I hired a photographer for an event, and he says he doesn't shoot raw because he has his lighting (white balance and exposure) all figured out. Are there any other reasons why a pro should shoot in raw if the lighting will be correct? I'm trying to convince myself that there may be some other reasons and then maybe I'll convince the photographer too.

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    Just the simple fact that JPEGs have compression artifacts is a good enough reason for me to use RAW when I want high quality. – Octopus May 6 '13 at 16:40
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    @Octopus: for very high-quality JPEG levels, I bet you can't tell the difference in double-blind tests even pixel-peeping. – mattdm May 6 '13 at 17:51
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    Take a look at the portfolio of the photographer you are considering hiring. If they produce consistent results in similar conditions that please you, then asking what file type they should in should be disregarded anyways. It is the same as asking what camera or lens they have, it is nonsense in my opinion. Asking if they have backups is a different story though. With that said, it is very common for higher to high volume event photographers to shoot JPEG. It becomes almost a necessity to shoot JPEG and it is certainly practical. – dpollitt May 6 '13 at 18:06
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    @MichaelKjörling - The price of a memory card might be a non issue, but the storage, archival, and processing needs of that extra data can be an issue. If you shoot for fun as an amateur, RAW+JPEG might be great. For a professional, it needs to make business sense and that is not always the case. – dpollitt May 7 '13 at 15:21
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    That doesn't mean you can't shoot RAW+JPEG, then decide what to keep later. I've never taken my camera off RAW+JPEG since I initially set it up, but that doesn't force me to keep the RAWs for everything. – thomasrutter May 10 '13 at 3:05

I can think of a handful of possible reasons to shoot RAW:

  1. The "oops" factor. If anything at all needs to be corrected -- even if you believe it's properly set up during the shoot -- RAW gives you just a bit more room to do so. In virtually all cases, you'd very much prefer to get stuff right in-camera vs. trying to fix it later, so you can think about having access to the RAW file as a sort of insurance, where you hope you don't need to use it.
  2. External tools vs. in-camera processing. All of the processing your camera applies when creating JPG files can be applied in an external tool. In some cases, you might believe you can do a better job of sharpening, noise reduction, etc., using specialized tools.
  3. Increased dynamic range. Your sensor records information that can be helpful in recovering details from highlight or shadow areas of a photo.

Having said that, I can't evaluate whether any of these are particularly applicable in your case. It's entirely possible that all of these are complete non-factors in your situation, and as others have pointed out, there are also good reasons not to shoot RAW, including speed of processing and storage requirements, and it sounds like your photographer may be leaning in that direction based on his understanding of the event.


RAW certainly gives a lot more after-the-fact flexibility. But, it's generally true that if the exposure is correct and white balance set to match the lighting, that flexibility is less important. If you're happy with the processing options the camera gives (and, especially for higher-level cameras, such options are extensive), RAW isn't really a necessity.

Were I doing professional shoots, I'd want to use RAW in order to give myself a little more of a safety net. But, on the other hand, were I hiring a professional to do a shoot for me and the agreement was for finished images, I would relax and trust her or him to do the job.

If you want the RAW images yourself, or would like the photographer to do extensive and careful processing of the images after the fact, you should negotiate for that, or find a photographer who will offer what you want — but be prepared to pay extra for the effort of extra processing or for the loss of creative control in giving you the RAW files.

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    More like the loss of revenue from no print sales. "Creative control" might have a price, but print sales certainly do! – dpollitt May 6 '13 at 18:11
  • @dpollitt: Sure, although high-quality JPEGs are more conducive to easy self-printing than RAW files, so if the photographer is looking to do that they'll either only give you low-res digitals or, I guess, trust you to stick to an agreement. – mattdm May 6 '13 at 20:29

It really depends on what you mean by "photographing an event". If on-site printing/sales are part of the deal, then the photographer would have to be an idiot to shoot RAW; it would just increase turn-around time for no benefit, and every delay is lost sales (that part of the trade is highly impulse-driven). So if the "event photography" is mostly a matter of photographing individuals and small groups in a mini-studio environment, then expect JPEG (and expect the "I have it figured out" to be a true statement).

