Sometimes I have clients ask me for RAW images as output from a catalog photography project. This post is to explain the differences between the different file formats. Our output only includes JPG or PNG (if you need a transparent background) file formats.
There is a lot of info on the web on the pros and cons of different image types so this post is only going to talk about it from the product photography perspective.
What is it: A RAW image is an image that is downloaded from the camera with all the camera settings used to take that image – settings like white balance, exposure, color histograms, etc. – and these settings can be edited using Lightroom or other editing software after the photo has been taken. This a very powerful feature when taking photos that are taken in low light or shots at events like weddings, sports, wildlife, etc. where the lighting varies from shot to shot and you want to fix it later using editing tools. RAW files can be as much as 10 times the file size of a jpg file size (with the same image dimensions).
When it’s best used: A good use of a RAW image is while photographing a sunset or something outdoors – a RAW image will allow you to tweak (in great detail) the color of the sky, the color of the greenery, etc.
For product photography, since the lighting is controlled in the studio, processing RAW files doesn’t add much value. JPEG files can be edited as well, just not as much as RAW. And that level of editing is sufficient. All photos on our site are taken in JPEG.
What is it: JPEG is the web standard, mainly because it’s a compressed file, so it loads quickly on the web. The downside is that every time you tweak and save a jpeg, the quality deteriorates, because with each save, the file gets more and more compressed. However, if you’re using a tool like Photoshop, you can save the file in max resolution (this tells photoshop not to compress the file so the quality remains intact)
When it’s best used: For most web applications and printing in small to medium sizes.
Given the above, it’s perfect for product photography since you want images to load quickly on your site and print on catalogs or postcards.
What is it: TIFF files are uncompressed files that a step between RAW and JPEG. After editing your RAW file, you save it as a TIFF, which is the final image. The main difference between TIFF and JPEG is that the colors are in CMYK, which is what printing presses use. So the colors can be more accurate for printing. However, these days, with advances in printing technology, the differences are too minor to notice.
When it’s best used: When printing images on large posters, etc, TIFF is better to use that jpeg, but not by much. If your JPEG is in high resolution, you will hardly make out the difference.
For product photos, which are mostly used for the web and smaller prints, TIFF is not needed.
Most major ad agencies (and photographers who do work for them) will use RAW and TIFF files because they focus more on print. Most websites use JPEG because it loads faster. You can go to any major retailer like Nordstrom, Macy’s etc and download images from their product page and you’ll see that they are all jpg’s.
At the end of the day, what matters is whether the photo represents your product well in terms of color and clarity. The format is a technical feature that shouldn’t matter for product photography.