My name is Ashley McLaughlin and this is my blog, Edible Perspective. To learn more about my journey head on over to my about + FAQ pages. I'm thrilled that you stopped by. Enjoy!


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photography 101 {manual mode + raw vs. jpeg}

Why hello there.  Welcome back to my long forgotten photography posts!  I figured while the topic is fresh on my brain, from teaching in San Fran, why not go over what I taught right here?  If you were at the session this past Saturday, you will find some new [or more detailed] information below.

Before we get into anything too technical, there are a few things I want to discuss first.  And guess what?  This series of posts will be helpful even if you are using a point n’ shoot.

Thing #1:

  • manual mode

Thing #2:

  • jpeg vs. raw 

So what was the first thing I told everyone on Saturday?


If you are looking to improve your photography, no matter what camera you’re using, turn it to manual.  I kept my camera in Av [aperture priority] for the first year and when I decided to make the switch to manual, is when I really learned how to use my camera.  If you’re using a dSLR and keeping it in “auto” mode, you basically just paid $600+ for a really fancy point n’ shoot. 

Get that thing out of auto!!!

I say that as kindly as possible.

I suppose you need some reasons as to why you should do this?

First.  What is manual mode?  Manual mode, is the setting on your camera, that lets you set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture for each photograph you take.

Second.  What is auto mode?  Auto mode, is your camera guessing how you want the photo to look.  It makes the decision on how bright the photo should be, if the flash will be used, etc. 

  1. It may seem like auto is a good starting point.  It’s easy to tell yourself, “I just bought this crazy camera, I’ll put it in auto while I do research.”  Now tell me, when did you tell yourself that and are you still in auto?  Auto is like a trap!  A safety trap.  Don’t get sucked in!
  2. Your photos have the most potential when using manual mode.  YOU make the decisions on what to put the settings at, not your camera.  YOU are in control.
  3. You can experiment using trial + error.  It’s hard to ask why an “auto” photo didn’t turn out right, but it’s much easier to figure out if you have your camera on full manual.  You can see the settings for each photo you’ve taken, evaluate what is wrong with the photo, and what setting needs to be changed next time.
    1. ie: the photo is underexposed [dark] – one way to fix this is to slow your shutter speed to let more light in the camera, which will brighten the photo
  4. The learning curve may feel slow, but soon enough, it will feel like second nature making adjustments on your camera.  Auto inhibits you from learning the mechanics of your camera.
  5. Your photos will become more artistic, once you are making the decisions. 

Here is an example of 2 photos.  The first, taken in auto mode.  Apparently the camera decided there was not enough light and it needed to use the flash.

You’re going to need your sunglasses to look at this photo.  Yikes!

(2 of 2)

In the 2nd photo, I had the settings at: ISO/800 : SS/60 : f4.0  - This was just a quick, handheld photo.  If I was using a tripod the settings would have been different.  But we’ll talk about that another day.

(1 of 1)

Are you with me so far? 

Once you put your camera into manual mode, I suggest staging a little set, with food, objects, or whatever you want.  Just don’t use ice cream, because you may be there for awhile.  Once you have your props set up, try to stand in the same spot for each photo.  If you have a tripod, grab it.  Frame the photo and start snapping away.  Change the settings and write down what you’re doing, and what is happening with each photo.  You will quickly start to pick up on what each setting does.  Also, Google is very helpful when wondering why something is wrong with your photo.

ie:  why is my photo grainy dslr

Now, another hot question I hear people asking frequently.

What is the difference between shooting in jpeg + RAW?

First, a few definitions.

  • post processing – manipulation of the image file/data [aka: editing]
  • jpeg - A file format that compresses + saves the image data into one layer, as soon as the photo is taken.  It undergoes sharpening + contrast adjustments inside the camera and then flattens the file.  This makes it much harder to post process, without seeing degradation in the quality of the photo. [jpeg = pre-treated = flat]
  • RAW - Not technically an image yet, this is the image data that has been collected onto the image sensor of your camera, after snapping the photo.  The data is collected in a series of layers, that can be manipulated during post processing without losing much quality in the photo, because it has not been flattened. [raw = untreated]

I drew this diagram in Microsoft Paint last year, and I kind of love it.  I’m a big fan of diagrams, which I blame on my background in architecture.  You should see the amount of journals I own, FULL of diagrams.  They’re just so effective when teaching or trying to get your point across in a simple way.


