Nature Photography: RAW or JPEG? What You Need to Know

When it comes to digital photography, choosing the right file format can make a big difference in the quality and flexibility of your images. JPEG and RAW are two commonly used file formats for digital photography, and both have their strengths and weaknesses. For nature and travel photography, in particular, choosing the right file format can be crucial in capturing and preserving the beauty of the world around us.

This post will explore the differences between JPEG and RAW file formats for nature and travel photography. It will discuss the pros and cons of each format and provide tips on when to use each one based on your shooting style and post-processing needs. Whatever your level of photography skill, understanding the differences between JPEG and RAW can help you make the most of your camera.

What are JPEG and Raw Files?

JPEG and RAW are the two primary file types that most cameras use to save and store all the data from an image. If you want the best quality for your shots, you should aim to record the largest file possible, which allows for easier editing without losing quality and the ability to print larger files.

A RAW image is exactly what it says – the camera records all of the data without applying any adjustments. This means that you will need to do all of the post-processing yourself after you download the file. RAW files are larger and take more time to upload onto your computer, but they offer the most flexibility when it comes to processing.

On the other hand, a JPEG file is smaller than a RAW file, and the camera software makes several adjustments to the contrast, brightness, sharpness, and colour, while also compressing the file and deleting some information that it doesn’t need. The result is a photograph that looks good, but it may not necessarily be the photograph you were trying to achieve. The camera’s software may not match your creative vision, so using the RAW file format is often the better choice for photographers who want more control over their final image.

Key differences between a RAW file and a JPEG

JPEG files are more convenient and practical for everyday use due to their smaller file size and wider compatibility, but RAW files offer superior image quality and more post-processing flexibility.


JPEG files use a lossy compression algorithm to reduce file size, which means that some image data is discarded to make the file smaller. RAW files, on the other hand, are uncompressed and contain all the image data captured by the camera’s sensor.

Image Quality

Due to the compression used in JPEG files, they tend to have lower image quality compared to RAW files. RAW files have a wider dynamic range and better colour depth, allowing for more flexibility in post-processing.

File Size

JPEG files are significantly smaller in size compared to RAW files, which can take up a lot of storage space. The file sizes for JPEG and RAW images can vary depending on several factors, such as the camera model, resolution, compression, and image content.

For JPEG images, a typical file size for a high-quality image with a resolution of 12 megapixels can range from 2-5 MB. For larger images with a resolution of 24 megapixels, the file size can be around 6-12 MB.

A RAW file with a resolution of 12 megapixels can be around 10-20 MB, while a RAW file with a resolution of 24 megapixels can be 20-30 MB or more. Some cameras may offer a compressed RAW format that reduces the file size but at the cost of some image quality.


RAW files are much easier to work with in post-processing compared to JPEG files. Since RAW files contain all the image data, you have more control over adjustments such as exposure, white balance, and sharpness without losing image quality.


JPEG files are widely supported by most image viewing and editing software, making them easy to work with. On the other hand, RAW files require specialized software to edit and convert to other file formats. Each manufacturer has different RAW file types, and while the larger manufacturers are usually accommodated in the processing software, it can take time for updates to be released when a new profile or file type is introduced.

What is the difference between JPEG and JPG – can I use either?

JPEG and JPG are actually the same file format, with the only difference being in the number of characters used for the file extension. Both refer to the Joint Photographic Experts Group, which developed the standard for compressing digital images. The term “JPEG” was originally intended to describe the standard, while “JPG” was meant to be used as a shortened version of the extension for Windows systems. However, both extensions are now used interchangeably and refer to the same file format.

When do I choose RAW or JPEG?

JPEG files are more convenient for everyday use and quick sharing, while RAW files are better suited for situations where you need maximum control over your images in post-processing, such as in challenging lighting conditions or for important travel or nature photography. Ultimately, the choice between JPEG and RAW depends on your personal preferences, shooting style, and the specific requirements of your project.

When to use JPEG

  1. When you need to take many photos in quick succession, such as during fast-paced action or wildlife photography. JPEG files are smaller and take up less space, so you can capture more photos before running out of memory.
  2. When you don’t plan on doing extensive post-processing. JPEG files have already been processed by the camera’s internal software, so they may be sufficient for basic adjustments such as cropping, resizing, and colour correction.
  3. When you need to share or upload your photos quickly, such as for social media or online publications. JPEG files can be easily shared and viewed on most devices without the need for specialized software.

When to use RAW

  1. When you want to have maximum control over your images in post-processing. RAW files contain all the data captured by the camera’s sensor, giving you greater flexibility to adjust exposure, contrast, and colour balance without losing image quality.
  2. When you are shooting in challenging lighting conditions, such as high contrast or low light. RAW files have a wider dynamic range and better colour depth, allowing you to recover more details from shadows and highlights.
  3. When you are shooting in a location where you have limited opportunities to capture the perfect shot, such as on a once-in-a-lifetime trip. RAW files give you the flexibility to make precise adjustments and fine-tune your images to your liking.

How do I select RAW files or JPEG files in my camera?

The process for choosing between RAW and JPEG file formats in your camera may vary depending on the make and model of your camera. In general, you can usually access the file format settings from the camera’s menu or settings options.

If you aren’t sure, the link to the manuals for a lot of the major camera types can be found here.

To shoot in JPEG, simply select the JPEG option in the file format settings. To shoot in RAW, you may need to select the RAW or RAW+JPEG option, depending on your camera’s settings. Keep in mind that shooting in RAW will typically result in larger file sizes and require more storage space, so make sure you have enough memory cards or storage devices on hand.

It’s also worth noting that some cameras may have additional options for adjusting the quality, compression, and other settings for JPEG and RAW files. It’s a good idea to experiment with these settings and see how they affect your images to find the best combination for your photography style and preferences.

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