By reading this article you’ll learn why shooting RAW for food photography is so important and which are the differences between JPEG and RAW format.
You are taking your first steps in food photography, maybe you have just bought a DSLR and would like to understand all the options on the menu. One of the first questions you should ask yourself is: which file format is right for me? In this post I tell you the difference between JPEG and RAW, examining the pros and cons, and which format I suggest you to choose between the two (SPOILER: the RAW).
Now I’d like to tell you something: when I got my first DSLR, I read everywhere that it was recommended to shoot RAW. I took my first photos shooting in RAW + JPEG, basically because I didn’t know how to process a RAW file and I wanted to be sure I had a file to upload on the blog.
Later, I started photographing only in RAW. Amazing!
Not really… Once I opened the files on my computer, I used to convert the RAW files in JPEG and then “post-produced” them. If I think back now, it was pretty useless (and now I tell you why).
Shooting JPEG for food photography
JPEG, or JPG, is one of the most common formats for the images and it can be read by any device with a screen, without an additional software.
As it’s a compressed file, the JPEG has a small size. This means that any changes you make on the photo will be destructive and will result in a reduction in the quality of the image.
A JPEG photo is ready to use, because it’s post-produced by the camera: each camera “develops” the photos by interpreting colors, lights and shadows in a different way, depending on the brand. For example, Canon’s red may not be like Nikon’s red or the red you had in mind for your photo.
- small file size
- ready to use
- it doesn’t require additional software
- destructive post-production
- lower final quality
- poor options in post-production
Shooting RAW for food photography
The RAW file is a large file that contains all the information captured by the sensor, as well as all the metadata. RAW is an uncompressed file and must be processed and converted to another format before use (compared to the JPEG produced by the camera, the RAW is low in contrast and the colors are muted).
TIP: When you shoot RAW, the photo you se on the camera screen is a JPEG developed by your DSLR.
- non-destructive post-production
- higher final quality
- many options in post-production
- large files
- files not ready to use
- RAW development software is required
RAW vs JPEG: the differences in photo
The two images below show the same photo taken in JPEG and RAW. Note that the JPEG file you see is the one developed directly by the camera. The differences between the two files, although apparently subtle, are mainly in the colors and contrast.
The image shot in JPEG could already be used as it is, and the result produced by the camera is not that bad, while the RAW file needs to be processed and converted.
Post-production is nothing more than the development of a RAW file; basically it’s the darkroom of analog photography. In food photography, and in photography in general, the development of RAW files is important to transform the image into the idea you have in mind.
The post-production allows you to have full control over lights, shadows and even colors, both to faithfully reproduce reality and to give a personal and creative touch to the images.
Once you have developed your RAW file, you simply need to export it to JPEG through the editing program of your choice.
Now I show you what happens when the two images above are processed in Lightroom.
By applying the exact same changes to the two photos, the difference between the two formats is even more evident. In particular, the colors of the photo taken in JPEG have a different hue and saturation.
So if you want full control on your photos you have to shoot in RAW.
What programs can process RAW files?
To open and develop a RAW file you can use the software provided for free by your camera manufacturer (for Canon Digital Photo Professional, for Nikon Capture NX-D). Alternatively, there are paid solutions, such as Capture One or Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. My favorite is Lightroom, which also offers a free mobile version (useful if you shoot with your phone).
A RAW file allows you to develop an image by acting on some parameters, such as:
- white balance
- lights and shadows (parts that are too dark or too bright are more easily recoverable)
Let’s sum up: shooting RAW for food photography
Shooting in JPEG isn’t wrong, but I think it misses out on an important (and fun) part of digital photography.
If you are a beginner and post-production still seems too complex, I suggest you to shoot in RAW + JPEG: in this way you will have a ready-to-use file, but also a digital negative to process later or on which you can do some experiment.
In any case, if you shoot in JPEG take maximum care of the shooting phase, making sure to expose correctly. This way the need to manipulate the image will be reduced and your photo will be ready to be shared.
Is your adventure in food photography just started? Read these 5 tips that will help you improve your photos!
Do shoot in RAW already? If so, what program do you use to process the photos? Let me know in the comments!