JPG vs RAW — Why You Should be Shooting RAW

Please Note: This article is not optimised for mobile viewing. Please consider switching to a desktop browser.
JPG vs RAW |

Your DSLR camera can shoot in two different picture formats. JPG and RAW. JPG can be likened to a polaroid, once you've taken the picture, the camera processes it, spits out the final picture and it is finished. Nothing more can be done to it. Where a RAW file is more like the digital version of the film negative. You've taken the photo, but you still have to process and finalise the image before printing.

This comparison alone should be enough to convince you that you should be shooting RAW, but because I like my articles to be full of rich knowledge and over explained explanations, I'm going to give you some visual comparisons to help you make up your mind. In this article I will explain the Visual QualityHighlight and Shadow Recovery and Picture Styles.

There are scenarios where shooting JPG instead of RAW would be preferred, like sports photography for example. You may have many, many images that need to be taken, and only slight editing adjustments to be made... if any at all. Shooting JPG will allow you to shoot faster, take more images and will cut down your importing and exporting times in post. Also, if you have a lot of images to take, but won't need to process them beyond a little bit of white balance or shadow/highlight correction, JPG will be your best friend. But for the most part, RAW will be and quite frankly should be, the best and only option.


Visual Quality & Shadow Recovery


Unedited JPG
Click to Enlarge

Unedited RAW
Click to Enlarge

I conducted a quick photoshoot to give you an idea of the differences between JPG and RAW. I shot these images with JPG+RAW turned on. This allows the camera to save a JPG alongside the RAW file when I take a shot, giving me a JPG and a RAW version of the exact same file.

On the left is the straight out of camera (SOOC) JPG and on the right is the SOOC RAW file. You can see the JPG has more contrast and the colours are more saturated. Where as the RAW file has less contrast, the colours are dull and there's more detail in the shadow areas.

This is because the picture style (discussed in more detail below) has processed the RAW file in camera and saved it as a JPG. The RAW file hasn't had any changes or corrections made to it, and is the RAW data the camera captured.


Unedited JPG 100% Crop
Click to Enlarge

Unedited RAW 100% Crop
Click to Enlarge

Here is the same file again, only cropped in at 100%. You can see that the RAW file is sharper and again we can see that there's more details in the shadows and the colours aren't as saturated (this is a good thing as it gives you more latitude when processing your image).

You might be thinking the JPG looks way better than the RAW file and you might be thinking "Why would I shoot RAW when it's flat and dull?" Well you're correct, the RAW file is flat and dull, but it is supposed to be. The RAW file needs to be processed and coloured the way you want it. Shooting straight to JPG, the camera will apply adjustments and convert the file to JPG when the shot is taken giving you more contrast and more saturated colours, depending on the picture style you're using.


Identical Edited JPG 100% Crop
Click to Enlarge

Identical Edited RAW 100% Crop
Click to Enlarge

Here I've processed the RAW file (right) to create a final image. Again, I'm showing you a 100% crop. I then synced both images in Lightroom so the JPG has the exact same edits. You can see the JPG loses fine details in the hair and the colour saturation is far overpowering to the point where colour details are being lost.

The sharpening and noise reduction nearly cancel each other out, resulting in further detail loss. There still isn't enough shadow detail, and if I pushed it any further I would start to see horrible noise and image degradation. Highlights are muddy and toward the grey side on the JPG.

Obviously you would never edit a JPG to this point because you will start to degrade the image quality. This prevents you from taking your edit far and leaving your image close to how is came out of camera instead of truly making it your own. The more you edit a JPG, the less and less the quality becomes.

Shooting RAW allows you to retain the full amount of detail in your image, so you're able to finish the image the way you want it. It allows you to control the sharpening and the compression, and gives you more choice.


Blank JPG Image

Blank RAW Image

Take a look at this comparison. I took a photo without a lens and with the camera's body cap on. Using JPG+RAW these files are identical. I increased the exposure in Photoshop using a Curves adjustment pulling the curve to the top left corner on both of the files and you can see the difference between JPG and RAW.

The JPG image is still mostly black with sharp splotches of noise scattered randomly throughout the image. The RAW file however is almost all colour. This colour is sensor noise. You can see that I was able to increase the exposure so far that I was able to recover so much of the image. The image is of course nothing, but I was able to lift the blacks beyond the point of them no longer being black.

The noise is also a lot cleaner than the JPG. It is consistent in colour and you can see the noise is quite uniform, mostly being in horizontal and vertical lines. This consistency makes it a lot easier to reduce and remove noise in your editor. The noise is also a lot finer in detail, so it is hidden well within your image and is harder to notice.


Highlight Recovery

RAW is also very important for highlight recovery. The two images below are identical, again shot with JPG+RAW. I exposed for the foreground and the shadows, which left the sky overexposed. These images aren't anything special, I've simply shot them to give you a clear idea about the highlight recovery opportunity.