So, to break down this diagram.

jpeg –> data collected when the photograph is snapped –> data is sharpened, saturated + compressed –> camera spits out a flat file for you to use

  • In a way, jpeg is kind of like auto.  You’re basically letting your camera decide things for you.  When the photo is taken, as the data is being compressed, the camera is also making adjustments like sharpening + saturating the photo.  It’s like a little mini editing process that you have no control over.

RAW –> data collected when the photograph is snapped –> data is kept in a series of layers –> camera spits out the series of layers into your photo editing program

Okay, so you don’t actually see the layers, but they are there.  And they allow you to edit the photos to a much higher degree, without seeing degradation in the quality.  When you are done editing the photo, then you export the RAW data, which gets compressed into a jpeg file [if that is the file format you are exporting as]. 

If this still doesn’t make sense, it can easily be related to FOOD!

Remember my sort-of-failed peanut butter cup bars from last week?  There was nothing failed about the taste, but cutting them in bar form did not work out so well and once all of the ingredients were combined, there was nothing I could do to fix the problem.

The RAW data are like your ingredients.  The final product [solid PB cup bars] would be your jpeg image.  You can play with the RAW ingredients, adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that, to achieve different results, as you can when editing a RAW photo.  However, once the recipe is baked [in this case, in the freezer], there is little you can do to fix any problems.  The same goes for photos.  Once you have that jpeg image, there is little you can do to adjust the photo, without noticing a loss of quality in the image. 

When you have a RAW photo you can edit the “ingredients” like exposure, sharpness, saturation, etc, to achieve certain results. Then you “bake” the photo [export] to get the final JPEG file.


My hope is that you now have an understanding of manual mode + raw vs. jpeg image files.  If not, re-read the post, or look to Google or a photography book for a more in depth explanation.  Also feel free to ask questions.  I’ll be back next week, with part II, where we’ll start the discussion on aperture. 

Looking for my past photography posts?  Check my photography page!


Reader Comments (66)

Great tips, Ashley! I don't shoot on manual -- I do aperture priority, but still -- I completely agree that auto is NOT the way to go. I need to buy a new photo editor because I've had to shoot in JPEG for a while now and I miss RAW. :(

Thanks for this, Ashley -- sometimes I'm in such a hurry that I do auto, but a tripod has helped so much for taking manual photos when i have the time to really play around with things. i've been keeping a notebook of what works and what doesn't in manual -- different settings for different situations.
your photos are so lovely -- congrats on your recent acknowledgment of that!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlauren @ spiced plate

Really enjoyed this post, Ashley! I've been using manual mode for a while and it definitely helped me figure out how my camera works. Sometimes I still can't explain it, but I do know what I have to do to make a picture lighter/darker, greater/lesser depth of field, etc. I owe this all to just figuring it out by trial and error!

I definitely need to start using raw photos more. I think I was making a mistake before--setting the camera to RAW + Jpeg and then having Lightroom automatically import it as a Jpeg. Need to fix that!

I also need a camera with with a smaller F-stop, so I can achieve a smaller depth of field, because right now, I can basically only get a F/5.6 Thanks for the tips!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura (Blogging Over Thyme)

Woops! Meant to say, new lens--such as a 50mm/F 1.8

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura (Blogging Over Thyme)

GAH! I LOVE THIS POST!! I'm bookmarking it and going to attempt (and most likely fail) to teach myself from it!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCait's Plate

This is so great and helpful! Thank you so much...I look forward to hearing more about all this photography stuff because I am really trying to get better and learn more about my camera. My fiance is a photographer so he tries to teach me but I always learn better when I can read about things too :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAli @ Around the VeggieTable

Great post! I am just starting to move into shooting more on the M mode. Currently, I really like the Aperture Priority setting. I can play with the depth of field and still take a picture in the moment. Right now, it takes me a while to set things up on M mode.

I tried taking RAW pics for a while, but they ate up a ton of space on my card and computer. They are massive files. Plus, my computer program didn't instantly read them, so I had to download a converter to process them.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

OMG I've had my camera on AV for a few months now and I thought I loved it! HA! I know that it's mostly because I don't really know how to use the camera in Manual. I get confused with the f spot and the light you let in. It's all so foreign to me. I'm the type of person that learns by "seeing" so if I'm shown how to do something it'll stick with me forever. When I read it, I find it a bit hard to put everything together.

