When I first began my photography journey I had no idea there was a setting that was on my camera that determined the format my photo was saved in. I thought all photos everyone took were the same, JPEG. Click, save, and viola – it shows up so pretty on the back of my camera screen. However, when I became serious about learning photography, I kept hearing – “you should be shooting in RAW”. Which I knew nothing about HOW or WHY… So let me help break it down for you.
This was the easiest way for me to remember the difference, think of the old days of film cameras. You had a print and you had the negative. The print was great, you can put it in a frame and hand it to grandma – it was magically already for you to share. Then there is the film. The film isn’t something you would share with grandma because it wasn’t ready yet but it was the beginning of a lot of options on how you wanted the end product to look. Light, Dark, Colored, Black and White etc.
Think of RAW and JPEG in the same way. In the case of JPEG, it’s like the printed image. It’s ready, you can share it. But you can’t easily modify the photo once it has already been put on photo paper. In contrast, RAW is like the negative – it’s the start of the creativity and post-processing to come. Want one black and white and one color copy, you can do that is because the negative can be used and re-used again and again.
A JPEG is a commonly used file format which can be opened on most digital devices. It is a smaller compressed file which when taken from the image sensor, a series of algorithms are run against it to produce a ready to share processed photo.
RAW images are uncompressed data captured from the image sensor, unprocessed. RAW files allow for the greatest flexibility in post processing and what photographers call a true digital negative.
By now you can see all the advantages of shooting in RAW – However, there are a few reasons why photographing in JPEG may make more sense or you.
Imagine you are shooting a sporting event and providing a quick turnaround of images for the team or parents. Since the files you are creating are smaller, you can shoot faster on your burst mode setting. Capturing all of the high-speed movements most sports involve. These images can then immediately be shared without having to convert to a file most devices can read, providing the ability to quickly turn around a product.
Most digital cameras have the option to write the image in BOTH formats. How cool is that? So even if you don’t feel comfortable with post-processing and perhaps you are just focused on getting down HOW to use your camera – you can save the file in RAW for use at a later time when you feel more comfortable with post-processing your images.