Unedited JPG

Unedited RAW

Again just like the shadows, you can see there's more highlight detail in the RAW then there is in the JPG. It's a bit more subtle for the highlights, but the detail is still there.

In Lightroom I reduced the Highlights and Whites sliders down to -100 for both images then exported them. You can see that I was able to recover the majority of the sky with the Raw file, however the JPG is all but lost. It just goes straight to a plain grey colour with no detail at all. This greying of the highlights in the JPG happened almost immediately.

Recovered Highlights - JPG

Recovered Highlights - RAW


Picture Styles

Your camera can utilise Picture Styles to process the JPGs in camera. Sharpness, Contrast and Saturation are some of the parameters that can be used depending on your camera. So if you're shooting JPG and the images are a bit soft or the contrast isn't strong enough you can use the Picture Styles to adjust the look of the image straight out of camera. Picture Styles don't affect RAW files as RAW files are the raw data the camera captures. They only affect the JPG image.


Some Things to Keep in Mind

RAW files can only be read by specialised software. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are two examples. CaptureOne Pro (by Phase One) and Phocus (by Hasselblad) are two other programs that can also read it. RAW files are not a final image format. You cannot give those files to clients and expect them to be able to view them. You must process them in software then save those final images in a format that can be shared; like a JPG or TIFF for example.

RAW files are much larger in size than a JPG so they will take up more room on your computer and SD cards. So you will want to be shooting with larger card capacities like 16GB or 32GB. RAW files can't be altered, instead changes made to a RAW file are saved to what's called an XMP file. These are separate files that are created along side your RAW file when you start making changes in software. So you need to make sure you don't delete those XMP files or move them away from the corresponding RAW file as the changes won't be see in software. This can be combatted by converting them to Adobe's RAW format — DNG —. Keep in mind this also has its own set of problems. — I have an article that explains image formats and discusses this in more depth here.

Do not give your RAW files to your clients. This is more a business tip than anything else. You must edit your images and finalise them the way you want them, it is your work. Clients should NEVER get a hold of RAW files. Keep that in mind.


I hope this article has been an interesting and informing read. If you have any questions or comments to make, comment below. Also, if you’d like to receive an email every time I publish a new post, you can subscribe to my mailing list below.

Other Recent Articles

Laptops for Photo Editing — Do I Recommend it?

DISCLAIMER: This article was originally published in the "Computer & Technology Help for Photographers" group on Facebook of which I am an admin. This article has been updated and rewritten since it's original publish date.
Please Note: This article is not optimised for mobile viewing. Please consider switching to a desktop browser.
Laptops for Photo Editing |

The short answer is: "I DO but also DON’T recommend laptops for photo editing."

For a quick summary. If you MUST have the ability to take the laptop with you on shoots or to continue work on the go, but can’t afford to also have a desktop. Then you can get a laptop, but it MUST be connected to an external monitor at your desk every time you work on your images. This isn’t a recommendation. It is a necessity!

Here is why:

The Screen's Angle of View

Each and every time you open the display, your colours and contrast will change because the angle of what you’re viewing has changed. So, unless you make some sort of jig or use an alignment tool to guarantee the angle of the screen is the same, you aren't going to be very consistent from shot to shot or batch to batch. Have a Cat or Children? A simple bump or rub from them can screw up the laptop's Angle of View. Even if you "know" that you have never touched the screen. There are no guarantees.

Laptop Screens are Usually Very Glossy and Bright

Laptop screens are meant to be viewed in a variety of environments and in all sorts of lighting, from an Airport to Coffee Shop to your Home and beyond. They are great for web browsing, watching a movie, writing e-mail, balancing your cheque book (who even does that anymore?), etc. basically everything else BUT NOT PHOTO EDITING.

You NEED a Calibration Tool!

Your colours are going to be a whacked until you get a baseline and get calibrated. THEN you will have to compare them to your prints. Since laptops change so quickly, they are "orphaned" a lot quicker than desktops. Meaning driver updates or compatibility issues with your calibration tool likely won't be fixed or addressed. The only laptops that I have seen get good reviews for being decent out of the box is the MacBook Pro from Apple. Now, what if your response is, "But my last laptop was fine and it lasted 7-10 years…" or "My Prints matched my laptop's screen pretty well (on my old laptop) …" or something along those lines. My response: YOU GOT LUCKY!! Don't bank on it happening again. As display panels change, so do the way they reproduce colours. Manufactures are always looking to cut costs and keep power consumption low on laptops, so the displays could be better…or more than likely worse with each newer model.

