Why Your Should Shoot in RAW + Editing Tips.
Along with getting off 'auto everything' mode on your camera, shooting raw is the other great leap forward you need to make before you can say you are a fully fledged digital photographer. Sure, not everyone shoots raw, but most pros do, and with good reason.
Put simply, with raw, you are getting every bit of image information that your camera sensor is able to record. That means maximum resolution and detail; your camera has nothing else to give. With JPEG files, the files are more compressed to make them smaller, and already have some sharpening and exposure adjustment applied.
But why wouldn't I want this, I can hear you ask? The problem is that the camera is making all the decisions for you. A bigger problem is that each time you open and save out a JPEG there is a bit more image information lost – think of it like erosion.
With a raw file, you can save out from it as many times as you want (as a JPEG or TIFF) but the original file remains intact. It's like an old film negative. Here's an example of how easy it is to work with raw files these days. There's nothing to be nervous about...
1) Get Lightroom and import a raw image
Yes, there are other raw-editing programs out there but I think Lightroom is now the best overall package. Get it with Photoshop as part of Adobe Creative Cloud and it's less than a tenner a month.
Once Lightroom is installed, click File/Import to find raw files on your computer (you might need to upgrade an older version of Lightroom to read raw files from very new cameras, but this costs nothing to do). Tick a raw image you would like to work on, and click 'Import' at the bottom.
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2) Edit the raw image
From here I can crop the image into a portrait format, and straighten it up by dragging outside of the box. I can also warm up or cool down the colour temperature and work on other aspects of exposure.
3) Tweak the colours
Moving down the Lightroom Develop panel I can darken or lighten colours as required, or add more saturation or less, via the HSL (Hue Saturation Luminance) panel. There is quite a lot of red in this image, so I have taken it down a bit while boosting the green.
You can drag up and down on a colour to alter it if you click on the little target icon over the left of the HSL panel. Or I could convert to Black and White by clicking 'B & W' but remember, I will also need to tweak individual colour sliders to get nice tones.
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4) Noise and sharpness
Since raw files don't have any sharpening applied to them by my camera, I will have to sharpen the image, while also reducing noise.
This is particularly important if you are shooting at high ISOs, as is often the case when shooting indoors and you don't want to use flash. Don't get carried away with the sliders: over-sharpening will create ugly 'haloes' while excessive noise reduction will make people look like waxworks.
Check the effects of noise reduction and sharpening by clicking the crosshair icon next to the little window, and then clicking on important areas in the main image, for example.
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5) Fixing lens distortion
An often overlooked function in Lightroom is 'Lens Corrections' which comes in very useful when straightening up verticals and horizontals. Maybe you weren't holding the camera straight or you were using a zoom lens, which can cause straight lines to distort when you are shooting at the 'wide' end. Click Lens Corrections/Manual for a fine degree of control.
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6) Saving out from your edited raw file
Now, here is where confusion can creep in. You need to 'save out' from the original raw file that you are working on in Lightroom. Lightroom keeps a 'database' of your edits to the image but only applies these to the image when you 'save out' from the image as a JPEG or TIFF, for instance.
That way the original raw file is never altered. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to save out from a raw file as a JPEG, the point is that you have worked on a high resolution image to begin with and YOU have applied the changes, not the camera.
The original raw file hasn't been degraded, either. To save out from your edited raw file, simply go to File/Export, give the image a name, choose the image format (e.g. JPEG or TIFF) and tell Lightroom where to save it. Congratulations, you have edited your first raw file!
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