What are the advantages of photographing in RAW versus JPEG?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is today’s question.

Question: What are the advantages of photographing in RAW versus JPEG?

Today's answer is from David Topping: If you’re already a RAW shooter, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of using this format. If you’re using the JPEG format, you might want to look at some of the advantages that RAW offers to determine if it’s right for you.

Shooting in RAW produces a large, uncompressed file that contains all the data captured by your camera’s sensor. This file does require processing to produce a presentable image, but you are in complete control of this process and you have significant latitude in making adjustments.

In contrast, with JPEG files you are allowing your camera to process the image, compress the file, and discard any unused data; the results can be pleasing, but your ability to make subsequent adjustments to the processed image is limited. You will also find that computer-based editing programs, such as Photoshop or Lightroom, produce higher-quality images than those processed by your camera.

RAW files let you easily adjust white balance because all the colour data still exists in the file. Even if you select your camera’s most appropriate white balance setting for the scene, you may still need to refine it in processing to get the most pleasing results.

While it’s always best to get the exposure right in the camera, that’s not always possible. Because RAW files still contain all the information captured by your camera’s sensor, they allow you to correct or refine the exposure without compromising image quality (within obvious parameters, of course).

RAW files contain much more colour data than JPEG files, which allows tremendous flexibility when editing colours in your images.

The higher dynamic range in a RAW file means you have greater ability to pull details from shadows and highlights, something that is particularly useful in landscape and nature photography.

Sometimes the smaller file size and convenience of in-camera processing offered by JPEG files makes this format a good choice. And there is certainly enough information in JPEG files to make small adjustments, if necessary. But the significant advantages of photographing in RAW make this powerful format something to consider if you’re not already using it.



Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com