Should you shoot jpg or raw?

jpg rawIn this video I’m going to tackle the biggest debate in photography history: jpg vs. raw.

The issue of jpg vs. raw files is one that can really divide photographers. 

I’ve been through the roller coaster of shooting raw files 100% of the time, then dropped to 0% raw files.

I used to call my self a camera raw “evangelist”. In fact, I used to teach my students that it was the only way, the best way, the professional way.

Today I’m at about 5% raw files. Yes 5%! I just shoot raw when the lighting is super tricky or the client is super picky.

Now, instead of filling up my hard drive with raw files, I’ve learned to use my camera better. And I’m using better cameras that process the files internally, so that saves me time editing raw files.

I still edit my jpg files, but I don’t have to start at ground zero. When my photos come out of the camera they’re almost ready to go. I just add my “style juice” to them in software like Luminar, or Lightroom.

Whether you shoot jpg or raw, depends on what the photos will be used for.

Sometimes I shoot jpg + raw (for insurance) but often I never even open the raw files.

  • Everyday pictures of the kids? No
  • My skateboarding action shots? No
  • Instagram? No.
  • Client work? Depends what the client is using them for, so maybe.

But what about all that stuff about tonal range? Tonal range is just a fancy word for brightness range. If you have an evenly lit scene you should be able to capture the tonal range in one jpg if it’s properly exposed. In the studio you should be able to control your light so that you don’t “blow out” the highlights or underexpose the dark areas of your photos.

In practical terms this means watching out for hot spots on skin tone when shooting portraits. Or making sure you light the details in the dark areas, if they are important. You’ve got all the control in the studio.

But often that’s not the case, especially in nature and landscapes when we have a super bright sky and a dark landscape. In that scenario your camera may not be able to capture the full range of brightness from dark to light that your eye can see. So you make a compromise.

Most photographers try and preserve the highlights as much as possible. This is really important when making prints. (If you saw my printing video I talked about “paper white” highlights. And they’ll brighten up the lost shadows in editing. In the days of film and darkrooms this was known as “shoot for the highlights and print for the shadows”. We still do that with digital today.

If you shoot raw files you can recover some highlights, but not all. And you can recover a good deal of shadow detail. That’s why shooting raw files is called exposure insurance.

You can also fine-tune your white balance after the fact if you shoot raw files.

I say, get it right – in the camera.

That’s what photojournalists have to do. They aren’t allowed to shoot raw files for news stories, because the editors want the images as close to “the truth”, as possible. They have to get it right – in the camera. They shoot and they transfer photos via wi-fi to their cell phone and then off to the editor who may be on another continent.

So what does that tell you? People who shoot raw files can bend the truth. They can embellish the moment. Of course you can do that with jpgs too. Just watch my recent videos on Luminar and see what I do with jpgs.

Let me teach you how pre-process your jpg photos in the camera!

In Lumix mirrorless cameras, you can edit the jpg capture settings so that you don’t have to do anything in post, and still have the same benefits that raw shooters have, such as more tonal range and perfect white balance.

Start with picture quality and size

Choose the best quality jpg, so that you have minimal compression. If you’re nervous, shoot jpg + raw. If you shoot raw only, you can choose the size when you export your photos.

Custom WB 

If colour is critical, then you need to set up Custom White Balance. I do this in the studio when I have full control over my lighting. I’ve got instructions on how to set up custom WB in this blog post.

If colour is not critical, but needs to be close, use a pre-set. That’s what I do when shooting skateboarding photos outdoors.

Choose a photo style

Lumix cameras have several photo styles, and within those styles you can customize the contrast, sharpness, noise reduction, and saturation. [Demo]

Exposure compensation +/-

If you’re not satisfied with the exposure, use the exposure compensation dial (+/-) to add or remove light from your photo. Start by learning how to read and interpret your histogram.

Highlight and Shadow

Raw shooters are always concerned with tweaking highlights and shadows. In Lumix cameras you can set up a custom tone curve for your camera. Use a pre-set or build your own. That’s right, you can alter the histogram without touching a computer.

Look for iDynamic in your Lumix camera too.

Not sure if you’ve got it right? Then use auto exposure bracketing (AEB).

All dSLR and mirrorless cameras have the option to automatically bracket exposures. If your’e not sure how to set this up, check your camera manual.

Shooting scenery or HDR? The camera will automatically take 3 bracketed photos that you can combine in HDR software, or in the camera.

Keep an open mind about jpgs!

Yes, raw files are excellent for certain subjects, especially difficult landscape photos or when working on studio portraits where skin reflections are tricky.

But experimenting with in-camera effects using jpgs is FUN!

Try it. I dare you! Leave the jpg vs. raw debate behind.

You will save hours of photo editing time and gigabytes of memory on your hard drives!