One of the most effective ways to land new photography clients is to create an eye-catching online photography portfolio filled with all your best work. But how do you know which format will help you land the perfect shots? That’s right—it’s time to delve into the shooting RAW versus JPEG debate. We’ll go over the benefits of RAW vs. JPEG so you can choose the best option for you, allowing you to curate your portfolio with amazing shots every time.
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The RAW vs. JPEG
The RAW vs. JPEG conversation is one of those silly controversial things that shouldn’t be controversial. It’s like those other arguments in photography about the “best” camera and is full-frame better than APS-C.
The only truth is that there is no absolute best, only what’s best for you.
Like many of my other posts, I’ll try to keep this more of a big-picture philosophical conversation, absent of bit depth numbers, dynamic range & file size comparisons, and so on. Take these into consideration, and then decide for yourself if you should shoot in RAW, JPEG, or both while travelling the world.
What’s the difference between RAW & JPEG?
In the most basic photographic terms, RAW is the negative, and JPEG is the print. Most cameras can record both.
A RAW file is a record of the light that hit the sensor, with minimal processing, much like film records the light hitting it. RAW files require processing just like a film negative.
A JPEG is an output, a final product after processing has been applied. Corrections for sharpness, contrast, colour, and toning have already been made. It’s what the photographer would walk out of the darkroom with.
Which is better, RAW or JPEG?
There is no better, only better for you.
But consider this. You walk out of the darkroom with a print and discard the negative. The following year, your taste changes, and you want to adjust the colour toning. All you have is the print, so you accommodate the colour directly on the image. The following year you want to decrease the contrast, so you try to lighten the shadows and darken the highlights, but you’ve already lost what exists in the shadows, so brightening it won’t reveal more.
Keep making changes like this year after year, and eventually, you’re left with a muddy mess. It’s like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a fax of a photocopy.
Wouldn’t it be better if you could go back to the original negative and make those changes directly to it?
Is Shooting RAW or JPEG better for you?
If you ask a photographer, “do you shoot RAW or JPEG?” be prepared for a very passionate answer, as the different file formats provide a very polarizing split between photographers. Just because people get very passionate about their choice doesn’t mean that there’s only one correct answer. Like most other topics in photography, each person has circumstances that influence choices. Whether you should shoot RAW or JPEG (or both) can depend on several factors.
Let’s take a look at what JPEG and RAW files are before discussing why each one should be used. JPEGs are a standardized format designed to be a smaller file size that can be read by all computers, smartphones, tablets, and other devices without specialized software. This makes it very easy to share, but it also comes with some downsides:
Much of the information encoded in a JPEG is baked-in, meaning that any edits done to the file are destructive, and there will be a slight loss in quality.
Image quality options with a star next to them use compression to ensure maximum quality; the files’ size varies with the scene. Options without a star use a type of compression designed to produce smaller files; files tend to be roughly the same size regardless of the location recorded. You can change the compression settings of a JPEG by selecting whether you want it to give priority to image quality or file size in the camera.
A RAW photo, on the other hand, contains all the image information captured by the camera’s sensor, along with all the metadata (the camera’s identification and its settings, the lens used, and much more). Due to all of that extra data, the file size is much larger than a JPEG, and because the data is in a “raw” form, specific photo-centric software is required to edit the photo. That means more time will be spent on post-production since you must edit your files, but it also means you can make many different edits without any loss in quality, thanks to the non-destructive nature of the file.
What software can you use to edit the RAW files? You can either use Nikon’s free Capture NX-D software which can see and keep all the same settings that you have set in the camera (such as Active D-Lighting, Picture Control, Vignette Control), or you can use the third-party software, keeping in mind that third-party software cannot read much of the camera settings, giving you a little bit more work to do on your photos since you’re starting from scratch.
A JPEG is smaller and can be shared right out of the camera, while a RAW file is much larger and must be edited before it can be shared. That doesn’t sound like a hard choice; the JPEG says much easier to deal with. While that’s true from an “ease-of-use” standpoint, more serious photographers who want greater editing flexibility will find a RAW file is worth the extra editing time.
Let’s look at a little bit of math to explain a few ways why you can achieve higher overall quality with a RAW file thanks to the technical reason—bit depth. A JPEG is an 8-bit file, which means each channel (red, green, and blue) in a pixel can record up to 256 levels of luminosity. By multiplying each channel together (256 x 256 x 256), you get a theoretical maximum colour depth of 16,777,216. This means that an 8-bit file can show up to 16.78 million colour tones at each pixel.
