Should I Shoot in RAW or JPG?


If you've ever dug around in your camera menus, you've probably seen the option to choose to record your files in RAW or JPG formats. Deciding which format to shoot in depends a lot on what you'd like your workflow to be, your ability to manage large files, and your desire for post production latitude (the ability to make substantial lighting/color adjustments in the editing suite.) 

What's a RAW file? A RAW or DNG file is basically an uncompressed image file. The camera writes as much data as it can read from the sensor into the file. Because all of the image data is retained in the file, RAW files are hefty and they can take a lot of space on your computer. 

What's a JPG file? Everyone's familiar with JPG files. They tend to be small image files that are easy to transfer. They're efficient. They look great and they don't take up much space. JPG is the go-to file format for delivering most images. However, to capture an image as a JPG, your camera actually processes the sensor data and compresses the image file. This results in fast, efficient files, but you loose some data that could be helpful in your edit. 

How do I choose which format to shoot in? Shooting in JPG is fast and easy. It's my go to when I need to deliver a lot of files quickly and I know I'm going to want to minimize my post-production workflow. It's easy to shoot in JPG and edit on an iPad or other device and deliver images instantly. The biggest thing about shooting in JPG is that you need to nail your exposure in-camera, because you're not going to have a lot of room to correct it in post production. 

Shooting in RAW is easy too, but the work tends to come after the images are shot. You have to be able to handle the storage and data requirements of RAW files. Your computer needs to be able to handle the load of managing and manipulating all that data. You can burn through memory cards and hard drives fast when you're shooting RAW.  Even so, RAW files have some substantial advantages in the edit suite. They're more forgiving than JPG's, so you can salvage images that had a borderline exposure. When you edit RAW files you'll find you have an exceptional amount of latitude in the highlights and shadows, in the image white balance, and more.  I shoot RAW for all of my commercial photography for this reason; I want a lot of latitude in post production to make sure my photos work no matter what the art directors want to do with it creatively when they design their ads or lay out their catalogs. 

My recommendation: Most photography only requires JPG shooting. I'd recommend shooting in JPG because It will force you to get better at getting the pictures right in camera, it will save space on your drives, be easier on your computer, and it will help you deliver images faster. It's up to you to nail the exposure, but you should probably be doing that anyway, even if you shoot RAW. 

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