Professional Photography and the Importance of RAW

When taking photos as a professional photographer there are a lot of things to consider when making sure that you are delivering the highest possible quality product in the end. Of course, that final product will be in the form of professional photography delivered to the client. One of the ways to help make sure that the final product in professional photography is the best that it is capable of being, is to shoot in RAW mode versus shooting in JPEG. There are many reasons why RAW is beneficial over JPEG. In this article we will cover some of those reasons and the importance behind choosing RAW over JPEG. We will discuss why to choose RAW format when doing professional photography.


What is JPEG?

JPEG is a very popular photo format that is used everywhere in professional photography. It is extremely common throughout the entire professional photography world. One of the reasons that it is used and a very popular choice is because it is capable of displaying a high quality image with a reduced file size. The reason it is capable of having a smaller file size is because parts of the image are compressed using mathematic algorithms to match colors and remove details not easily noticeable to the naked eye. If the compression is high enough then the degradation may be noticeable to the naked eye, but either way, once the image has been compressed a lot of details for the image are discarded. You’re left with basically a final product in professional photography that can’t be heavily adjusted for things such as exposure, color correction, etc.


What is RAW?

RAW images are exactly as their name suggests. They are the RAW images that are produced from the image sensor on the camera itself in professional photography. RAW images do not have any compression, and contain all of the original image data that the camera was capable of collecting prior to converting it to a JPEG or some other compressed photo format. RAW images are typically much larger in size and can be a little more cumbersome to work with in professional photography sessions.


Advantages of RAW in Professional Photography

  • Dramatic Exposure Adjustment
  • Complete White Balance Control
  • Non-Destructive Editing

Dramatic Exposure Adjustment in Professional Photography

When working with RAW versus JPEG images, one of the biggest advantages we have available to us in professional photography is the ability to make dramatic exposure adjustments and still maintain excellent image integrity and quality. Imagine that exposure can be adjusted on a level of 1 to 10. An exposure adjustment of level one is a very minor adjustment to how dark or bright the image is. A level 10 adjustment is the maximum adjustment to exposure. With JPEG you can only adjust the exposure so far in post process before the loss of detail is obvious. For this explanation we will say that a JPEG is capable of handling a level 3 exposure adjustment. If you try to adjust any further in professional photography, the image will look noticeably bad. The benefit of using the RAW image format in professional photography is that it can handle a level 7 exposure adjustment. Any more than a level 7 adjustment and the image will how noticeable negative degradation. This is actually an incredible difference in how much it is capable of being adjusted. For example, in professional photography, if you had an image that was severely over exposed or under exposed, that image may be completely salvageable using RAW format and would be not useable at all had you shot in JPEG format. It can literally mean the difference between having a useable image and not! In professional photography, this can be the difference that makes the entire shoot!

The reason why RAW images are capable of handling such dramatic exposure adjustments is because of how much data is stored in the RAW image regarding the amount of light in the photo. JPEG images are capable recording up to 256 levels of brightness, while RAW images are capable of recording up to 16,384 levels of brightness. The difference is huge in professional photography!


Complete White Balance Control in Professional Photography

When an image is produced by a digital camera in professional photography, the camera will record a white balance adjustment that it decided was appropriate based on a sensor on the camera. When white balance is recorded in a raw image, it is simply stored as a mathematical value in the image itself. It is stored as a setting that can be adjusted. When an image is converted to JPEG, that recorded white balance setting gets burned into the image when it is compressed and that setting is no longer adjustable as a setting, rather the only way to change the photo is with color casting post process in your professional photography session. With RAW images, because the white balance is literally stored as a setting within the image, it can be adjusted to whatever values you want. You have the capability of adjusting the white balance in its true form from one end of the spectrum all the way to the complete opposite end. You have complete 100% control in professional photography. This really sets RAW apart from JPEG in a huge way. This is one fantastic reason why shooting in RAW is the best for professional photography.

Professional Photography and Non-Destructive Editing

A RAW image is stored as a series of settings and numbers representing the image itself. The image is in its raw state being generated mathematically and programmatically by the computer or camera. When a JPEG image is displayed, it is displayed simply for what it is, a picture. When you edit a JPEG image in professional photography, the modifications are stored into the image as if your changes became part of the image itself. If you accidentally make a modification to the image and save it, that modification is now a part of that image. With RAW, you can make whatever adjustments you want to it in your professional photography. All of your adjustments are stored as mathematical changes to the original values that were stored making up the image itself. Those changes can all be reversed very easily and you can revert back to the original image easily. RAW allows you to make changes and never have to worry about not being able to undo those changes in the future. Non-destructive editing makes a huge difference in professional photography and our ability to edit photos.


Summary of Shooting in RAW

In the end, there are many other reasons why RAW is better than JPEG in professional photography. If you absolutely insist on shooting with JPEG then simply know that you can always shoot in both if you use Canon. I’m not sure about other brands, but with Canon, you can tell the camera to store a version of the photo in RAW and in JPEG. In professional photography, I believe that RAW is the only way that photos should be taken. Most people in professional photography would agree.

Do you want to learn more about shooting in manual mode? Check out an article we wrote on why manual mode is important in professional photography. We also have articles on how to adjust shutter speed, adjust your ISO, and another article on how to adjust your aperture.

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