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The F Stops Here: JPEG vs RAW (and Why RAW Wins Every Time)

The argument for capturing images in RAW format is solid, and well-documented: in terms of technical specs and the ability to preserve the most data in your image files, there is virtually no argument for shooting JPG (or JPEG) over RAW. But let's try to make one: below, we present 5 situations where choosing to photograph JPGs instead of RAW images makes total sense.

1) You believe clients deserve a lesser-quality product. To put it simply, RAW files preserve exactly what your camera sensor sees, which is the entire spectrum of data available in a photograph, while JPGs compress that data in-camera. JPGs are referred to as a “lossy” format for a reason: information is lost in the creation of the JPG. And that information can be critical when dealing with challenging light, color casts, or a mistaken setting. If you've never needed to dodge and burn your photographs, pull back your highlights and boost your blacks, or correct a baby's red or yellow skin, then by all means, continue to sell JPGs, which allow only limited adjustments to these issues. The rest of us will stick with the full dynamic range offered in RAW files. Which brings us to #2:

2) You're technically perfect, in every situation. Rapidly changing light conditions, weird white balance, and digital noise from high ISOs are no match for your superior photographic powers. You get it right in camera, every time. Whites are always pristine, blacks always pop. Errant flashes from a wedding guest's camera muddying your lighting setup? That's certainly never happened. Yes, all of these issues can be corrected in a JPG--but only to an extent (see #1, above). For us mere mortals, a few quick clicks in Lightroom will let us restore our artistic vision to our RAW images. (And if you're always perfect SOOC, then processing RAW files is incredibly simple, as you can save Lightroom presets with your finishing touches and process your photographs all at once.)

3) You're not concerned about creating large wall art for your clients. Because really, who needs a photograph bigger than 11x14”? If a client requested a larger print, they may see those nasty artifacts that JPGs tend to produce. If you are content to give away your photographs on a CD or sell smaller desk copies of your images, then JPGs are the way to go.

4) You're so tired of editing that you want your camera to do it for you. Shooting JPG means that Canon or Nikon are making the technical decisions about white balance, contrast, color, and sharpening, baking those settings into your final image and effectively processing it for you. The fact that RAW files must be “processed” means that you (and your editing software) can make those choices and adjust them indefinitely without degrading the quality of your image, since RAW is a lossless format.

5) You're not worried about future-proofing your data. You're banking on the fact that JPGs will be around forever. Of course, RAW files could also become obsolete, but considering that they are the industry's equivalent to the digital negative, the drive to preserve this format will be strong. If you're not concerned about the new technology that's assuredly right around the corner, then JPGs are a safe bet. Did we convince you that JPGs will best serve your clients in every situation? That's because they won't. While there are certainly a few situations where JPGs trump RAW--needing to shoot fast action in burst mode is one--most arguments for professionals shooting in this mode simply don't hold up. If you want to truly distinguish your image making from the amateurs, shooting in RAW is a great way to start. Want to process those RAW files with lightning speed? Our Essential Wedding and Portrait Workflow guides will help you slash your post-processing time.

~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.




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