JPEG vs. RAW (and pictures of my adorable cats)

June 10, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

These photos had the exact same edits done to them. Can you guess which one was the RAW file?

You may not have any idea what I'm talking about and that's fine. But for those of you interested in the technical aspects of photography this post is for you. I admit that I am not exactly the most "techie" of people. Many think I am because I like to edit both photo and video and have fancy equipment. But I just see these "techie" things as the means to express my creativity and I've had no other choice but to learn how to use them. However, most of my knowledge probably doesn't extend beyond what I need to know in order to get the job done. When a new job needs to be done - that's when I do research and learn new things. Here's what I learned about shooting RAW. 

When I started considering making photography into a business I knew I had to step up my tech game. I could take good photos, but there was this polished, deeper, richer look to the photos of professional photographers that I was having trouble achieving. Part of this has to do with having a superior camera and fancy lenses which I promptly invested in once I became serious about this being a real business, but most of it has to do with being skilled at processing the photos or "developing" them in your editing program. 

When I started reading up on how to elevate the quality of my photos I came across the concept of shooting RAW for the very first time. I wish I could say that I knew what RAW was from the start, but the truth is that I didn't. I'd never heard of it because I'd never needed to hear about it. But suddenly I was being bombarded with this "real photographers shoot RAW!" ideology. And then to confuse the matter more I also came across articles expressing that there was no need to go RAW. These articles contended that plenty of professional photographers shoot JPEG and RAW is hard to deal with and takes up a lot of storage space. At first I was convinced to stick with JPEG. Really this was because I didn't want to deal with learning something new and my pictures were good anyway. Getting a better camera and practicing had already elevated the quality greatly. But one day I decided to try it out and I was immediately convinced that I could offer my clients even higher quality photographs if I shot RAW. 

Now like I said, I am not great with the techie talk, but here is the basic idea. When your digital camera takes a picture the sensors record all kinds of information from the environment you are shooting. It then converts that into your digital picture. A RAW file is uncompressed and retains all of the data the sensors picked up. When your camera saves a JPEG file it compresses it and adds effects to it to make it look good. Because of this it can be opened and viewed on your computer easily whereas a RAW file needs special software to view and must be processed, but you are fine if you have a program like Aperture or Lightroom. A JPEG does not save as much data, so when you go to edit, if a photo is under-exposed or over-exposed or your white balance is totally off it is very hard to get the detail and color back from a JPEG file, but a RAW file has that data stored and you can much more easily correct your picture. Where detail was lost forever with a JPEG it can be retained in your RAW file.

Many photographers who shoot in JPEG only will say that it is important not to rely on your editing software and that you should nail the picture in the camera. I agree that you should know how to properly expose and take a photo, but there are situations for all photographers (unless you are in a totally controlled studio environment) where you cannot change your settings in time or you might have just mis-judged. For me, I am often running after small children and may find myself in a new lighting situation within seconds without enough time to change my settings. If I end up with a slightly under-exposed picture now that I shoot RAW it is much more salvageable than my old JPEG pictures were. Also, what's wrong with making a picture better with editing? It's the developing process that used to be done in a dark room. I'm not big into crazy effects or anything - I just like to enhance the already good photo I took. 

So enough words. Here are some images to demonstrate the difference. I set my camera to capture both a RAW file and a JPEG file and started following my cats Joanie and Zuzu around. 

This is a picture of my cat Joanie. After importing the files into my editing program I edited the RAW version to my liking (I did not utilize some of the editing options that are available for RAW files only, but that is another advantage of RAW) and then I cut and pasted the EXACT SAME attributes to the JPEG version. Here are the results. 

RAW edit:

JPEG edit (same exact attributes as above RAW):

Totally unedited original: 

It is subtle, but you can see that the RAW version was able to retain much more detail. Look at the chair between the two photos, you can't even see parts of the pattern in the JPEG version. 

 

Here's another example with my cat Zuzu. The picture is underexposed - too dark. I kept this one simple for the example. All I did to the RAW and JPEG versions was bring up the exposure as far as it would go and brought the recovery up to avoid blowing out parts of the photo. 

Underexposed original:

RAW with upped exposure:

JPEG with upped exposure: 

You can see that the RAW version keeps detail and richness whereas the JPEG is really struggling not to be totally flat. Poor JPEG :( And remember, I didn't do a thing to the color!

Now maybe if I had fiddled with the settings a little longer I could get the JPEG up to par, but I don't want to spend more time than I have to. I just want to bump up the exposure and be done with trying to correct it. 

Here's a few more examples just for fun:

Washed out original:

Edited RAW next to JPEG with same attributes:                           

 

The JPEG is going to need more work to get the white balance right. 

 

Underexposed original:

RAW with edits:

JPEG with same edits:

Wow!

I hope this was interesting and even helpful to those out there also exploring and trying new things. When I am shooting for a client I will always use RAW now. I am officially converted!
 
Thanks for reading,
 
Alonya (and Joanie and Zuzu)
 
By the way, if you are super into my cats you can follow them on Facebook! Yup. That's right. Joanie and Zuzu have their own Facebook page! I started it so that I could have a safe outlet for all the photos and videos I take of them. Lots of my photography makes its way there, so check it out! facebook.com/joanieandzuzu
 
And don't forget to like Jozu Photography on Facebook too! facebook.com/jozuphotography

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Welcome to the Jozu Photography blog! 

I am a Los Angeles based birth, maternity, baby, and child photographer. This is where you can see photo sets from individual shoots and learn about my experiences - both professional and personal. Enjoy!

Alonya

 
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