Horsepower is Another Issue

They are designed with low power consumption in mind so they aren't always the fastest. Heat…Heat is the enemy. The faster or harder something runs, the hotter it gets, the longer things take to complete, and things to lock-up and hesitate on a normal basis. So, if you are doing a lot of batching, that could have been an issue. Now comes for the upgradeability issues and hardware limitations. RAM usually can't be upgraded more than 16GB and hard drives tend to be slow, again for lower power consumption. Video Memory (part of the GPU) is often shared with the RAM so the ability to power very large resolutions that drive 27" displays is non-existent. Meaning, you can't just simply go out and buy whatever display that you wish, you'll need to pay attention to the maximum resolution that the laptop can produce for an external display. Laptops that have their own dedicated memory are a little better powering the larger displays, but most people don’t request them, so those models are a bit harder to find and usually cost a lot more.

Keyboards and Trackpads are Usually Terrible

It's an eye-opening experience when you physically go to a store and try some typing and use a trackpad. Keyboards are quite cheap these days and I can almost guarantee you, a mouse will be hooked up to a laptop for photo editing. So that kills some portability right there. The MacBook Pros from Apple are the only laptops I am aware of that have an incredible trackpad and keyboard.


Laptops often only last about three years before they become "Too Slow" or start locking up or just downright fail on you. Three years is the average these days. So where do you get them fixed? At least with Apple and Sony, they have Apple and Sony Stores. OEM Batteries aren't cheap either. They average about $150 or more to get a replacement. Time-frame, batteries seem to last 1.5 years on the average. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more. Of course, you have companies bringing out serious gaming laptops and the MacBook Pros from Apple all tend to last 4-5 years without repairs needed.



As you can see, there are lots of compromises with laptops. They are designed for portability, not heavy use or to truly replace a desktop. As a general rule of thumb, you want to be on a 5-7-year span with replacing computers. Laptops, you want them to last at least 4-5 years (Don’t buy it if you can’t get a minimum of 3 years warranty). So, if you are going down the laptop route, expect to pay close to or above the cost of an iMac or decent Windows Workstation PC.

Here’s a General Costing:
$1700 for a high-performance laptop ($2300 AUD)
$600+ for a decent external display ($800 AUD)
$400 for a couple of EHD's ($550 AUD)

— We are up to $2700. OK, so you spend less, say $1000 on a laptop (you can’t get into the Apple eco-system for less than $1300). That’s $2000. OK, so you only buy one EHD instead of two. That’s $1800. You are about at the price of a really decent desktop, whether it's a Windows Box or an iMac.

— Now if you have made it this far and are still determined to purchase a laptop, please use this very loose guide:

— Buy the Biggest and Best you can afford. There is no such thing as not enough RAM, CPU Power or hard drive Space. A realistic budget should be around $1500 ($2000 AUD) to start with. Again, if you buy a $500 laptop, only expect it to work 18 months until you are buying a new one.

— Laptops that have their own dedicated video memory are preferred. Not only from a performance perspective, but so you can power an external monitor and support resolutions on a 24" or 27" display (Apple’s 15” MacBook Pro is the only option if you’re going Apple).

— Which brings me to my next point: PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND GREEN, USE AN EXTERNAL DISPLAY TO VIEW AND EDIT PHOTOS ON. By doing so, you will have a much better screen that should be IPS-Based.

— Calibration Tool: Chances are, you will need to purchase or upgrade to a model that will allow you to calibrate two screens, one for the laptop, one for the display. Keep in mind that you will never get the two screens to match perfectly. Get them close? Yes...but not match perfectly.

As for what model, we couldn't tell you, at least for a consumer-priced laptop anyway. Even if we did find one with all of the required specs, that model will be replaced by another in about 3 months. That is the normal time-frame for off the shelf laptops. If you can get one custom built, go that route. You will spend more than $500, but you will get a better machine and have better support, plus be able to dictate what you want under the hood.

Well, that's all for now. This article is the 3rd Draft, which has been modified considerably, but there will most definitely be updates in the future.


I hope this article has been an interesting and informing read. If you have any questions or comments to make, comment below. Also, if you’d like to receive an email every time I publish a new post, you can subscribe to my mailing list below.

Other Recent Articles


Strong SEO with Squarespace

DISCLAIMER: I am not affiliated with Squarespace other than a paying customer. I was not paid to publish this article or gaining any benefit from Squarespace. This is my true and honest opinion of the product.
Please Note: This article is not optimised for mobile viewing. Please consider switching to a desktop browser.
Squarespace SEO |
This is the third instalment of a couple of articles on Squarespace and how to utilise it for photographers. Hopefully this article is comprehensive and gives you an insight into thinking outside the box with Squarespace.

I will admit, SEO is something a lot of people don't understand, it is complicated and difficult to get right. Thankfully, because you use Squarespace, SEO is built in, and it is super easy to get a good page ranking on Google.

