Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter
September 24, 2012

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Today's Question: I photograph a few weddings per year but have a friend who has a very successful wedding photography business. He shoots all of his weddings in JPEG and in the sRGB color space. I've read many articles stating that I'm doing it right by shooting in RAW and in Adobe RGB 1998 color space. However, I have yet to see any advantage over my friend. If anything, he has the advantage over me with less storage needed for his jpg files. In addition, his photos look instantly good when seeing them in Lightroom where I have to process mine with presets in Lightroom before they look sharp and have that pop like his jpg files.

Do you have any compelling reasons why I should stick with my setup for wedding photography?
Tim's Answer: The "JPEG versus RAW" debate continues to be something of a hot button issue in photography, which is only slightly surprising to me. So let me start off by stating something very clearly:

You can get incredible photographs of exceptional quality while shooting in JPEG.

And let me draw a parallel that is, in my mind, similar in terms of the controversey:

You can get incredible photographs of exceptional quality while shooting without a tripod.

Obviously a tripod has nothing to do with the JPEG versus RAW debate, but I think it is a good illustrative issue. It is safer to tell photographers they should always use a tripod, and it is safer to tell photographers they should always shoot in RAW.

Now, this is from a photographer who shoots almost exclusively in RAW. The only time I capture in JPEG is when I'm capturing a sequence of images for a time-lapse, or when I use my iPhone rather than my DSLR. There are advantages to RAW capture, and I prefer to play it safe by capturing in RAW almost exclusively.

That said, you can produce excellent results in JPEG. And especially for wedding photographers, the sRGB color space is perfectly adequate. Let's consider the potential advantages of RAW capture over JPEG:

1) With RAW capture you have at least a stop or two of potential compensation for a less-than-perfect exposure. In other words, if you're comfortable with your ability to achieve excellent exposures, this isn't a strong reason for shooting in RAW.

2) With RAW capture you can take advantage of the higher bit-depth for a greater range of tonal and color values. This is really only of significant benefit if you need to apply strong adjustments to your images, so if you achieve excellent exposures from the start, this isn't a significant issue.

3) With RAW capture you can adjust the color temperature adjustment during RAW conversion with no penalty in terms of image quality. That means if you pay attention to your white balance setting on the camera, especially when the light is changing, this is not a significant issue.

4) With RAW capture you avoid the issue of JPEG compression artifacts, helping to ensure the highest quality photographs possible. This one you can't overcome through careful photography. Any JPEG capture has lossy compression applied to it, even if only minimally. The JPEG compression artifacts can be visible in the image, especially with relatively big enlargements. In most cases it is not significant, and it takes a good eye to spot the artifacts, but they will be there.

What this all boils down to is that with proper photographic technique you can minimize the potential benefits of RAW capture. So as long as the JPEG artifact issue isn't a significant concern, there's not a strong reason to avoid JPEG capture. I suggest performing some tests of a variety of representative subjects to get a better sense of this issue, but it isn't a huge issue in most cases.

There are a great many photographers who capture in JPEG and get great results. So you shouldn't let all the noise about RAW capture bother you too much. Again, it is like the tripod. I too tell photographers they should use a tripod whenever possible. And I too prefer not to use a tripod unless it is really needed, because it just slows me down and feels cumbersome.

To my knowledge, Jerry Ghionis is still shooting JPEG, and he is regarded as one of the top wedding photographers in the world. I don't think you should worry too much about the debate between JPEG and RAW. There are benefits to you when it comes to shooting in JPEG, and if you feel those benefits outweigh the advantages of RAW capture, I don't think you should worry at all about that.

One last point. It should be noted that the color space isn't a factor for RAW capture, so in terms of the data being gathered by the camera it really doesn't matter if you choose sRGB or Adobe RGB. But for wedding photographers who have a third-party service print their images, in most cases you'll find that the printing involves an sRGB-based workflow, so there is actually an advantage to shooting in sRGB if you'll utilize such a printer.

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