Saturday, April 16, 2011

Photo Tip #17...RAW or jpeg?

One of the most asked questions about photo quality is..."What is the difference between shooting in RAW or JPEG?" In this photo tip, I'll do my best to explain the difference.

I almost always shoot in RAW mode on my camera. I do this because I have much more control over editing than if I just shoot with JPEG. If you are just doing basic walk around photography and need minimal editing, JPEG is probably a good choice. If you really want control over the editing process to tweak images just the way you want them, RAW might be the way to go for you.

RAW images are uncompressed images, and can contain up to 10X the amount of digital information as a JPEG.

JPEG images are compressed images with up to 10X LESS digital information than a RAW image. This is not always the case, as you can adjust compression settings for JPEG, but for the sake of easy numbers, we'll use 10X in this photo tip.

Now let's say you set your camera to the RAW setting and take a picture, then set your camera to the JPEG setting and take the exact same picture...they would both look exactly the same. You would be hard pressed to tell the difference. But...there is a big difference in digital information!

Let's say the shot you took was of a sunset and you wanted to edit the shot in both RAW and JPEG. Let's also say you wanted to increase the saturation of colors in both images. Since the JPEG image has way less pixels to work with, you might see some noticeable "banding" in the colors of the sky. This would create a less than desirable look in your photo. When you do the same thing with the RAW photo, your colors would be smooth in the sky with no "banding".

Another way to think of this is...for every 10 pixels you can edit in a jpeg image, you'd have 100 pixels to edit in a RAW image. That is a lot more control.

If you have a camera that shoots RAW, you will probably get some basic RAW editing software with your camera. Canon and Nikon both supply it. I'm sure other brands do too. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite RAW editor for purchase. You can make some amazing adjustments with this software! You can try a free 30 day trial on the Adobe website.

There are a couple of downsides to shooting in RAW. First, the file sizes are much bigger than JPEG so you'll need more memory cards. Second, you'll fill up your hard drives faster with RAW images. And third, once you edit your RAW images, you will probably want to convert them to JPEG so you can get them printed at places like Costco. That will take up even more space on your hard drive.

Here's the deal, memory cards are cheep, and so are hard drives!

So...what should you do? Like I said before, if you don't want to sell your images, or don't need to do a lot of editing, shooting in JPEG is just fine. But if you want more control over the editing process, RAW might be the way to go. I'm a BIG RAW fan for most everything I do.

Another thing about RAW is...you'll need shoot RAW for HDR images. Many of you have asked me how I get those crazy shots that look like paintings? Well...part of it involves shooting in RAW. I will teach you my HDR tricks some day soon.

So...download your free 30 day trial of Adobe Lightroom, shoot some RAW images, and give RAW editing a test drive. If you don't like it...don't buy it. Or...keep it simple and stick with JPEG. Have fun practicing!

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