On higher-end Nikon cameras, you can select whether you want the RAW file to be recorded either as a 12- or 14-bit file, which will give you an incredible 1.07 billion or 68.68 billion possible colour tones, respectively.
Why and When to shoot at the highest 14-bit quality is a topic for another article. Still, the vital thing to take away from these numbers is not that more colours are possible when shooting at a higher bit-depth, but that tonal gradation (the steps in between colours) is much more nuanced.
Ok, so how does all this math affect your final image? Have you ever seen a picture of a blue sky with visible banding?
This is called posterization, and the chances are that the original photo was an 8-bit JPEG. It was heavily edited, so the lack of tonal range (yes, I know, it sounds strange saying that 16 million is a tiny tonal range) has caused the banding. If the photo were taken as a RAW file, the more extensive tonal gradation would mean a much smoother colour transition in the sky.
On top of more colour tones being recorded, one of the main benefits of a more significant bit depth is the retention of a more extensive dynamic range, which can significantly affect how much latitude you have when editing your photos. If you always get the exposure perfect, then a more considerable margin may not be of many benefits to you. Still, if you want to rescue a poorly exposed photo, or if you frequently play with the highlight and shadow regions of your photos, then it could be precious.
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The Benefits of Shooting JPEGs
JPEGs are considered the standard file format in the digital photography world. JPEG mode is the default setting for many digital cameras and is likely what your digital camera was set to when you first took it out of the box. Many new photographers will start by shooting JPEGs instead of RAW to get a better sense of their camera, but this file format can be beneficial for seasoned photographers.
A few benefits of shooting JPEG over RAW images include:
Image Processing is Done For You
One of the most significant advantages of shooting JPEGs is that your digital camera completes all the image processing. In JPEG mode, you find your subject, press “capture,” and your camera does the rest of the work. The camera applies settings like white balance, colour saturation, sharpening, tone curve, and colour space to create the final image. This means you don’t have to spend any time processing the image yourself once it’s been saved to your memory card.
This benefit can be huge for new photographers who are still figuring out how to white balance, sharpen, and light their subjects. Beginner photographers can shoot tons of different photos, from landscapes to wedding shots, and create intense pictures without worrying about things’ processing.
The processed nature of JPEGs also gives seasoned photographers the option of taking images more quickly and consistently. If you’re a photographer working year-round on different projects, you may not have the time or energy to process thousands of photos. Extra processing time, and extensive file back-ups, can also end up costing you and your clients.
Photographers who shoot a lot also usually have a good handle on exposing an image and using their camera and won’t need to bother with post-processing their pictures, making shooting JPEGs ideal. Create lasting memories through your Yarra Valley wedding photography that will be cherished forever.
A Smaller File Size
When you’re debating between RAW vs. JPEG, another thing to consider is file size. JPEGs are stored as compressed files. This means each JPEG has a tiny file size and won’t eat up all the storage on your memory card. The smaller file size is critical if you’re on a long shot and don’t want to keep having to swap out your camera’s memory card because it’s filling up too fast. If you are shooting at a busy event or a fast-paced fashion shoot, you may not have time to change your camera’s memory card, so JPEGs would be the way to go.
Smaller file size also gives you the flexibility to take a lot of images at once on one memory card. Buying memory cards can add up, especially if you’ve already spent significant coins on your digital camera, so that the smaller JPEGs may be the thriftier option.
Easily Shareable for Quick Posting
Because your digital camera processes jPEGs, you can share them instantly on your social media accounts, whether it’s adding a new post to your Instagram or a fresh profile picture to your Facebook business page. JPEGs are also easy to post on your online photography portfolio right away to boost your site and help you land clients. The small file size of JPEGs means a short upload time so that you can publish your photos online in mere minutes. (If you’re often updating your portfolio on the go, make sure to go with a website builder with mobile app functionality.)
If you plan to print your photos and wonder, “RAW or JPEG?”, know that shooting JPEGs means you can easily print them off and frame them or mail them out to friends as gifts. Sharing, posting, and printing your photos is much quicker if you shoot JPEGs.
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The Drawbacks of Shooting JPEGs
While JPEGs can be beneficial to new and seasoned photographers, they do have a few drawbacks, including:
Loss of Detail
When your camera compresses an image into a JPEG, the image ends up with minor detail. JPEGs can have a lossy quality, meaning the image may appear grainy, flat, or pixelated. The loss of detail tends to be more evident if you shoot a highly detailed shot or a close-up.
Some photographers find the loss of detail in JPEGs off-putting, especially as, once an image is formatted as a JPEG, it cannot be edited or re-processed to have a more detailed quality.
