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RAW vs. JPEG

There have been volumes of material written on this subject. Personally, if you’re shooting JPEG at this point, I’m just wondering: With all the surmounting evidence for RAW, why are you resisting? It’s banging you over the head and you just won’t let go. RAW is better. There’s no scenario in which it’s not. Okay, I lied. There is one. It takes up more storage space. For crying out loud, storage space is pennies on the dollar...go buy more hard drives. You can get a 3 TB hard drive for less than $100.

I don’t want to rehash this debate, but I do want to focus on some of the benefits of shooting RAW when it comes to post-production. These are the main things, in English, that mattered to me when I converted over.

Highlights/Shadow Detail

When you’re a run-and-gun shooter like I am, exposure isn’t always going to be perfect. Sure, I might be off by a half stop, but with RAW files, this is easily recoverable without destroying the file. This isn’t the case when the file is in the JPEG format. I’ll explain more in a second. The same holds true for shadow details. On a JPEG, recovering shadow details isn’t possible. The image will fall apart, become pixelated, and just look like overall garbage.

In general, programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom can recover between one and two stops of highlight or shadow detail depending on your camera, file size, and other factors. The point is, RAW files are able to recover dynamic range data in ways that JPEG just cannot.

White Balance

Sure, in an ideal world, it’d be great if we got white balance right in camera. And your shoot would come to a grinding halt. For me, I’m moving too fast with changing conditions to sit there and mess with it every time I move.

RAW files don’t convert white balance data. Therefore, once you’re in your editing program, you can set this any way you see fit without impacting the integrity of your file.

Try this with a JPEG file and you’ll soon realize you’re in trouble. Skin tones suffer the worst.

More Data

More data is always better. RAW files are larger and that’s because there’s more pixel data. More dynamic range. This is important data. You don’t want to lose this data. It allows for you to make editing decisions with contrast, color, and so forth once you’re sitting down at your computer. With JPEG files your camera is creating the JPEG file on the fly. You realize that this means that your camera is editing your picture for you? That leads me to my next point—processing power.

Processing Power

Your camera doesn’t shoot JPEG files. It has to create them. Your camera captures in a proprietary format and then has to convert to a JPEG file. When it does this conversion, it makes way too many decisions about your image file for you.

You’re entrusting the look of your final image to a camera—dynamic range, color, and temperature. I’d much rather sit down at my way-too-expensive computer and make those decisions using the right tools for the job. It’s kinda like those people who take pictures with their iPads. Why? Well, that may remain one of life’s mysteries.

By doing post-production on your computer rather than your camera, you ensure that you’re maximizing your images’ potential and giving you and your clients as many options as possible when it comes to the quality of your post-production.

I hope this chapter has given you food for thought when it comes to the post-production process and the possibility of outsourcing. Push your imagery and use all the tools available to you. Special thanks to EvolveEdits.com, who takes my images to a level not possible out of camera.

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