Working with RAW images

When taking photos, I use what is known as the RAW image format. Some higher end point and shoot digital cameras offer RAW as an alternative to JPEG and TIFF, for example my Sony Cybershot DSC F828 did. If you have the option, it’s worth while using it and to find out why, I will explain a little about the RAW format as I understand it.

When you take a picture with your digital camera in the Jpeg or TIFF formats, your camera takes the image and does a little in house editing all by itself. It sharpens your image, fixes up the white balance, adjusts the colours, applies the size and quality settings you have specified in your camera menu and then writes it to your data card as a Jpeg or Tiff image.

Raw format is raw image data, it’s the photo that you took prior to your camera doing its complimentary in house adjustments, completely unprocessed and uncompressed. This essentially means you can think of a raw image as a digital version of a film negative prior to being developed. You, the photographer digitally develop the image rather than having your camera do it automatically for you.

The Advantages:

Raw data being completely unprocessed gives you the opportunity to correct minor mistakes, lighting, exposure, white balance and colour. It won’t allow you to complete change the settings but if a photo is a little dark, a little light, has a colour cast (eg white looks bluish) or other minor details, you can fix it.

It gives you more control over your image and in my opinion, results in a better final image.

The Disadvantages

Raw image takes longer to write to your card and takes up more space. If you are taking a lot of fast action or multiple shots, it can hamper you.

You have to process every shot and convert it to a compressed image yourself. It can be time consuming although in Adobe Photoshop Creative Suite you can batch process images and covert them using an action. Personally I am not confident enough with my photography to do that.

How to edit Raw Images

The process depends very much upon what editing software you are using. I use Adobe Photoshop CS2. There are tons of different tutorials out there, for every type of photo editing software and I do suggest looking at a tutorial and ensure that your software has a Raw Image Converter prior to beginning to shoot using the RAW format.

In CS2, I open the raw image directly from my CF card. I like to process only the images I plan to use.

This automatically opens the RAW image converter with the photo I am converting in the window. According to the Adobe Tutorials you can use Bridge to open multiple images and convert them simultaneously, however as I said, I prefer to convert only the images I plan to use.

I am not a supremely technical person, I don’t use histograms etc other than as a general guide and as far as I am concerned there is no subsitute for playing around with settings to get the most pleasing image. I play with every knob and button to get the best looking image I can. I sharpen, play with curves and adjust exposure to get exactly what I want.

When I have the image I want, I open it in photoshop using the open button on the RAW Converter interface. This opens the image as a PSD.

I then duplicate the image and close the original without saving it! Why? If I make a horrendous mistake I haven’t wrecked my original and I can start again. Trust me on this, it’s happened to me.

Then I play in photoshop, I use my filters, actions etc eg Neat Image and resize to get exactly what I want. I dodge, burn, tweak colour, brighten skys that came out blah with gradients and generally get creative.

Once I have the image I want, I save as jpeg, name it and save it in my recent photos folder. Later I put the photos in category folders, eg landscapes, portraits, animals etc.


Here are some links to various sites that explain What RAW is, How to use it, When to use it and Why to use it, far better than I ever could.

The digital journalist

The art of raw


2 Responses to “Working with RAW images”

  1. wildstorm Says:

    Good advice. RAW is all I use. I do have to convert it to TIF once I get it all loaded onto my PC. And more often then not, no need to post process.

  2. I use raw exclusively now and I am finding that as I improve I am doing less post processing too 🙂

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