Fewer Color Options
When it comes to RAW vs. JPEG, there are also colour considerations. JPEGs are 8-bit, which means they have a limited range of colours and tones. Your camera can capture trillions of possible colours, but when it converts an image into a JPEG, most of these colours are discarded and will not appear in the final image. So, for example, a colourful landscape may end up looking much less bold when you shoot in JPEG.
Lower Dynamic Range
In photography, dynamic range is the difference between the lightest and darkest tones in an image. When you shoot JPEGs, the image will have a lower dynamic range, meaning there may be areas with a high level of light tones (overexposed) or a high level of dark tones (underexposed). There may also be shadows in certain spots that obscure the image, making it difficult to see.
Again, because you cannot re-process JPEGs, you cannot address issues like overexposure or underexposure in the final image if they show up.
The Advantages of Shooting RAW
Now, let’s look at the other side of the RAW vs. JPEG debate: RAW files. Unlike a JPEG file, the RAW format is uncompressed and is not an image file, per se. RAW files are a collection of data from your camera’s sensor saved on your camera. Software like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Lightroom allows you to view the data like images and edit the RAW files.
Though the standard format on digital cameras is a JPEG file, most professional photographers prefer to shoot in RAW. There are several advantages to shooting RAW images over JPEG, including:
High-Quality Image Files
Perhaps the most significant benefit to shooting RAW format is that your camera captures all the data it receives from the camera’s sensor. This means that no details from the image are removed or discarded (often with JPEGs). With the RAW format, your camera collects everything it can see and stores it to process these details yourself. This means you have high-quality image files to work with during processing and can create the best image possible.
Here’s the brightness breakdown of a RAW image vs. JPEG: a JPEG file records 256 levels of brightness, while a RAW file records a whopping 4,096 to 16,384 levels of brightness. Having a higher brightness level will make the tones in your images appear smoother. It will also make it easier for you to adjust the image’s brightness during processing, giving you more techniques to play when editing the image. You can also change and tweak the photo without affecting its quality.
Images with high brightness levels also prevent posterization from cropping up. Posterization occurs when a long band of colour appears in your pictures, obscuring the vision. This often happens when you shoot a bright sky or against a colourful backdrop and reduce the image’s quality. Check out our range of wedding photography for your wedding day.
More Colors in Your Images
The RAW format contains many more colours than JPEG files: 68 billion more colours, to be exact! A 12-bit RAW image includes thousands of red, green, and blue shades, while a 14-bit RAW file contains trillions of possible colours. Shooting RAW ensures you capture as many colours in an image as possible, creating photos with a higher colour range and colour depth.
This is why a brightly coloured landscape or a vibrant fashion scene with a range of shades and tones will likely turn out better if you shoot in RAW vs. JPEG.
Higher Dynamic Range
Have you worried about overexposed or underexposed images? RAW photography is very forgiving if you end up having to correct the light in a snap. These files have a very high dynamic range to capture a lot of lights and shadows. Having all of this data in the image will make it easier for you to adjust over or underexposed images during editing.
Shooting in RAW vs. JPEG may make sense if you tend to overexpose or underexpose an image. It may also come in handy if you are shooting in an environment where you can’t always control how much or how little light is in the image.
Process and Edit Files to Your Standards
The most powerful way you can use the RAW format is after you’re done shooting during the editing process. If you’re trying to choose between shooting RAW vs. JPEG, remember that RAW files were designed to be processed to suit the photographer’s tastes. This capability gives you immense freedom to adjust images as you see fit, especially if they didn’t turn out exactly as you hoped.
Though the ease of a processed JPEG is excellent, your brain is (often) more sophisticated than your camera and working in the RAW format gives you complete artistic control. Settings like white balance, exposure, and brightness can all be changed in the post with a few clicks of your mouse in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom. If you accidentally use the wrong setting for an image, change it in Photoshop by adjusting the RAW file, and no one (or client) has to be the wiser.
You can also use sharpening tools in Photoshop or Lightroom that are more powerful than your camera tools. An image that was shot too soft or had too much noise is easily sharpened with these tools, resulting in photos that look truly awesome shared on your photography website.
Nervous about editing RAW files? The beauty of editing RAW files is that it is non-destructive. When you open a RAW image (vs. JPEG) in a program like Photoshop or Lightroom, you’ll edit it and save it as a TIFF or JPEG. This way, you can always access the RAW file or raw data at any time, then re-edit or adjust as needed, without losing the file’s high quality. This makes the editing process less stressful and gives you the option of editing the same RAW file differently, depending on your client’s intent and needs.
