RAW versus JPEG debate

Raw versus JPEG as a seasoned photographer , for me there is no question what format I should use, but I realise that a lot of people out there are […]

Raw versus JPEG


as a seasoned photographer , for me there is no question what format I should use, but I realise that a lot of people out there are still struggling with this concept. Also after me creating few videos in which I have presented my personal digital workflow, things got even a bit more confusing, because it seems that I do not use what I preach, however I will take the opportunity today to cast some light on the matter.

I have seen many discussion on the topic RAW versus JPEG, and I never bothered to pay attention as for me it is crystal clear. I shoot RAW and and I would like to go back to basics to explain why

What is RAW

In very simple words, the RAW is not a traditional image format, but an unprocessed file containing the history of your exposure. As I have already explained in one of the first videos, about understanding camera, the sensor is like a field with buckets which capture the photons coming into the camera during the exposure. I am going to use the analogy with a glass of water. During one exposure, one unit of the sensor, one cluster which corresponds to one pixel, is filled with photons. The amount of light is giving us the exposure. Just like that, water falls into the glass starting to fill it during the exposure. Less water means dark, underexposure, more water means more light. Overexposure happens when the light is more than the glass can carry and it spills out. This is the exposure process in a short nutshell, and the correct exposure is somewhere in the middle.

Now, what I wanted to highlight with this analogy is the fact the remember that RAW is format that retains the amount of water during the exposure but also remembers the process of the glass getting filled with water.

The main advantage of the RAW file is that due to the fact the camera remembers the process, you can modify the final outcome later on your computer if you mess up the exposure. The information is there and you can tell your computer to show you a specific level of water in your glass, despite the fact in reality, the level might be different. Also these days camera sensors have image processors able to predict what would have happened if you would have had allowed for a longer exposure.

what that means in practical terms, is that you have the liberty to modify the exposure later as the information is there, and that is the biggest advantage of shooting RAW.

The downside of RAW is the size of the file which counts for each pixel, which retains the colour information, expressed in a combination of 3 numbers, and also the history of how that pixel come into existence. I am not going to more details that this as I wish to keep this to a reasonable simple explanation

What is JPG

The JPG stands for a type of a compressed format for the purpose of reducing the size of a image in terms of information. Not only JPG,s but also other formats, such as TIFF, Bitmap, and others will discard the history and the retain only one level of exposure. They remember the colour of each pixel , but not the history. So if you mess up your exposure, and you get either a slightly overexposed image, or underexposed, trying to modify it on the computer will not get you the correct result, as the information is lost.

Practical example, if I shoot a portrait in strong light, i could see the forehead completely white if I expose it to long. If I shoot RAW, I have the chance to bring back details like forehead wrinkles if I want to. If I shoot JPG I can’t

The biggest advantage working with JPG format is a lesser amount of information that is handled and when we are talking about many megapixels and thousands of photos, this van become a serious time constraint

as simple as that.

My personal workflow

As I have mentioned many times, my preference is to shoot RAW, export the file into a JPG format and work on it in post production as JPG, applying filters and whatnot in Adobe Lighroom. This seem to confuse a lot of people as the logical step would be to import RAW files directly into Lightroom and modify the settings there

As a wedding photographer I need to process thousands of photos ever week and it takes few seconds to bring a JPG onto the screen and apply a filter to it as the computer will handle less information than a RAW file. Working with RAW files tends to make the process longer to the the amount of data that the computer needs to handle at once, and I found myself in many instances waiting 30 seconds for one high resolution image to be ready for editing. And when we are talking about thousands of image, that becomes a serious timing problem.

Also I have noticed that the results are slightly different between working with RAW and JPG, but that is not the reason for my choice. My approach if purely business efficiency

Recommendation

I hope the explanation about RAW versus JPEG is very clear above, however if there is still confusion, I would definitely recommend for any beginner to shoot RAW and work with whatever software you want to use to get them out as JPG. My process is mine and I am sure there will be experienced photographers out there disagreeing with it. This is my personal preference and my recommendation.

If you still have question after this information, please do not hesitate to leave your comments below. Also if you are a Lightroom user , please check the free templates that I use in my process

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About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and