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RAW vs. JPEG
Editing, Manual Mode Tips, Technique

RAW vs JPEG via Click it Up a Notch

I have gotten so many questions about RAW vs JPEG and I know Courtney has too and I’m here to help you understand it a bit more. All you need is an open mind and a little patience and you’ll end up loving it! So let’s begin.

RAW vs JPEG

Let’s talk about the negative of RAW.

  • The biggest drawback for most people is the file size. The file size is important for RAW files. Every piece of light and detail that hits your sensor is recorded and saved when shooting RAW which is why they’re big.
  • The second drawback for most people is that you do have to edit RAW files. You wouldn’t serve your family a raw steak would you? No, you’d season it and cook it to perfection. Same with a RAW file, it’s just that, raw and needs to be altered to your desired perfection.
  • You must save the photo as a JPEG so you can print. If you are editing in ACR (Adobe Canon Raw) only, it’ll remain a RAW file. You must do a file>save as to get it ready to print. No lab will take RAW files.
  • RAW files do require editing software such as Photoshop Elements, Photoshop or Lightroom. There is free software like Picasa that will open your RAW files, so don’t feel like you have to go buy the newest most expensive software for your RAW photos.

Now let’s move onto the positives of RAW.

  • Every piece of light and detail is recorded! This is amazing if you accidently blow an area of a shirt when properly exposing your skin. Use that little recovery slider in ACR and it’ll bring it back. However this does not work in extreme cases, so if you completely blow out parts of your photos, RAW won’t “fix” it.
  • The photo is completely raw! The camera adds nothing to it. When you shoot in JPEG, your camera adds contrast, saturation, sharpening, etc. and even throws out some of the colors and details to compress the file and make it smaller and ready for print.
  • The WB is never set in stone. If you leave your white balance on tungsten and head out side and don’t change your settings, you can completely change the setting in ACR. You can also manually adjust your WB with the tint and temperature slider in ACR. JPEG doesn’t have this feature. You can change it slightly but not to the extent of RAW.

Switching to RAW is as easy as going into your menu and changing your settings and you’re set! That easy!

Below are two examples of what a RAW vs. JPEG look like when uploaded to the computer. Do you see the brightness in the RAW file verses the JPEG file? That is your larger tonal range working for you in your RAW photo.

NOTE: I did not fix my white balance on these photos because I wanted you to see them SOOC.


Now keep in mind that your RAW file might not look perfect SOOC (straight out of the camera) but it allows you the flexibility to look beautiful.

NOTE: I would like to quickly point out that in ACR adobe automatically sets your blacks at +5, brightness +50 & contrast +25 when opening your RAW photo. I did not make those adjustments.

This is just the tip of the iceberg on RAW vs. JPEG. I encourage you to go out and research the topic because this is only the beginning. I also think it’s important to know that the topic of shooting in RAW vs. JPEG is the same as shooting Canon vs. Nikon. Everyone is going to have an opinion about it and there will always be someone who likes one over the other. To me it’s a personal decision and what suits your style. If at the end you still feel JPEG is the best for you, that is great. There are some amazing photographers out there that do shoot JPEG. But I would love for everyone to try RAW and see all of its capabilities!

Tell us! Do you shoot in RAW or JPEG? Why?

42 Comments
  • Valeria
    May 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM

    Thanks Melissa for the great post. I am slowly switching to RAW, still need to find a good workflow.

  • May 23, 2011 at 9:55 AM

    Great stuff here – I’ve tried before to explain why I love shooting RAW. You said it beautifully!

  • May 23, 2011 at 10:41 AM

    Melissa is so fabulous, isn’t she? Thanks, both, for the great article! I’ve started shooting in RAW and editing in my free trial (hopefully soon to be purchased copy) of LIghtroom, but have major issues with my laptop storage (or lack there of). I’d LOVE to know what everyone does for photo storage.

    • May 23, 2011 at 12:46 PM

      I upload all my photos to an external hard drive that is constantly hooked up to my computer. Storage can be an issue but since hard drives aren’t as expensive as they used to be it’s worth getting one or two :O) Oh, I LOVE LR!! Hope you are able to purchase it soon! It makes my life SO MUCH easier!!