If, on the other hand, the photographer is milling around playing photojournalist and subsequent sales (if any) are post-event, then RAW is not a huge penalty to take. There is a time penalty, but with up-to-date equipment (fast cards, CF if possible, since they're still faster than SD, and a fast USB 3 reader, reasonably up-to-date computer, preferably with an SSD), then the penalty isn't quite so great as it once was. (And it once was huge.) In a PJ shooting situation, lighting isn't always well-figured-out, and even if you can be confident in your white balance/exposure based on what you're doing, you're still at the mercy of a hundred morons with their point-and-shoots set to red-eye reduction who will manage to match, to the microsecond, your shutter timing.

  • at the event there will be controlled lighting & will b recieving files/prints a week later – Pastel May 6 '13 at 15:36
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    If the lighting is actually controlled, then why would anybody want to add a couple of hours of unnecessary post-processing time? – user2719 May 6 '13 at 15:52
  • I dont know, thats what i'm asking- is there any other point to raw – Pastel May 6 '13 at 16:08
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    Not really. RAW offers versatility and CYA protection, and if you aren't going to change your mind about the shot later and actually have lighting control, then RAW is multiple belts and three pairs of suspenders at the cost of extra work in post. – user2719 May 6 '13 at 16:36
  • Stan - I knew that Irfanview had RAW conversion capability but I only looked at it a few days ago. It offers very few knobs to twiddle but, at first glance, using D700 NEF files it produces JPGS (quality = 100 ) which appear to be absolutely identical to the D700's fineest JPG setting. Also, whereas IV used to show thumbnails when viewing RAW files it now shows full res (12 Mp) images. I suspect that (1) they use their own converter to produce the screen view and that (2) They use the supplied camera parameters for fine setting. / I converted 100 NEF files chosen in sequence from a random ... – Russell McMahon May 7 '13 at 12:54

I've been on the client side of this argument - I paid a relatively hefty price to I get an electronic copy of my kid's school photo which was shot straight to jpeg under controlled conditions by someone who does it all the time... Let's just say if I ever meet that particular photographer I'm going to set their camera to raw and duct-tape the controls as the results were truly awful!

Ultimately your situation is not about convincing the photographer, if they're happy dumping around 6 stops of detail to save a few seconds per image in post and a few pennies in storage space over the whole of a shoot then few arguments are really going to sway them.

So it comes down to "Are you happy with their workmanship?" as a client I'd check over their recent shoots very carefully (not their portfolio of 'greatest hits' but the real deal.) After you've done that you'll either agree they know what they're doing and book them or you don't agree and you get someone else in who'll produce a better product.

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    If the photographer who took your kid school photos is anything like the one who took mine setting the camera to raw will not help you - truly awful flat (but totally controlled) lighting and zero attention to details can't be fixed by shooting raw – Nir May 7 '13 at 14:18
  • in my case the photographer knows his lighting well, his photos are great, so is there any reason that he should shoot raw? – Pastel May 9 '13 at 13:25
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    There are lots of reasons why he should do it in the jpeg vs raw question - most in this situation can be filed as 'insurance' or image quality, your photographer feels they don't need those to get an output quality that their clients are happy with then no argument will sway them. It's a lot like telling a band they should use strobe tuners to tune their guitars rather than chromatic ones (strobes are way more accurate, but do the band need that accuracy?) - you hire them on the basis you like what they produce and let them handle the implementation. – James Snell May 12 '13 at 12:24

I would never want to shoot anything but RAW for an event. The main cost is how long you can keep up continuous shooting and the secondary cost is how long post takes since you have to apply a conversion to JPEG (or similar) later.

That said, the advantages far outweigh the cost. On good modern equipment, you can still shoot burst for several seconds without buffering. If you are using burst continuously for more than several seconds, you are doing something wrong generally. File size is larger too, but cards are fairly cheap. I shoot with two 64 GB cards in my 5d Mark iii and can shoot thousands of images without running out of space.

