Whether you are a new photographer or are just curious why some photographers choose to shoot in RAW vs. JPEG, we believe it’s important to educate yourself on the pros and cons of each. These two image formats are not created equal, and both come with associated inconveniences, risks, and benefits.
With this in mind, we asked our online community of Mastin Labs users to answer the following question:
Why do you choose to shoot in RAW or JPEG?
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this article. Based on the feedback, we compiled this blog highlighting some pros and cons of shooting in RAW and JPEG.
In short, RAW and JPEG refer to the format in which your images are stored. RAW files capture all the data from your camera sensor and save it for a wide range of adjustment opportunities post-processing, JPEG files save a web-optimized and compressed (smaller) file that saves fewer photo data and provides fewer editing options in post.
When we polled our community, we weren’t surprised to be met with controversy. The best argument for shooting in JPEG is that it results in smaller images that are easier to send and share online. The primary case for shooting in RAW is that it allows a photographer far more control over editing an image. While we could pretend like the argument was evenly split, the reality is that the case for shooting in RAW is much stronger, especially for professional photographers. Before delving into the reasons why shooting in RAW is preferred, we’ll first explain why (and when) some photographers choose to shoot in JPEG.
As we mentioned above, JPEGs are smaller compressed files that are optimized for immediate sharing and sending. This file type is ideal for posting on social media or quickly emailing images to a friend, this is because JPEGs don’t require special software or advanced sharing programs for processing. In addition, JPEGS are smaller files that take up less room on a memory card, computer, SD card, or other storage device.
With that in mind, who uses JPEG?
News and Photojournalists Use Jpegs
When we posed this question online, Mastin Labs user and community member, Ragi Boctor made a strong point; “A lot of professional news and photojournalists shoot in JPEG for the speed and convenience of uploading and sending images quickly.” He drove his point home, “If you get paid to be the first to have the shot, you want to be fast, and the smaller file size and lack of “major” editing needed in those professions make JPEG the clear choice.”
Well said, sir!
Bloggers and Social Media Influencers Shoot in Jpeg
JPEG files expedite the workflow of people that take photos primarily for the purpose of sharing them online. People who post on a daily basis, or simply want to share images with family and friends appreciate the simplicity of handling JPEG files.
Mobile Only Photographers
Many phones store your mobile images as JPEG. For mobile photographers, be they travel photographers or casual hobbyists, JPEG files are most convenient readily available. Recently, there are some phone models/apps that offer RAW image storage.
(some) Professional photographers (hear us out…)
Fellow Mastin Labs user and photographer, Lucas Mobley questioned the dichotomy saying, “Why choose, I shoot both!” He refers to his JPEG files as backup, and says they’re most convenient for “sending a favorite image or two to clients as a sneak peek instantly.” He goes on to point out that he uses a Fuji camera, so he has the ability to apply a classic film look in-camera and send the client a polished JPEG.
RAW files are, in essence, “digital negatives” meaning they capture and preserve all the data from the camera sensor, giving you all the information you need to adjust an image and perfect it in post-processing.
The term, “get the photo right in-camera” is idealistic, but not always realistic.
Boctor relays a personal story from a time when he shot for a photographer that refused to shoot RAW. He shares, “One particular wedding had crazy purple uplights everywhere […] Due to the fast paced environment of weddings, the lighting isn’t going to be perfect in every shot. So there were hundreds of images where the couple looked purple and there was nothing that could be done to adjust it. JPEG just didn’t have that information. RAW, on the other hand, gives you a fighting chance to change things that might not have been in your control while shooting. It gives you a bit of a safety net.”
As a wedding photographer or any other kind of photographer that must shoot in variable lighting scenarios, it’s nearly impossible to get every shot right (and consistent) in-camera. When creating a coherent and gorgeous photo gallery is important, it’s necessary to shoot in RAW.
Mastin Labs user, Ashlie Neumeier shares her story, “I only shot JPEG up until about two weeks ago […] RAW has simply changed. My. Photography. Life. I see a quality difference straight out of camera, and JPEG doesn’t hold a candle to it. I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner!”
RAW gives you a wide dynamic range and color tonality, allowing you to make adjustments in editing software without affecting parts of the image that you want to preserve as shot. Below are a few of the benefits of shooting in RAW.
Raw Offers Better White Balance
For still photos in a studio or landscape shots outdoors, finding the perfect white balance is not a big hurdle, but for wedding photographers, street photographers, and travel photographers, white balance can be a challenge. White balance can be easily altered in post when an image is shot in RAW.
Raw Offers More Dynamic Range
When shooting in RAW, details are saved that wouldn’t be visible or retrievable in a JPEG file. Wide dynamic range allows you to salvage details after an image has been taken. For example, you can restore details in the shadows or highlights independently of one another (without risking blow-outs, or muddy shadows).
Most Presets Are Optimized for Raw Files
Mastin Labs presets, and most other Lightroom presets are optimized for RAW photos. When asked if it’s possible to edit JPEG files using Mastin Labs presets, Mastin Labs user, Amanda Wohlfelder relays her experience with a second shooter who shot a wedding in JPEG. She admits, “It was so much harder to achieve the look I normally get with my RAW files when using them on her JPEGs.” Mastin Labs user, Kristi McMurry Woody echoes her saying, “It works but it doesn’t actually match the film it’s supposed to [because they’re made] to work with RAW.” If you plan to use presets on your photos, you have the best chance of achieving the look you desire if you shoot in RAW.
Raw Can Be A Lifesaver
Yes, you should always try to get your images right in-camera, but when you fail, shooting in RAW gives you a second chance to salvage your images. You can’t re live a client’s wedding day, a family reunion, or the birth of a baby. Shooting in RAW gives you room to make (and fix) mistakes when taking once-in-a-lifetime photos.
Raw Allows for Non-destructive Editing
Editing a RAW file, unlike a JPEG file, is non-destructive. This means that after you edit a photo, you can always retrieve your original file; you can never permanently alter or destroy your photo. With RAW files, you will also maintain your original photo quality, giving you the opportunity to make large photo prints.
Why Shoot in Raw
Shooting RAW makes the most sense when shooting in challenging lighting conditions, delivering valuable images to a client, taking images for high-quality print, or anytime you want full control over the final product. JPEGs also have plenty of use cases and benefits; they’re great as a small file size backup, taking casual, everyday photos, quickly sharing a preview of a photo shoot with a client, or expediting your workflow.
Although the pros and cons of each are evident, one fact is indisputable: RAW will always be the safer choice.