  • Best for editing: This provides the best base to start your editing, because it retains full resolution and quality. This is critical if you’re shooting for print, or if you want to sell the image down the line to a company looking for top-quality imagery.
  • More colors to work with: Shooting in RAW gives you more colors to work with than shooting in JPEG. For example, a 14-bit RAW file contains trillions of possible color connections. You will capture the colors of an image as close as possible to their truest form.
  • Sell the largest file sizes: Shooting in RAW means that there is enough image information in the file for a client to blow it up to a huge size, such as for printing billboards or any form of advertising. This means your photo will maintain top-quality when being printed or shared in any large-format setting. 
Raw vs JPEG: Benefits of shooting in RAW
RAW format gives you the most flexibility in editing. Image by Gergely Zsolnai

What are the negatives of shooting in RAW?

The ability to capture this much information does come with a few cons. Here are a few things to keep in mind if you choose to shoot in RAW.

  • You need faster, larger (and more expensive) memory cards: If you choose to shoot in RAW, you’ll notice how quickly you start filling up your cards on a shoot. To compensate, you’ll need a large (usually 32GB or higher) and fast memory card, which can be quite expensive.
  • Increased file management: Not only will you be filling out lots of memory cards, but you’ll also start collecting a lot of hard drives. Hard drives are used to back-up your work, and are a must for shooting in RAW. Hard drives generally come in 1TB or higher and will be used to store your images, and possibly back-ups of your images. Chances are, your computer’s memory will not be enough for RAW files. 
  • Processing/editing workflow: Although you’re able to do much more with a RAW file, it will also influence how much time you spend editing. From uploading the images to an editing platform, such as Lightroom, to exporting and uploading to Shutterstock — you will have to create an editing workflow that works for RAW files. 

Check out this article for a showdown of editing in Lightroom or Photoshop

With all that in mind, RAW is ultimately the choice for professional photography. You’ll need professional-level equipment to edit the images, a fast computer, and the time to process the images. However, shooting in RAW gives you the most flexibility to make the image uniquely you, and process it to the maximum ability. So if RAW is the choice for pros, where does that leave JPEGs? 

What is JPEG?

JPEG definitely has its place in the world of photography, if you know when to use it. JPEGs are considered the standard file format for most digital cameras. It’s the default setting for most cameras, at any level. This file format can be easy to work with for beginner photographers, but has some benefits in the professional world as well. 

What are the benefits of shooting in JPEG? 

JPEG is the most universal format for photographers to access their images. Here are a few benefits to shooting in JPEG format.

  • Manageable file sizes: Because images end up being significantly smaller than RAW files, you’ll be saving money on memory cards, hard drives, and computer storage. 
  • Share files easily: Because of smaller file sizes, you can also share files online easier. Whether it’s uploading files to a stock platform or sending them to colleagues or clients, JPEGs are the easiest way to share files with the people you work with.
  • Editing is easy: While you lose the ability to edit files to their maximum ability, you also gain the ability to edit easily. Some cameras even let you send the images directly from the camera to your phone, so you can edit on mobile using a basic app such as VSCO or Snapseed
RAW vs JPEG: Benefits of shooting in JPEG
JPEG file sizes can be easier to manage. Image by Pressmaster

What are the negatives of shooting in JPEG?

There are a few negatives worth mentioning when it comes to shooting in JPEG format. And mostly, they come down to limited information in your image.

  • Recovering image details is nearly impossible: If you underexpose or overexpose your image in JPEG, it’s difficult to bring that information back. This could mean a huge loss in potential if you don’t catch your settings when you’re shooting or you make a mistake setting up your camera for a shoot.
  • Limited ability to sell large images: When customers purchase images, they often ask for a RAW or TIFF file as it’s the largest file that has the most information. If you don’t have access to RAW files, you may risk losing that commission. 
  • Any alterations make your image smaller: Not only is it harder to edit JPEGs, but on each edit, whether it’s color correction or adding sharpness, you begin to lose information and your image gets smaller and smaller. This causes artifacts and lost information within your file, resulting in a lower-quality image in the end. 

So, what’s better – RAW or JPEG?

Each of these formats excels in different circumstances, and there’s a time and place for both to be used to their full advantage. If you have a super quick turnaround for a client who’s not in need of full quality images, or you’re just out shooting for fun and want to maximize your storage and time in editing, then JPEG could work great. For most professional jobs however, RAW is usually necessary and requested by the client to get the most out of the images. If you haven’t yet experimented with shooting RAW, it’s worth a shot! 

Top Image by Songdech Kothmongkol

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