Great explanation on the difference between RAW + jpeg! I actually get it LOL!! How do you get the camera to process your photo's in RAW format? Is that a setting or is that done when you upload the photo's to your computer?

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

Great post, Ashley! I took a simple 3 hour long photo class several months back, and after that I kept my camera on manual 90% of the time! (the other 10% is when I'm trying to catch moving pets). I think these photography 101 posts will be so helpful to people. You have a great talent for explaining simply. I also just finished reading "Plate to Pixel: Digital Food Photography and Styling" which was wonderful. I'm not sure that any of it would be new information for you, but it might be great for some of your other readers. Plus, what's not to love about a photography book that uses food shots for all its examples?

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeth

This is so similar to what I learned in my photo classes in high school. I took both Photo I and Photo II, and I soon learned that Manual mode is the absolute BEST, no matter what. You can change the focus, the exposure, everything to your exact needs based on the lighting and angle. Love it!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatelyn @ Chef Katelyn

This is really helpful! Thanks for all of the broken down explanations and diagrams, you rock!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCassie

You and your tutorials and answers to my panicked questions have been PRICELESS since I bought my DSLR! I'm working towards manual... it still freaks me out a bit. I use the "P" setting mostly.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMara @ what's for dinner?

Can you shoot in raw with a point and shoot? I guess I don't know how to change those settings.

I love this post! I've been missing your photography posts :D I gotta say making the jump to manual mode is the best thing ever. I don't know why it's so scary at first, just jump in! And I'm glad you explained about jpeg vs raw. I don't shoot in raw because my computer's fairly old and I find it makes it waaaaay slower to work in raw because the files are so huge. Although I am curious to start using it so maybe I'll find a way :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHeidi

I love it when you talk photography to me.

HAhahahaaha <3 this

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I love these posts! I learning (at a painstakingly slow rate) to use my camera off of its auto setting. I can't even believe the difference in photos sometimes - thanks for all the good information!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatie

you should get people to pay you to teach this stuff--you do SUCH a good job of explaining! This was a good refresher for me :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternatalie (the sweets life)

I have been missing them too! Sometimes it's hard to write detailed posts like this, but I actually really enjoy it once I start. I understand about having an old computer and the huge files. Keeping the files on an external hard drive should allow you to work with them on your computer without taking up all the space you have left. It might still run kind of slow though. :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

No, that is one thing you can't do. But you can still benefit from using a point n' shoot in manual mode.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I'm so glad Mara!! I'm not even sure what P mode is, haha.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

You're welcome!! I'm so glad it was helpful!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thanks Beth!! My main goal is simplicity in my explanations, so I'm glad that's coming through!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I got a DSLR a long time ago, but I got sucked into the auto mode trap. I look forward to your posts, I can't wait to learn more! I've read a few tutorials and things are a little more clear in theory, but I don't know how to turn that into practice ... I guess I should just take more photos and practice as I go.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessy (squeezetheday)

Ashley this is such a great post! You're a born photography teacher and I love the way you compared it to food - I was pretty sure I understood before I read the food bit, but that just clarified it! :) Awesome! I really want to get a DSLR and take some photography lessons. I've been told by some people that I should take photography lessons with a regular point and shoot first though - what do you think?

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

I used to love AV mode too! The aperture f-stop settings are the most confusing to understand. That will be discussed next! It's definitely a lot to take in. I'm glad you understand the difference of raw + jpeg now! Yes, RAW is a setting you have to adjust on your camera. If you can't find it check your manual. If you ditched your manual, you can most likely find a PDF of it online. :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

RAW files can definitely be a bit annoying to handle. It use an external hard drive so all of my computer memory is not taken up. I understand the frustration though!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Yes, a wider f-stop will make a HUGE difference!!! You will be amazed. :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Awesome, thanks. I've been using aperture priority and you're inspiring me to make a move! I'd love if you'd do a post on post-processing! In Lightroom...

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaitlyn@TheTieDyeFIles

ashley, this is amazing. i have learned more from this post than i did reading my entire owner's manual. i'm pretty sure that's because you used food analogies, though... for some reason those just make more sense to me :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen @ the daily crumb

Ashley-love your post on the photography session you did at Foodbuzz. I was in the class and really learned a lot. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us. Your pictures are always gorgeous. Would you mind sending me the presentation as well so I can reference it if I need to? Thank you! email:

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy @ Two True Foodies

Great post, Ashley.

