Beginners' guide to shooting Raw or Jpeg
Updated: Jul 20
This tip is mainly for users of DSLR or Mirrorless cameras (rather than camera phones), however it is worth noting that many camera phones have a 'Pro' mode which allows you to shoot a photo in Raw format for later editing, Even if your phone doesn't have a Raw option, there are Apps that you can use which will allow you to capture Raw files. For what this actually means, and why you might want to capture a Raw photo, please read on!
What is Raw format?
Quite simply, Raw format is a file that contains all of the information that your camera captures when you press the shutter. Each manufacturer tends to have their own Raw file format. E.g. Canon cameras produce .CR (Camera Raw) files.
What is Jpeg format?
Jpeg format is a universally recognised, compressed file format that can be widely displayed on websites, social media, or via email and other messaging apps.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting photos as Jpegs?
The main advantage of Jpegs is that they are much smaller files than Raw files.
The second advantage (although it can also be seen as a disadvantage!) is that Jpegs will have some basic corrections applied to make them immediately usable. These corrections depend on the camera, and the settings you have chosen, but generally include a range of changes to boost colours and contrast to make images more visually pleasing.
The main disadvantage of shooting photos as Jpegs is that lots of data is thrown away when your camera converts the raw data from your camera into a Jpeg. This is done to reduce the file size, but this does make the photo more difficult to edit later. For example, the Jpeg conversion often involves throwing away data in shadow areas; this means that if you want to try and lighten these areas in post processing later, the data is no longer there.
A second disadvantage of shooting Jpegs, is that you lose a lot of control over the look and feel of the final photos. Although some changes can be made later using post processing software, some changes do not work as well on Jpegs than on Raw files (e.g. changing the colour temperature).
What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting photos in Raw format?
Raw format captures all of the data from your camera, including all of the colours and tones captured. The main advantage of this is that it gives you much more scope to edit the photo e.g. lightening shadows and applying your own colour and tone corrections.
The main disadvantage is that Raw format photos can be very large (e.g. uncompressed Raw files on my current Sony camera are over 100MB each!).
A further disadvantage of Raw is that these files cannot be immediately used, e.g. on websites, social media or via email and messaging apps. They must first be processed and converted to a Jpeg before they can be displayed.
How do I choose whether to shoot Raw or jpeg?
If you don't intend doing much in the way of post processing, happy with the look and feel of the Jpeg photos that your camera produces, or need to be able to use photos immediately (e.g. on social media) then it probably makes sense to just shoot Jpeg formal.
If you want to have more control over the look and feel of your images, and don't need to be able to immediately use the images on social media, and happy using post processing software to edit your images, then it might be worth setting your camera to keep the Raw files (there is normally a camera setting where you can specify).
If you want to have images available for immediate use, but want the Raw files available just in case, then you can normally set your camera to keep BOTH files for each photo, but bear in mind that this will fill your memory card a lot quicker!
Want to learn how to take photos like a pro?
If you want to learn more, why not consider one of my one-to-one courses, or if you're not local to Devon, one of my highly rated weekend residential workshops for beginner photographers or for intermediate photographers?