JPEG vs RAW: Unlocking the true potential of your photos


Have you ever tried to rescue a photo with your photo-editing software only to find out that the image was way too overexposed or underexposed or the color balance is beyond hope, like the one below? This can be a problem and it’s one I often faced early on as a photographer when shooting under tough light conditions or in other tricky situations. However, it’s also something that can be solved quite easily if you learn to take control of your photos by exploring the difference between JPEG and RAW. But is one photo format really better than the other? Let’s take a look at the JPEG vs RAW debate, and photo from Alexander Vlad of Captivate Creative Studios that is part a series chronicling his trip to Romania, to see how making the jump to RAW can help you unlock the true potential of your photos.

How can you give yourself a chance to rescue photos taken under less than ideal conditions?

How can you give yourself a chance to rescue photos taken under less than ideal conditions?

What is JPEG?

Most digital cameras, like your average point-and-shoot or smartphone, save your photos in a standard image format, called JPG or JPEG. There are lots of advantages to saving your photos to JPEG, most notably, JPEGs can be opened on any device without special software. The quality can be pretty darn good in most cases and JPEGs can be compressed to take up a relatively small amount of space on your memory card or hard drive. Small JPEGs are ideal for sharing through email or posting to your favorite social media networks.

With JPEGs, your camera does some processing for you, before you even see the image on the back of your camera. The photo below is a JPEG as processed by the camera with no additional enhancements or edits. It doesn’t look too bad and lots of people are satisfied with using JPEG for all kinds of situations with no work afterwards. And while the colors in the JPEG may seem more pleasing than an untouched RAW file, lots of detail is lost in the JPEG, especially in the sky (as we’ll see in a coming photo). I find JPEG to be most useful  when I’m snapping my everyday shots—like a night out with friends or the latest stuff I’m putting up for sale on Amazon. Basically, if you’re in any situation where you want to get your photos fast and with minimal effort before sharing them, then shooting in JPEG is the right tool for the job… but it’s not always the best choice.

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Untouched JPEG straight out of the camera

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Untouched JPEG straight out of the camera

Why would I use anything but JPEG?

While shooting in JPEG can be extremely helpful in some cases, those same advantages can

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