The Limits of the RAW Format
Like JPEGs, RAW files do have a few limitations. Before you opt for shooting RAW instead of JPEG, it’s worth considering a few drawbacks of this format.
A Larger File Size
Collecting all the data your camera can see takes up a significant amount of space. Because RAW files are not compressed, they take up more memory on your camera. This means your camera buffer will fill up much faster when you shoot RAW, which can cause the camera’s frame rate to drop and limit how many images you can fit on one memory card. Having to swap out your memory card during a busy event or hectic shoot can be annoying, and you will need to think ahead by packing extra memory so it’s on hand.
Shooting in RAW also requires more storage on your computer, with larger hard drives and better computer specs, as processing RAW files can be more resource-intensive on your computer. This may be costly for some photographers, as computer storage, graphic, and RAM updates can add up.
Image Processing is Required
RAW vs. JPEG-wise, RAW files give you more freedom to adjust and edit images. But processing an image yourself does take a significant amount of time, especially if you are working idea by image and are new to photo editing. Shooting RAW vs. JPEG means you will have to set aside time after a project to upload the photos to editing software and tweak them so they look their best.
Image processing can be incredibly stressful if you are working up against a tight deadline for a client. If you go with the RAW format for big projects, it could help create a workflow using Google Apps or other organizing programs that make it easier for you to process all of your photographs on time. Some photographers are turned off by the time-consuming nature of processing RAW files into beautiful, finished images. (Although the more you edit your pictures, the faster your process becomes!)
Software Compatibility is a Must
Unlike JPEGs, RAW files are not designed to work across different manufacturers. If you have a Canon digital camera and Canon RAW files, you cannot use Nikon software to open it. Always check that the same manufacturer designs the software you are using to open and edit RAW files as your digital camera, i.e., Canon software for Canon RAW files. If you have a newer digital camera, you may need to wait a bit for software companies to update their software so you can open RAW files using their platform.
However, Adobe has recently developed an open-source RAW format called DNG (Digital Negative). You can use Lightroom to convert RAW files into open-source DNG files. It’s an extra step, sure, but it will ensure your files are readable, and you can access them as needed.
Many camera manufacturers are starting to offer an option to shoot in DNG format. Soon, this open-source format will likely be the go-to for all manufacturers moving forward, making it that much easier for you to access your RAW files.
RAW vs. JPEG: So, Which One is Better For You?
RAW or JPEG. Two options. Two sets of pros and cons. Let’s do a quick final review of the benefits (and annoyances) of shooting RAW vs. JPEG:
Pick JPEG for Quick and Easy Shots
JPEGs are your BFF if you take photos casually or on the fly (say, at a family gathering or a party with friends). JPEGs give you the flexibility to quickly take a lot of images and share them right away; no extra processing time is required.
JPEGs are also your go-to if you need a quick profile picture for social media or want to capture a special moment for the ‘gram. You may even opt for JPEGs if you are shooting a ton of images in a fast-paced environment like a sports game or a fashion show, and you feel confident enough to know your exposure, letting your camera do the rest of the work for you.
Go RAW for Detailed, Stylized Shoots
The RAW format is ideal if you are shooting with the intent of editing the images later. Shots where you are trying to capture a lot of detail or colour, and images where you want to tweak light and shadow, should be shot in RAW. Go for RAW if you are shooting photos for your photography portfolio that you want to spend a lot of time on, adjusting the white balance, colour, and tone until they are just right. RAW may also be ideal for high-fashion, commercial, and creative work where you want the images to have a uniform vision or style that pops with Photoshop or Lightroom tools.
Match Your Format with Your Needs
As a photographer, you need a format that will work with your overall goal as a creator. Focus on how you plan to use your shots and choose a design that fits your needs. This may mean using RAW and JPEG file formats, depending on what you are shooting and how you’d like your images to look. Dip into either form as needed and shoot smart so you end up with great shots every time. For inspiration and guidance, check out your favourite photographers’ online photography portfolios to see how they shoot and format their work, from travel and film to food and black and white.
Don’t Forget to Add Those Shots to Your Portfolio!
Whether you go for RAW or JPEG, make sure to upload your best RAW and JPEG shots into your online photography portfolio. Don’t have one yet? Building an online portfolio website is easy with the right website builder. Look for an online portfolio with fresh, modern templates to show off your amazing shots and a built-in online store if you want to sell prints. A good website builder will make it easy for you to adjust features on your site with just a few clicks, no coding required, so that you can upload beautiful images in RAW or JPEG in a matter of minutes. If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.