Raw vs Jpeg Image File – What Should I Use?

raw_vs_jpeg_file_type I get this question asked a lot. I actually just received an email the other day and that’s why I decided to write a blog post with my thoughts.

I posted a few months back about this and recorded a short video podcast. You can listen to Joe Marshall and me talking about this Jpg vs Raw debate here.

If you had to pick the number one most debated topic among both beginning and experienced digital photographers the use of Jpg vs Raw images would definitely be a very safe choice.

To take an even casual glance at information being shared from loyalists of either format can be both daunting and overwhelming for someone picking photography basics.

Well sit tight and I’ll try my best to give you a look at the facts on both formats and some advice on which may best suit your needs.

Jpg vs. Raw Images: The Basics

First…let’s take a closer look at both formats and what exactly they mean and consist of.

Raw Format

Raw format for photos is the large and unedited file data captured by your digital camera. This will often be in a proprietary file type. This data is unaltered and uninterpreted, which is where the “raw” comes in. The idea being you will later manipulate the photo later on in a digital image program. This can often be quite the time consuming project especially for the beginner.

Advantages of the Raw Format

* Raw can be thought of as a sort of complete digital negative of your photo. Large and complete you have full freedom to manipulate and apply effects to the image in any way you choose in the future. For advanced digital photographers this freedom is much more important than to those mastering basic photography, obviously.

* Raw files give you the challenge of learning the ropes of digital image software. This is often a long and testy process and working with Raw image files makes it a necessary evil.

* Raw images can be worked on in batches with many digital photo programs. This can be very helpful should you be looking at applying a similar feel to a group of your images. Once again this advantage likely won’t be felt until further experience is built up as a digital photographer.

Focusing on advantages like this before mastering the basics is really similar to putting the cart before the horse. It’s an advantage that only experienced digital photographers will be able to appreciate, really.

Disadvantages of the Raw Format

* Raw files are huge. They take up a massive amount of space on both your camera’s memory card and ultimately on your computer. If you like taking large amounts of photos in a session using the Raw format could handcuff you from doing that.

* Raw files can take tremendous amount of post-shoot editing work. This is not only time consuming, like I mentioned above, but requires you to become proficient in the software you are using to get your images to finally look the way you want them to. This can be a long and frustrating process for the beginning or intermediate digital photographer.

Let’s move on to Jpg

Jpg Format

The Jpg image format is a more compressed file type. Jpg is the standard image type across the board. Your camera uses the Raw image data to make the Jpg image and then discards the Raw data freeing up space. You usually have options of what image quality of Jpg to save your photos as which you can adjust according to space requirements or other needs or desires.

Advantages of the Jpg Format

* Jpg is the most widely accepted image format. You will never experience someone not being able to view one of your Jpg images, like you could if it were a proprietary Raw file. It’s the standard for a good reason, it works and works well.

* Jpg files take up little space on your camera’s memory card and computer’s hard drive. This frees you up to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. Trust me that can be a great thing, not having to worry about missing a shot because of space concerns.

* Shooting in Jpg can make you pay more attention to the fundamentals of good photography, like getting your lighting right, for example. You don’t have the crutch of over relying on image editing software to fall back on thus shooting in Jpg makes you develop strong basic photography skills. These skills are worth their weight in gold over the long run and carry over into all photography mediums.

Disadvantages of the Jpg Format

* Jpg images usually involve a loss of image quality depending on the settings you have chosen. This is usually not a great consideration except in rare, specialized cases.

* Jpg files are limited to how much you can work on them in post-shoot editing. The shot you take is very important because it will likely be close to what you get in the end.

What’s Best in the End: Raw or Jpg?

Now…let’s be clear that both file formats are great and you can do lots of awesome things with them, but the question remains – for the person looking to master basic photography skills what’s the better format to shoot in, Jpg or Raw?

All things considered Jpg is definitely the way to go (in my opinion). The positives far outweigh the negatives and the skills you build while shooting in Jpg are essential for your successful future in digital photography.

Making the Most Out of Shooting in Jpg

Once you make the decision to shoot in Jpg there are two things to really keep in mind to get the most out of the work you do behind the camera. The more you remember to focus on these two factors the happier you will be in the end.

First, make sure you have your camera’s settings where they need to be. Having your camera set correctly will go along way towards not missing the ability to post shot edit extensively like you could have should you have shot in Raw.

Secondly, pay big attention to your lighting. This is a skill that will pay off when shooting in JPG or really in any type of photography where you are not looking to be spending a ton of time in post shot work. Once you have understood and mastered how to use lighting to get your best shots you will laugh when you hear others enter the Jpg vs Raw images debate in the future. Why? Because you won’t have any need for Raw images – your shots will look great in Jpg the first time!

Any feedback or thoughts on Jpg vs Raw images? Please share I would love to hear it!


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