This is why you should take photos in RAW
You can say a lot about whether you should be shooting in JPEG or RAW, but ultimately, for most photographers, the argument is very simple indeed: Shoot in raw.
Here’s a handy infographic:
Why are negative destructive actions so bad?
When you apply, for example, white balance to an image in-camera, you do it to the exclusion of other white balances: Once it is applied, all the data that weren’t used to apply that particular white balance are discarded before it is ever written to a file. All ‘destructive’ actions are like that, discarding image data every step of the way. Once a destructive action is completed, you cannot undo the actions.
If you do try to correct them (say, your camera wrote an image with a colour cast to the memory card), you will incur even further data loss when you attempt to fix the problem.
Think of ‘negative destructive’ actions as one-way streets: Once you’ve gone down it, there’s no going back.
How is editing in RAW different?
When you are editing RAW files, you never ‘lose’ the original data, and it is possible to change your white balance, sharpness, saturation, etc after the fact. If you change your mind, the original data are still there, and you can do so without degrading your image.
To coninue the analogy of above: Non-destructive editing on RAW files is more like a two-way street. If you get half-way down the road and discover that it takes you in the wrong direction, you can spin your car around, go back, and try another path.
If you’re still not quite convinced, this article on froknowsphoto.com has some excellent side-by-side comparisons of post production flexibility on editing JPEG vs RAW files.
Does that mean you should never shoot in JPEG?
I’ve discussed this question in more detail in my article Can photos taken in JPEG be as good as photos taken in RAW.
This article is written as a compendium to a lesson in the free Photocritic Photo School. Sign up today for a 26-lesson school that teaches you the basics of photography.