Above: Image by Gina Milicia
Did you know that after you take a photo in JPEG, your camera will process that file according to an exact mathematical formulation determined by Hans at the camera factory?
Hans (not his real name) is commissioned by all camera manufacturers to calculate the amount of contrast, sharpening and white balance that is added to your image when you select the “shoot in JPEG” option in-camera settings.
Most entry-level DSLR cameras and beyond – and some point-and-shoot cameras – give you the option to shoot in JPEG or RAW or a combination of both. A RAW file is like a digital negative. It contains unprocessed data taken directly from the camera sensor. A JPEG is a RAW image that your camera has processed (according to Hans’ personal preferences).
I once had two beautiful chickens, Marija and Consuela, who were prolific egg layers, forcing me to become more creative with my egg recipes. From a single raw egg I have made:
4. fried eggs
5. poached eggs
6. scrambled eggs
8. chocolate cake
9. lemon meringue pie.
Raw eggs also make my dog’s fur really shiny.
Sometimes, I boil the eggs. Once boiled, I immediately lose all the delicious possibilities and my uses for them become more limited. I can make:
1. boiled eggs, whole
2. boiled eggs, cut in half
3. boiled eggs, sliced up.
Shooting in JPEG mode means you can’t access the extra information (and possibilities) a RAW file gives you.
The reason most people select the JPEG option is because it’s quick and easy, just like buying a hamburger from The Golden Arches is the quickest way to satisfy your hunger vs cooking a meal from scratch with organic ingredients – even though that will always be far better quality and more satisfying in the long run because you made it yourself.
Shooting in RAW mode involves extra effort, uses more space on your memory cards and can be tricky to get your head around but I believe the extra effort is totally worth it.
When you shoot JPEG you take images, when you shoot in RAW you create images.
Still not convinced? Check out this example that clearly shows the limitations of shooting JPEG
In this image, I would normally expose for my highlights so that I can capture all the incredible detail in the clouds. In this case, I deliberately overexposed the image by 2 stops to blow out my highlights to show the limitations of shooting only in JPEG mode.
By shooting in RAW, I am easily able to retrieve all the data in the sky and bring in my highlights and create the image I pictured in my mind’s eye.
Raw files contain so much more information and allow room for the occasional over or underexposed image that you may get when shooting under pressure.
Trying to salvage the same image shot as JPEG is impossible. The highlights just turn to caca and the sky can’t be saved.
Just like cooking vs fast food, this will involve extra work. If you are not ready to embrace RAW just yet, do your future self a huge favour and shoot RAW AND JPEG from now on. Whenever you download your files, store the JPEGS in a separate folder that you can access down the track when you are ready to take the next step.
Just go into “Menu” on the back of your camera and select File size > Raw + JPEG L
Want more bang for your pixels? Don’t leave the look of your shot to chance or Hans. Take control. Embrace RAW!