Working with RAW files is one of the richest experiences for every photographer as it resembles the old photographic processing way.
Lightroom is a star software for working with RAW files and getting the most out of them, so let’s put our hands on learning how to process a RAW file.
RAW vs JPEG
The eternal discussion: RAW vs JPEG. Of course there is no doubt RAW wins in overall to JPEG files, but most of the industry moves around JPEG since only high-end DSLR cameras have the capacity to shoot RAW. Also because you can’t just simply send a RAW file to a customer given the fact he/she most probably won’t be able to open it, and if it was a lucky case and was able to actually see your work, for uploading into a site you need the file to become a JPEG, TIFF or PNG.
RAW, as the format gives you the idea, is the ‘crudo’ format of a Photograph. A format where our photograph has minimal process data from the image sensor, therefore is the digital equivalent to an old fashioned negative.
Should you shoot RAW? Yes of course. Because shooting RAW will give you later on all the tools to do a proper development and more control on what the image may become.
I have no DSLR camera, how can I work with a RAW file then?
Welcome to my world then 🙂 Yes, unfortunately I don’t have a DSRL camera of my own, and my beloved bridge camera only shoots JPEG.
Fortunately for us, there are plenty generous internet users that upload RAW files for free usage. Sites like http://www.dpreview.com/ can provide us samples of RAW files to learn how to work with, as well as the manufacturers of the cameras sites. Sometimes it is possible that they convert the RAWs to JPEG.
Always remember to thank and credit the user whose photography you’re using if you plan to upload it somewhere at the internet.
Working with RAW – Key development elements
For this tutorial purpose, I am going to work with this file I got at DPreview.
As you can see from the metadata info, it was shot with a Nikon D800 (my dream camera, mind you 😀 ) and the extension of the file itself is NEF. That is the extension name Nikon gives to its RAW files; Canon uses CR2 for example. But they are all RAW files itself.
The idea basically is fixing the elements the camera sensor didn’t compensate because of the RAW format. So let’s go to the develop tab.
I start fixing WB by picking a neutral grey colour with the Dropper tool. Next follows the Exposure and Contrast adjustments.
As I feel is a bit underexposed I will give a small amount of positive exposure value and alongside with that adjust the Contrast to also positive values.
Something that is pretty useful is to work with the Before and After mode in Lightroom to actually see how the changes we are making apply to the overall image. This is mostly important with RAW files since as they may be properly exposed you won’t notice too much changes until later points of edition.
Then I keep making adjustments to Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. Since this image was starting to look somewhat too white, I decided to reduce considerably the Whites to avoid burning the image background and losing detail.
To add a bit more of life to it I am going to add positive Clarity values to the image in order to enhance details, as well as adding positive Vibrance and Saturation values.
Now the changes start to look pretty noticeable. It lacks of that dull effect that may be characteristic in RAW files since colour is not correctly processed, and also details are enhanced, even though this is a macro shot.
For what it matters to digital processing, if we export the image as it looks now, is more than enough for feeling satisfied with our work. In my case, I will add some other elements.
Split toning, since most of times makes your pictures look better. With highlights around 49 of hue, and shadows lightly violet tinted. This effect makes a sort of ‘instant effect’ to the picture, and to end up reinforcing the idea, I will add some vignetting with Lens Effects.
So this is the final result with all the adjustments. Perhaps in this case is not as noticeable as with an underexposed RAW, but the procedure is the very same.
Keep practicing your digital processing techniques and have fun!