Why I Shoot RAW + JPEG

The concept of me shooting RAW + JPEG came up recently when I posted about my digital photography workflow, and I know a few people questioned why. I’ve definitely been asked the question in the past when I’ve told people I shoot this way, and I honestly don’t know many people (if any) that do this, so I’m going to explain my reasons…

What Is Raw & JPEG?
If you aren’t sure what the difference between the two file types are, then feel free to Google the subject or click these reference links. Just to give you my nutshell version, here goes… RAW is an unprocessed piece of data that your camera creates that must be processed before an image is viewable. It is comparable to an undeveloped piece of film from a 35mm camera. A JPEG is a processed and compressed file that does not need to be processed any further to view the image. It is like a piece of 35mm film that has already been developed and is ready to be printed.

Reference Links:
What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?
Why you should shoot RAW.
10 part video series about RAW vs. JPEG
How to set RAW + JPEG on Canon cameras.

So why do I shoot both file types on my digital camera? Like many newcomers to digital photography, when I got my first DSLR I didn’t know what RAW was or why I should shoot it. I started out shooting only JPEG, but when I tried submitting photos to a magazine they told me they could only accept RAW files. I immediately switched my camera to the RAW mode, but I also went to Google and started doing a little research about RAW because I was clueless as to what it was, why I should shoot it, or how to handle the file it once it was on my computer.

One of the first things I read simply stated that you should always shoot RAW and JPEG because someday your computer or programs may not read RAW files anymore. However, computers always have and always will read JPEG files. That was all the reason I needed to begin shooting RAW + JPEG. It was a simple concept, but I took it very seriously because I completely understood the principle. Digital photography is still in the very early stages of its life, and no one knows where it will end up, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Before I got so proficient with Adobe Bridge for my digital photography workflow I actually used the JPEG files as previews or thumbnails because they loaded so much quicker than their RAW counterparts. I’ve since stopped doing that, but for a while it was convenient, and definitely helped me sort through my images.

When I upgraded from a Canon 20D to a Canon 5D Mark II, the RAW files were different, and the version of Adobe Photoshop I was using at the time no longer read or opened my RAW files—just like I had feared several years prior when I started shooting RAW + JPEG. I couldn’t open the RAW files until I got a newer version of Photoshop, but luckily I had the backup JPEGs so I was at least able to see my images to get a general idea of what the photos looked like.

Yes, shooting both file types is slower, but at a measly three frames per second, I’m not shooting sequences with the 5DMKII anyway. And yes, shooting both file types takes up more room on my hard drives, but digital space is cheap, and it’s an extremely small price to pay to have backup files of all my photographs. And of course, shooting RAW takes up more time in post-production, but that extra time is absolutely insignificant when you consider that you are working with high-quality, professional photographs.

The one time I can recall turning off the + JPEG option was when I was in Africa for two weeks and I didn’t have a computer to upload my files to. My memory cards were all full and I was desperate for extra space, so I saved some room by switching to a smaller RAW setting and eliminating the extra + JPEG feature.

That brings me to my last point… I always shoot in the largest RAW format possible (my camera has multiple sizes of RAW files), but I use the smallest JPEG option. This may sound hypocritical based off my “digital space is cheap philosophy,” but remember; I only use the JPEG file as a reference file and a last-resort backup.

The bottom line is this: In my opinion, there is just no reason to shoot RAW files without the extra backup JPEGs.

Feel free to leave comments on this post and let me know what you think and how you shoot…

6 thoughts on “Why I Shoot RAW + JPEG

  1. Ryan Ogawa

    You may be on to something Fat, I would be destroyed if photo software soon just put a stop to RAW. Or if the camera industry simply created a new RAW standard. One change I have noticed taking affect around my city is the shortage of CF cards, everything is SDHC now. Standards are changing so often now, we are probably more safe than sorry shooting RAW+JPG.

  2. Saam-WELL

    Why don’t magazines accept JPEG files? When you export photos from photoshop do you export as TIFF? When I save TIFF with Adobe Lightroom every picture is over 50MB because it’s always 16 bit, which makes it hard to get prints at places because those dumb print machines only go up to 25 or 50 MB, and then I end up having to re-size them so that they can print, which sucks. Does Photoshop offer an export option that lets you make 12 or 14 bit pictures? What do you usually export to? Does my abundance of questions frustrate you?

  3. Fat Tony Post author

    Magazines don’t accept JPEG files because they want to be able to process the photos on their own, and you can’t do that with a JPEG. Some magazines will accept a TIFF file if it has already been dialed in really well, but from my experience, when a magazine has a production staff (which is a team of professionals that all they do is process photos for print) they will do a better job of making your photo look the best it can look than you could do.

    When I save photos to be printed, I save as TIFF, and of course always use CMYK color mode as well. (Remember, RGB is only for online viewing.)

    The TIFF files will definitely be large—often over 50MB—especially with a camera that shoots at 21MP like my Canon 5D Mark II. I’ve never had a printer tell me they have a 50MB limit, but if that’s the case, they probably aren’t a very good printer anyway. There is no need to bring a 18″ photo into a place that is only making a 5 x 7″ print for you, so just resize it in Photoshop first and that way you can be sure to get the crop you want anyway.

    I always open my photos at 8bit. I honestly don’t know much about the difference between 8bit and 16bit, so maybe I’ll read up on that soon. I did a quick Google search and found an article that will probably help me out with that here… http://www.photoshopessentials.com/essentials/16-bit/

    However, I’ve been shooting professionally for the past six years and haven’t needed to worry about it yet, so it’s probably not THAT big of a deal for me at this point, haha.

  4. Noah

    “RAW is an unprocessed piece of data that your camera creates that must be processed before an image is viewable”

    They do however make a RAW (CR2 for Canon) viewer that allows you view RAW files on your computer without processing. I know for sure this is the case for Windows 7 because I use it.

  5. Noah

    This is a great post and a great discussion topic!

    I personally don’t shoot RAW + JPG for the following reasons:

    1. More space (not really an issue anymore but it was when I only had a single 4gb CF card)
    2. If something happens with the card (ie:corruption), both formats will be lost anyways (this actually happened to mean last month)
    3. As long as the most current version of Photoshop exists and Windows is still around, there will be a way to access the RAW files. Both aren’t going away anytime soon. Software just doesn’t change all the fast. Plus if you keep the original CDs that came with your camera (ie: DPP for Canon), you’ll always have a way to access and convert from RAW, even if Photoshop ceases to exist.
    4. JPGs are nice but they are far less flexible to work with
    5. Managing extra files is a pain
    6. I try to convert all my RAW to JPG within a month of taking the photo, so I’m not really concerned with RAW not working in 20 years. Unless you are a pro, keeping the RAW is pointless unless you feel you’ll go back to it in 10 years when Photoshop 13 is released and tweak something or you take very little photos. I’m not a pro and I’ve taken over 30K photos in the last 6-7 years. Saving that many RAW photos would be nightmare. Yes, I know I’m also a photo hoarder :)

  6. Chris Riesner

    Look into converting your raw files to .DNG files (I do it in the uploading process using bridge’s uploader). I believe the .DNG file format is supposed to be the universal/archival format of all the camera RAW files.

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