The benefits are that you have a safety net and can fine tune what the camera does for you. Any uncontrolled lighting is going to have variability to it. If any sunlight is reaching the room, light is going to change throughout the night and time spent adjusting white balance is time not taking photos and capturing the event. Is it possible to consistently check and manually adjust the white balance so that you don't need to be able to do it in post? Sure, but not without sacrificing a fair bit of attention and trusting a small screen on the camera.

Additionally, sometimes exposure might be off a bit from what you expected, even with the best practice. Having the ability to adjust well for minor exposure issues is a true lifesaver, particularly for one time events where you don't have a "redo" option.

Put another way, basically shooting RAW lets you take all the image processing work the camera does on it's own and postpone it to a point where you can instead make sure that it is doing it the best way and have complete control over the noise reduction, sharpening, color balance, exposure, brightness, saturation, contrast, lens corrections, etc, etc. The camera's best guess might not be right on any one of those and could damage an image.

Personally I would not trust an event photographer that doesn't shoot RAW unless they have one seriously high quality portfolio to back up the claim that they know their gear and their craft well enough to insist on not needing it and even then I'd question it.

  • Additional thoughts. I saw in your comment to Stan that the lighting will be controlled. If it is really a studio like environment where they will have complete control of the lighting, then it's much much less of an issue since they can set the camera once and know more or less how it will behave. I would ask what "controlled lighting" meant though as I would consider it to mean a dedicated photo area with fixed flashes and no direct sunlight. – AJ Henderson May 6 '13 at 18:05

Still for better editing flexibility and best results, shooting in RAW is more advisable. Editing flexibility in a sense of editing a photograph into creative shots. Example is turning it into an old photograph, or apply a selective color effects. with proper lighting, still it is necessary to shoot in RAW.

  • in what areas will i be gaining more flexibility?(in this case i dont need the extra stops of light) obviously shooting raw is advisable as a safety net & there is more flexibility. If you can maybe revise your answer to add detail then it might even be worth accepting it – Pastel May 9 '13 at 13:19
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    Editing a photograph does not just end on capturing the proper light level alone. Photo editing is very much applicable in doing creative shots, just like what is done most on fashion photography. You already have the right lighting but to add some emotions to the image, you do not limit yourself to the natural lights. Another thing is doing a surreal photograph, you are not just adjusting the light levels but you are actually manipulating it into something surreal. – user19311 May 10 '13 at 2:53
  • Raw certainly isn't necessary to do old photograph or selective color effects. In fact, since these types of effects are very destructive to the "accurate" data, I'd argue that RAW is less necessary! – mattdm May 10 '13 at 13:26
  • Also, this doesn't necessarily apply to the situation at hand, because Pastel is hiring someone for event photography, not for "creative shots". Telling the photographer "shoot in RAW so you can do fancy image manipulation after!" will probably not impress the photographer. – mattdm May 10 '13 at 13:28
  • I hire the photographer, I need his/her service, and I pay for the service that he/she will render, I think I have the right to ask him/her to shoot in RAW since I pay his/her service. The client can ask that especially if the client has some knowledge in digital stuff. One more thing, usually it always comes in package to add some pictures with special effect either its printed in natural color or not. It is true especially on wedding photography and fashion photography! – user19311 May 21 '13 at 9:47

Well, maybe for a not so important but time demanding event like on news photojournalism where the most important thing is to deliver the images as soon as it was captured because of the tough competition (news companies competes for first aired or reported news), it is not practical to shoot in RAW. I personally shoot in RAW in a very special event and when I do art Photography (landscape, portrait etc).

  • This doesnt have any thing to do with my question- im asking about photographing an event under controlled lighting, im looking for why i should shoot raw – Pastel May 9 '13 at 13:23
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    My point when I said "...when I do art Photography" is when i want to deliver my shoots with extra editing efforts. I do not just capture the natural lights available from any light source. Even if you have the right lighting levels, it may not end up there. To add up some emotions, you may want to manipulate the entire lighting even it was shot in perfect levels. To answer your question, it just depends on what your deliverables are and what has been agreed with your client, if you want to deliver your pictures on just a plain images captured on right lightning levels, then sure do it. – Jez'r 570 May 10 '13 at 3:03

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