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, and is essentially how well your website and its pages are ranked on Google (and bing and Yahoo, but no one uses them). This article will take you through the steps needed to up your SEO game and be subsequently better ranked on Google... Hopefully the home page.

— The Technical Stuff — 

Step One

Design > Logo & Title

In the site title, you want to add the title of your website or business as well as a tagline. Now you want your tag line to be rich with keywords. In my case, I'm a Photographer and a web designer. In my case I would put nick jeremiah | Photographer & Designer into the site title. That shows my business name, as well as a tag line that describes what I do, but they are both keywords. So when someone types Photographer or Designer into Google, my page may show up. You can use capitals or lower case, it doesn't matter. My title is written like that purely because it follows my branding. 

Some templates will show this in the header of the site. If you don't want this, simply upload a logo and it'll override the text. HOWEVER, keep the site title in there, because Squarespace uses that for the title in Browsers and for SEO.


Step Two

Settings > Basic Information

This is where you want to put in a description of your business. This description needs to again be rich in keywords, but must flow like a regular sentence. If it is just a bunch of keywords next to each other, Google will see this when crawling your website and will rank it unfavourably (because you're keyword farming and could potentially get an unfavourable ranking). Here is my site description:

"nick jeremiah Photographer & Designer is an artist based in South Gippsland specialising in photography and web design."

I have my business name first. it then describes who I am, where I am based and what I do. All using keywords that identify my business. These are also the keywords that my target market will be searching for in Google. So I want to make sure that my site shows up when these words are searched. It doesn't need to be lengthy, something short and to the point works well, so long as you have strong keywords.


Step Three

Settings > SEO

In the search engine description, you want to add in your site description there as well. This information will show up under your site title in search results. The site description on Google currently doesn't display what I have written in the SEO section, because I have recently changed it and Google hasn't yet re-crawled my website for changes. I will explain this later on in this post.

The rest of the items on that page can be left as is, unless you know what they are for, and how they work.


— The Not-So-Technical Stuff —

Page Descriptions

Each of your pages needs to have a description. Including keywords on what that page is about and what it contains. But remember, you need to include these keywords in a fluid sentence, otherwise Google won't like you. Some templates use the site description in the header. If you don't want that, you can remove the image or video from the Media tab, and that will remove the description from the public facing website, but still keep the description there for SEO purposes. If you do want the banner there, with the text, then you'll have to forego with the SEO description on that page.

If you have pages within an index, then you will need to make a fluid page description with keywords, explaining what each page is within that index. Google won't include pages within an Index, so make sure the description for that index describes each page.

Image Descriptions

Each image you upload will have a file name. Instead of keeping it the default file name (which is whatever the file was named on your computer) and replace it with a title, followed by your website address. For Example, the header image for this blog post has a file name: Squarespace SEO | What this does, is in Google Images, when this image shows up, it'll display that title, along with the webpage it came from.

Images in a gallery block will have a Title and a Description. Do the same thing there. If the title shows up on a hover state, then put the title in the description section if you don't want it visible.

— Submitting the Sitemap —

Google Webmaster Tools

When your site is complete and ready to launch, create a Google account, if you don't have one already and log in to Google Webmaster Tools. Click the red Add Property button and type in your website URL. In my case, it is You'll then be prompted to verify that you own that domain name. I recommend the option of adding a CNAME record to the DNS for your domain (this keeps having unnecessary code on your website).  Just follow the prompts and instructions on how to do that. Once you have done that, you can add the sitemap. All you have to do is type sitemap.xml in the required field and you're done. Squarespace automatically creates a sitemap and embeds it into your site, so you don't have to mess around with it. It really is that simple. 

If your site is likely to change page structures often, or new content gets added regularly, it is a good idea every three months or so to resubmit the sitemap, this will send a new updated sitemap to Google, Google will be forced to re-crawl your website and all the new changes, descriptions, page layouts will be updated in the search results.

Bing Webmaster

The same thing applies to Bing Webmaster. Sign in with your Microsoft account, create one if you don't already have one. And the process is relatively the same. You'll type in your website first, then the website again, followed by /sitemap.xml, then fill out the rest of the information, verify your domain (by CNAME recommended), and you're done. Bing pushes it's SEO results over to Yahoo search, so you kill two birds with one stone. Now, no one really uses Yahoo or Bing anymore, but it's free, it's pretty easy and once it is done, you don't have to worry about it too much... So why not.


I hope this article has been an interesting and informing read. If you have any questions or comments to make, comment below. Also, if you’d like to receive an email every time I publish a new post, you can subscribe to my mailing list below.

Other Recent Articles

Full Post Production Workflow

My full post production workflow from capture to print.

Read More

Photography File Formats

Learn about the different file formats photographers use.

Read More