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So, you’ve probably heard the term RAW by now in your photography career, and if you haven’t, I will tell you all about it! After buying a nice, fancy camera, you’re ready to start learning more about photography and making the best decisions for you and your photography!
Switching to RAW is probably one of the best things you can do for your photography. There are still some cons to shooting in RAW that we’ll go over, but over all, RAW is way better than JPEG.
Let’s look at both sides of the equation before we get into the why you should shoot in RAW.
RAW vs. JPEG – what’s the difference?
You’ve probably heard of JPEG before. RAW and JPEG are simply file formats. You can tell your camera to record your pixels for either of those file formats. And for most cameras, you can even tell it to store a copy of each.
Although, I really see no reason in having a JPEG copy of your image at all when you can do everything you want with the RAW file! And it would just take up space on your camera and computer.
JPEG file format
So, when you tell your camera to save your images in the JPEG format, your camera will automatically compress your image into a smaller file size. If you wanted to, you don’t need to do any post-processing on your images, you could print your JPEG format straight out of camera. JPEGs have limited recovery possibilities, so you would really want to make sure you nailed your settings, exposure, everything in camera.
A JPEG file doesn’t allow you much wiggle room in editing.
I once heard that shooting in JPEG is like shooting in AUTO mode for editing. I totally agree!
Pros of shooting in JPEG
- small file size
- no fancy editing software required
- ready to share straight out of camera
Cons of shooting in JPEG
- fewer editing options
- small file size (compressed image)
- limited room for recovering images
There are definitely other cons out there, but just wanted to get a general idea of what it’s like to shoot in JPEG.
RAW file format
So, JPEG is a small file size, RAW is a large file size. And I mean large! It does take up quite a bit more room on your camera and computer. But, to be honest, it is so worth it to shoot in RAW. We’ll get into the reasons why you should shoot in RAW later, but for now let’s just discuss a few things.
RAW file is exactly what it sounds like – it’s a RAW file format that allows you to post-process it however you like. The contents of your image are completely RAW. You will be required to edit your images straight out of camera, they won’t be print-ready. However, you will have a lot more wiggle room when correcting anything you might have missed in camera (we’ll go over this below).
Pros of shooting in RAW
- more room for recovering data
- wider range of colors and data recorded
- images can be printed larger with better quality
Cons of shooting in RAW
- images require post-processing
- need special software to process images (Lightroom, Photoshop, etc)
- files are larger and take up more space
Now that we’ve reviewed each side, let’s talk about why RAW is a whole lot better than JPEG and you should switch to it right away! I really see no reason to shoot in JPEG (except for maybe the fact that you don’t have software that can process a RAW photo). All other reasons should be pointing you towards RAW and I’ll tell you why!!!
4 reasons why you should shoot in RAW
I think especially when you are starting out, you should be shooting in RAW. Why? Because if you make any type of mistake in camera (which, let’s be honest, you probably will! Learning manual is tough but rewarding stuff!) you will want that extra bit of post processing wiggle room!!! Trust me.
So, without further ado (I’ve always wanted to say that), let’s talk about why you should shoot in RAW!
1. easily correct underexposed or overexposed images
I definitely recommend trying to get exposure correct in camera as best as you can. That is the best practice and you shouldn’t lean on shooting in RAW to make mistakes in camera.
But, we’re only human, not perfect, so you will make mistakes in camera. Maybe you need to quickly take a picture and you forgot to check your settings. It happens. I actually do it all the time. Sometimes while in a session, your lighting can change so quickly and you might not notice that you need to adjust your settings along with the light. It happens! RAW allows you wiggle room to adjust exposure post-processing.
If you were shooting in JPEG, it would allow you very little wiggle room. This is because JPEG is a much smaller file, and therefore records a lot less than a RAW would. RAW formats are huge. They record a lot of color and detail data that you can manipulate the way you want. In a RAW format, you’ll be able to recover any blown highlights (to a degree, some highlights might be too blown to recover) and any clipped shadows that might occur due to incorrect exposure.
I still recommend you getting it right in camera, though. RAW is a great way to ‘save’ your image, but you don’t want to be doing that every time. And there are some (maybe a lot) of occasions where you won’t be able to recover the data you’re wanting. So, always strive to get it right in camera!
2. better overall quality
If you’ve been shooting in JPEG and you try to blow your image up really big to hang on the wall, you might notice some pixelation and some poor quality images. This is because JPEG doesn’t store as much pixels as RAW images do.
Basically what shooting JPEG does, is it takes that RAW image format and post-processes it for you and compresses it for you as well. Leaving you with little data to work with. It does all of the hard work for you – it applies contrast, sharpening, noise reduction, saturation, etc. to your image already. When you are in control of what happens to your images, you are in a much better state and your images will be better quality! You can manipulate your images to help with clipped shadows and blown highlights. You can make your images look exactly how you want without losing any data!
Then when you export your images to print, your print quality will be a lot higher and your resulting printed image will look a whole heck of a lot better!
3. easily correct white balance
I think for me, I am constantly forgetting to change my white balance settings. And if you didn’t know already, having incorrect white balance can affect your exposure and also how much grain is in your photo. So, it’s really important to get white balance correct in camera because you don’t want to effect your exposure.
That being said, RAW file formats are a lot more forgiving than JPEG when it comes to your white balance being off. It won’t mess up your exposure (of course, unless you are WAY off). And it won’t add any grain to your images if you need to adjust or tweak your white balance.
When you shoot in JPEG, the white balance you set in camera will be it’s official white balance. You could try to tweak it, but it honestly makes your image look worse! So if you are shooting in JPEG you HAVE to make sure you get white balance correct in camera, no matter what!
White balance is super important to your style, to your images, to the quality of your images. So, it makes sense to pick the file format that would give you the highest range of changing it!
4. editing flexibility
Now, I did put this as a con for RAW, but I really don’t see it as a con since I have Lightroom anyways. Haha! When shooting in RAW, you have to edit your images. They are raw, un-processed images that need some direction. Which is a good thing for you! You can make your images look the way you want because of this. You have so much flexibility with editing because of shooting in RAW.
You can also edit your RAW images by using non-destructive editing. Basically, non-destructive editing allows you to edit your photos without damaging them at all. Which is great, here’s some more information on non-destructive editing if you’re interested.
Lightroom is actually a non-destructive editing software, even for JPEGs, which is one advantage of editing in Lightroom.
The biggest downside to shooting in RAW is probably the file size. It does take up a lot of space on your camera and computer. If you are wanting to capture action shots (let’s say a sporting event) it might be more beneficial to you to capture those images in JPEG instead of RAW. The JPEG files will be a lot smaller and you can snap a lot of photos really quickly so you won’t miss any of the action!
But other than that, all other scenarios would be best captured in RAW format.
Alyssa (sometimes going by Aly) is a hobbyist photographer who loves to teach. Her love of photography started before she ever had any kids. Now a mom of two, she loves to photograph her kids, flowers, and landscape. She specializes in capturing her everyday life. She loves to teach fellow beginner photographers how to take control of their cameras and get the images they dream about getting.