Do Sports Photographers Shoot RAW?

Some sports photographers do shoot RAW, but you may be surprised that it’s relatively uncommon.

My name is Caleb, and I’ve been a sports photographer for more than four years. My experience includes shooting multiple sports at various levels, from soccer to basketball. 

In this article, I’ll talk about the question of RAW vs. JPEG and which one is used more often by sports photographers.

If you’re getting into sports photography and are curious about which one to use, keep reading for an overview and the pros and cons of both.

What Is RAW?

Before we get into whether photographers shoot in RAW or not, we should briefly go over what that is in the first place. RAW refers to a file format, one of the two main formats that digital cameras can shoot in.

The other format is JPEG, which is much more well-known and widespread. We’ll get into the pros and cons of JPEG compared to RAW a bit later.

The main thing to know about the RAW format is that it retains more data behind the scenes. This allows the photographer to change more things after importing their photos into an editing program like Lightroom.

RAW files are larger, which fills up a memory card faster, but they offer more creative control. This is especially useful when shooting in challenging conditions, as RAW photos are easier to edit problems out of.

Do Sports Photographers Shoot RAW?

Whether a sports photographer shoots RAW or not largely depends on personal preference, as well as the requirements of their specific role. Some sports photographers can get a lot out of using the file format. Others might not see much benefit.

For example, a sports photographer hired to take a few good action shots of a particular player may use the RAW format to squeeze the most quality out of those few shots during editing.

A photographer assigned to take a lot of shots and send them off during or immediately after the game, however, won’t have the time to do much editing and get the most out of the format. This photographer might be better off shooting JPEG.

Also, many sports photographers don’t edit photos as highly as, say, studio photographers. Composition is more important than pure image quality in sports, and some sports photographers simply don’t see the need to shoot in RAW.

Pros and Cons of Shooting RAW

Are you still on the fence about whether you should shoot RAW or JPEG as a sports photographer? Here are some of the pros and cons of the RAW format.


As we said earlier, shooting RAW gives you more creative control. And if you’re into editing photos to bring out every ounce of quality, this might be the format for you.

Also, shooting RAW is arguably more forgiving. Because there’s more info retained in the files, you’ll have more options when going back to fix things in editing. 

RAW is a much better format for fixing a “bad” photo and can be helpful if you’re shooting in dodgy lighting. 

Sometimes, you won’t really be able to tell how good your photos are until you’re back home and looking at them on your computer. In these situations, it’s nice to have more options for correcting things like the exposure after the fact.


Of course, RAW isn’t without its downsides. One of the obvious ones is file size. RAW files are larger compared to JPEGs, so you can’t fit as many on a memory card. 

Also, due to their size, it takes longer to write RAW files to the card. This is particularly bad for sports photography, where capturing the action usually requires burst shooting. Many sports photographers prefer JPEG mainly because of this.

Finally, you need specialized software like a photo editing program to open and use RAW files. If you don’t have a program like Lightroom installed, shooting RAW will leave you with many useless files.

This also means RAW isn’t suitable for shooting pictures and quickly uploading them. If time is more important than editing, JPEG might be better.


Here are some frequently asked questions about RAW format.

Why Do JPEGs Look Better Than RAW?

JPEG photos may look better “straight out of the box” because more processing is done automatically in this format. When shooting RAW, you’ll have to do that processing yourself in editing.

Do Professional Photographers Shoot In RAW Or JPEG?

There’s no real consensus among professional photographers on RAW vs. JPEG. Like in the amateur community, many pro photographers shoot RAW, and many others shoot JPEG.


In conclusion, some sports photographers shoot in RAW, but not enough to form a consensus by any means. RAW format offers some advantages but also presents several problems to sports photographers, like slower shooting speed.

If you’re picking between the two, you should look at your own needs and choose the best option for your situation.

Do you already have a preference for RAW vs. JPEG? Do you think RAW is viable for sports photography? Let us know in the comments.

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