Raw vs JPEG
Why Shoot Raw? Why not shoot JPEG? These are the questions that have divided photographers for many years now. On the one hand, if you are a pro, you got your editors who want images as soon as possible while many amateurs don’t want to do all the post-processing of editing Raw files. Is it difficult to edit Raw files? Does it take a lot of time? I get asked all these questions all the time. So let’s look at these questions one by one and I will highlight why you should be shooting RAW. Also please note that all the photos for this post were shot at one show where I set my camera to show in both RAW and JPEG for that evening.
Is it difficult to edit raw files? To be honest, it is pretty easy and once you have the experience, you can edit files very quickly. I do most of my edits on photos in under 30 seconds per image. But that is with a lot of practice. Almost all my editing is done in Lightroom and I will seldom go into Photoshop when editing. I still see Photoshop primary for image manipulation, while Lightroom is for photo editing. As long as you use an application like Lightroom for your editing, you should be able to edit raw photos quickly. So why do so many people hating editing their photos? The simple answer is that it is not exciting. Pushing the button on the camera is exciting, but sitting in front of your computer is boring. So a lot of amateurs just want the sexy part of photography, take a photo, upload it to the internet and then their job is done.
Those kinds of amateurs don’t realize that it is in post-processing your images that you develop your photographic style. Just taking a photo, is only half the job. In the old days, photographers would spend hours in the darkroom editing their shots, and today it should be no different. Just because the medium has changed, does not mean that the method has changed. Every single photo that I post for work, is shot in Raw and edited.
Let’s look at some examples of why you want to shoot Raw over JPEG.
The first example is to do with modifying the image. Any photo that is saved in JPEG, is pretty much set like that. It is like a cake, once the cake is baked, you got to eat it. If you don’t like the taste of it, well there’s nothing you can do. Either keep it or throw it away. Shooting Raw is like having the recipe and raw ingredients for the cake and you can make final changes to it before you bake the cake. You can change so much in a raw file, unlike a jpeg. You can change the white balance, changing the shadow details, control the noise levels and the sharpness in the photo. When you shoot in JPEG in your camera, the camera tries its best to guess at the correct settings but it almost always gets it wrong. If you look at the photos that I have posted, I have no added or taken away anything in the frame that would not be possible to do in camera, if you had enough time to get the setting perfect. Raw files give you the ability to change your camera setting slightly after the photo was taken. And that accept makes raw files absolutely incredible.
In all the samples that I am showing in this blog post, there are two photos. The first photo will always be the JPEG image that the camera made and the second image will be the edited raw file. Pay attention to the bottom images, look at the white balance, the shadows, the noise, and the sharpness. You can push your raw files so much more than a jpeg. Most jpegs, as you edit them, you will lose quality. Each time you save a JPEG, the quality will go down slightly. Raw files do not lose quality if you edit them or even save them. I personally would not recommend saving any edits you make onto a raw file though. You want the raw file to remain original so you can do future edits on it when the editing software improves.
The second reason why you want to shoot RAW is when you are shooting high ISO. Most cameras will use their own High ISO filters for JPEGS and they tend to soften everything, While I can control the Noise reduction myself in editing and control what happens to the noise and edit a lot of it out without making the photo very soft. The two photos below are shoot at ISO 5000, look how soft the image looks in the JPEG. But in my edit of the raw file, it is sharp. Look at the drummer’s hair and his area around his eyes and mouth. You always want to have the final say in your image. Technology is the tool that we use to create with, but it should not be the creator. A photographer should always be the creator, it is your vision, not some software routines decision of what is good for you.
The last reason that I think that shoot RAW is very important is to do with future proofing. The software keeps getting better, and if you have your RAW files, you can go back and re-edit your images in the future and get even better results than you can currently get. If you look at RAW files editing in Lightroom 2 and compare them to Lightroom 6 or CC, you will see a huge increase in image quality. With JPEG, what you see is what you get. Nothing can improve them.
if RAW is so good, why are professionals under so much pressure to shoot JPEG lately? A lot of new agencies are switching to JPEG only policies and many pros are not too happy with this. Time is money and photos lose their value very quickly. Most news agencies want images as soon as possible. A 5-hour turnaround on images is too slow. Most agencies want images to go live as soon as possible. They see a bad image of an event that goes live within a few seconds of an event, as much more valuable than a great image that is 5 hours late. This puts pros in a difficult situation as photos have really become a disposable media now. I have had to shoot like this recently as well but I have been cheating the system. I still shoot raw but I transfer the raw files onto my mobile phone and edit a few quickly on my phone and send them to my editor. That way I still keep my style in the photo but I manage to keep my editors happy as well. I will be doing an article soon on editing photos on your phone and delivering them quickly to your editor as it is something new in photography and something that all working pros will have to adapt into their workflow to survive.
On a side note, many mobile photos are starting to offer raw capabilities now. I always shoot in the highest quality possible. But if it is a snapshot of my pets or my girlfriend, then I may shoot in jpeg so I can post the image to social media and then delete the file. But any image that I plan to save, I will continue to shoot it in the high quality possible which is up till now, RAW.