In the past year I have gone from a point and shoot to a DSLR to shooting on Aperature Priority (Av mode) and in JPEG to shooting fully manual and in RAW. And from no post processing to everything gets ran through Lightroom.

I love shooting manual AND in Raw. I used to be terrified of manual but once the light bulb went off and I realized how easy it was (sometimes more time consuming, but it's not hard per se)...I am a manual shooter for all my food. Action/lifestyle, not always, but for static things like food, yes.

And same with Raw. As long as I am shooting with a 5D and going to post process in LR anyway, why wouldn't I want to capture it all in the highest resolution possible is my thinking.

Love the post!!

Thanks for the info - your site is always so helpful :)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCynthia

Wow! It's like learning a whole new language! I promise to switch to manual and follow along as best as I can. Thanks for the info!

Great tips! I hqardly ever keep my camera in auto..and never EVER use flash!! Flash ruins photos other than action or special circumstances, but it's definitely not for still life or food.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMary @ Bites and Bliss

Thanks so much for the tips. In my other (non dslr session) we were really told the same things! It forced me to move away from auto. I had 1 set up for digital macro photos and now I'm working on moving way from being so blocked in. I don't know why I was so afraid of moving away from those 2 settings since my photos didn't always turn out, I might as well learn something with my massive pile of blurry dark photos ;)

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterShannon

[...] dslr, point + shoot, or polaroid for all i care, do yourself a favor and check out ashley’s photography 101 post.  i learned more in the 10 minutes it took me to read than i did from my entire owner’s [...]

[...] have been inspired by this post and am going to try out leaving my camera on Manual starting today. I need to learn [...]

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterColors. | Heather Jean

I love the diagram! It is super cute and totally makes sense to me!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan @ NewlyWife

Thank you for sharing your secrets! My camera is a half dslr, half point and shoot, and it doesn't have a manual mode! *sniff* It takes pretty decent pictures though, but when I really need great photos, I'll hijac- I mean, um, borrow, my mom's Canon Rebel.

I'm off to send you an email!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly @ Foodie Fiasco

I can attest to your lessons! I listened last year with a P&S, researched dSLRs, got one three weeks after Foodbuzz, and read lots and lots and asked lots more questions! I love my camera and really feel like I know what I'm doing, except sometimes they look better than other days, and am so glad I took the time to learn this thing!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarci

Okay, thanks for the kick in the butt. I'm an auto safety girl, but I do shoot in RAW. I've gotten very good at working with Aperture (the Mac program) to make my photos look more like they should have if I had used manual in the place. It's just been intimidating. I like the idea of just shooting and writing down your settings and the outcome. I think this will help me understand the settings better.

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEat Hike Sleep Repeat

Great post, Ashley. Very clear and easy to understand. Thanks!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJane Plass

This is an awesome post! I love the comparison of raw vs jpeg to food. I'm graduating from a photography program in 1 week and have been editing all of my raw photos for weeks to finish my portfolio. I love that your blog incorporates food and photography, 2 of my favorite things!

November 10, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrittany

Shamefully blushing - I'm one of those people who bought a fancy camera not too long ago and I'm still stuck in auto. I swear that was not my intentions when I purchased it! Thank you for such a wonderfully informative post and for giving my a kick in the tush that I needed to get out and explore the other functions, despite the fact that I haven't gotten through the user manuel yet! Awesome job at making things seem simple!

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBeckytheRD

Thank you so much for the thorough explanation. I'm one of those people who still has my camera on the auto setting two years after buying it because I wanted to learn the settings before switching over. You're is the time to do it. It's ben a crutch for me. I'm really looking forward to more tutorials from you!

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWillow @ My Own Trail

I enjoyed your presentation so much. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJoy

I'll check online for a PDF of the manual. Yay I'm excited! I bought the book Plat to Pixel and while I understand it for AV mode manual mode still confuses me lol! Can't wait for your next post!

November 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

as of yesterday, i'm shooting in manual only. thank you for being that final push to me just saying YES, GO FOR IT!!

November 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah E

Wooohooo!!! Congrats!

November 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

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