    • May 23, 2011 at 1:47 PM

      Carrie, you made me blush! You are too sweet!!! I’m so glad you are shooting RAW! YAY!!! You’re going to love LR too. I started using it this month and have barely opened CS5. It’s an amazing program! I do an external hard drive too. Mine is a Western Digital and is great. I highly recommend getting one. I’ve had to back up my computer twice because I keep filling it up. :)

  • May 23, 2011 at 7:16 PM

    I’ve decided to switch to RAW files after I started taking photography classes a couple of years ago. Why? Because of everything you said and a few other things that I listed in my post . (I had a post on RAW vs. JPEG a while ago here: http://www.miracrisp.com/2011/03/raw-jpeg-not-image-file-per-se-it-will.html) However, I still shoot JPEGs for my family. If we are having a cook out or a birthday party, I will set my camera to JPEG because I know my family and friends will want to download photos to their laptops by the end of the day. We don’t need RAW files for that purpose. We need photos to capture memories and JPEG works just fine. I shot RAW files when shooting stock photography, sessions for clients and everything else that I know RAW is a better option.

  • May 24, 2011 at 2:49 AM

    Great post, Melissa!

  • May 24, 2011 at 4:16 AM

    Great post! I like to use RAW when doing “photoshoots”, and JPG when doing everyday kind of stuff.

  • May 24, 2011 at 2:24 PM

    Great article Melissa. I’m so very proud of you. Way to go.

  • May 25, 2011 at 5:23 AM

    Thanks for sharing your tips Melissa!

  • May 25, 2011 at 12:46 PM

    Great post Melissa!

  • Karin
    June 3, 2011 at 5:32 AM

    Melissa, thank you for sharing all of this information. You are a very gifted teacher, and you are always kind to take time to explain things to fellow photographers.

    I’ve been really intimidated to start shooting in RAW, mainly because I feel I don’t have the time to commit myself to having to edit every single photo. But I am convinced that the RAW format gives a much more natural, appealing picture in the end. I will try it. I will. Soon:)

  • July 3, 2011 at 12:13 AM

    Thank you, Melissa!!

    I too am a new photographer and am learning all the millions of tricks to the trade….I am enjoying it but it sure is a learning curve! Thank you for taking the time to post about this topic. I plan to explore RAW as well and am glad that I came across your post :-)

  • September 28, 2011 at 6:27 PM

    RAW all the way! My images stay pristine and never degrade over time. The editing is cleaner and so many more opportunities to fine tune the adjustments.

  • Brandi
    February 5, 2012 at 2:57 PM

    So I’m ashamed to admit I use a pc let alone a vista operating system but does anyone know if there is good windows RAW viewer for vista? I love shooting raw but I only do it for “important/special” picture because I hate sorting the pictures into folders off my SD card

  • Jenny
    August 11, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    I have just been officially converted to RAW! I had my first real photo shoot today for a friends senior pictures, so naturally I turned to this blog to brush up on what I’ve learned about shooting in manual with my DSLR. This is only the second time I’ve shot in RAW (after reading about the benefits in this article), but I LOVE what I can do with the photos after. So thanks Melissa for this article and thanks Courtney for having such a fabulous blog.

  • Rebecca
    September 12, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    I made the switch and love it!

    But after editing (I use elements) what do you save the picture as? I’ve been saving them in jpeg but I’m finding that it doesn’t look as great.

    • Melissa Noste - Contributor
      September 12, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      So glad you are loving the switch Rebecca!

      When you say that they don’t look great, where do they not look great? Just when you open them on the computer, when you print them or on your blog and/or Facebook? I always save my photos in JPEG for print and my blog. However I found that saving a photo for Facebook it looks better saved as a PNG. Also one thing to check is make sure that your color space is in sRGB. It what looks best online and to most computers. Let me know if any of those work or if you need more help! :)

  • October 8, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    If you know how to work a camera, then you don’t have to worry about “fixing” photos, RAW or JPEG.

    • Melinda
      January 17, 2014 at 4:32 PM

      Ouch…that was critical. I’m still pretty new and sometimes I do need to “fix” my pictures. Nobody’s perfect.

    • Nikki
      December 1, 2015 at 11:59 AM

      All HAIL the queen of photography.

      Everyone starts somewhere. We weren’t all blessed to be photography geniuses like yourself.

    • Mike
      April 11, 2016 at 9:22 PM

      Ansel Adams spent far more time in the darkroom, editing his “RAW” files to get the images he wanted.

      I’m pretty sure he knew how to use his camera.

  • Melinda
    January 17, 2014 at 4:26 PM

    Thank you for this post! I had an amazing photographer tell me several years back that she only shot in RAW. I had no idea what that meant. Thank you for making it so simple. I can’t wait to start shooting in RAW. The ability to fix the image so easily is awesome!

  • Tay Sin Yee
    February 28, 2014 at 1:50 AM

    Hello !
    I’m using Picasa to edit RAW photos. But when I open the photo in Picasa, the photo look very different from my camera LCD. It look so much dimmer and the colour tone don’t show like in the LCD. Help !

  • Abby
    March 7, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    Hello!
    I just stumbled across your blog, then searched around the website a bit, and found this article. This was a very informative article! I was wondering if, because of the RAW size, would it take up more room on the SD card?

    • May 24, 2014 at 4:36 PM

      Yes, it will probably take up more space as RAW files are a bit larger.

  • May 24, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    Thank you for repostin this article. I am dabbling in RAW and find that they do not look clean and smooth like other photogs’ photos do when I post online. I understand that this could be “noise” that I am seeing. Any tips on.dealing with this in camera or in processing? I shoot w Nikon d5100 and use PSE11 for editing. Any advice would be awesome!

  • Mary
    May 24, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    Thank you for this post. I am just beginning to shoot in RAW and I learned a lot from this reading this. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and experience.

  • May 24, 2014 at 7:21 PM

    I have just begun shooting in raw format, but since I am still learning how to manually work my DSLR I use jpg for most of my shots. I think I will only shoot raw for big events or special shoots. If it were not for the file size, I’d would always shoot raw. I already have 70,000 digital photos which take up over 350gb of space. Whatever you all do, make sure to have a 2nd, 3rd and even 4th external hard drive copy. I also create an 8.5gb backup. It helps to start DVD backups when first starting to shoot photographs. If possible have a copy in a distant relative or friends home in another state in case an ocassional meteor takes out your external hard drives and DVD.

  • May 28, 2014 at 8:36 PM

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  • Melissa
    July 19, 2014 at 12:41 AM

    The only problem I have it that right now the only way to edit my photos is on my ipad. Ipad does not have program for uploading RAW photos…so I can only edit jpegs….any suggestions?

  • Karissa
    July 28, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    I was going through my camera’s Manual mode settings, I have a Cannon Rebel T3, I got it mostly to just take better photos of my kiddos :) anyways, I noticed it will let me save in RAW + JPEG is there a downside to doing it this way? Right now I don’t have a photo editing software, I am still learning how to actually take photos in manual mode! lol hoping to get Lightroom in the near future.

  • Sarah
    September 13, 2014 at 5:08 PM

    Thanks for this article I whole heartedly agree. When I first started photography I was shooting JPEG. When I’d learnt a few tricks I started shooting RAW and using Lightroom I never, ever shoot JPEG now and I would never go back to it. I took a college class this year learnt some more tricks and techniques and got a double disctinction don’t think I would have by shooting JPEG, RAW gives you so much more control over the finished product.

  • Kevin Mooney
    November 4, 2014 at 5:46 PM

    I have just started using PICMONKEY. Can I edit RAW with it??

  • Rita
    May 11, 2015 at 9:06 PM

    I shoot in raw but seeing the comparison done side by side, makes me realize why I like the raw so much better. I just didn’t know. The part about having to edit your photos is so true. But I will say, on very rare occasions, I did not have to edit. Again, its personal taste. Great article

  • karren hubrich
    May 11, 2015 at 10:46 PM

    I have never shot anything in RAW. I am afraid of it. I have LR, but do not know what to do with the photos in there. I use it but only one photo at a time that I drag in. I keep thinking that if I did shoot some in RAW, and got a really good shot, I wouldn’t know what to do with it, so it would be useless. I don’t know what to read or study about it.

    • May 21, 2015 at 1:29 PM

      Don’t be scared of it :) Once I got in the habit of always uploading my images on my computer through LR it made sense to switch to RAW. It seems way more scary than it really is but you will need to edit all your images if you switch to RAW since the camera doesn’t do any tweaks to the image like it does to a JPEG.

  • Joni
    May 12, 2015 at 4:49 AM

    Great article. I have been shooting in Raw for some time and never regretted it. I use LR and can print from there. It saves space because I don’t have to save a copy of the file. Also, small correction: ACR stands for Adobe Camera Raw and it does most of what LR does.

  • Doreen
    May 12, 2015 at 10:54 PM

    Great post.
    Also when you shoot in Raw you can play with the image as many times as you want and it doesn’t diminish the original shot. The more you play with it in JPEG the more you diminish the original shot.

  • Cherie @ FoodRecipesEasy
    September 11, 2015 at 9:20 AM

    Great blog!! I’m on my way to master DSLR. Thanks for covering every minute issue.

  • Bonnie Alford
    April 11, 2016 at 9:14 PM

    ACR doesn’t actually make any adjustments to the photos automatically. Once adjustments have been made at any point ACR reads the xmp file. In order to have a “clean slate” once an xmp file has been made you’ll have to set your WB back to as shot and the auto back to default for the lower sliders. A brand new photo with no xmp file will have all sliders set to 0. :)

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