Processing RAW Files in Adobe Lightroom - Digital Photography School

Processing RAW Files in Adobe Lightroom

The following tutorial on Processing RAW Files using Adobe Lightroom was submitted by John Short from www.canonphoto.co.uk and www.johnshort.co.uk

Why do we read so often then it is best to shoot your image in raw and not as jpegs?

The first image in this tutorial is a jpeg of a Gannet where I have deliberately blown the highlights. One of the problems with a jpeg image is once exposed it is processed in your camera and the raw data is lost. If you have blown the highlights the information is simply not there for you to recover in your favourite processing application.

Gannet Jpg-1

The following images are the basic steps in processing a raw file and I hope will demonstrate to you the benefits of shooting in raw mode. If you want to try to emulate my final image using the jpeg file and your favourite image editing software be my guest. It will be interesting to see what can be achieved in comparison with working with the raw file.

Adobe Lightroom is not just a processing application for raw files, it is also a library for storing, retrieving and searching for images. I have 20,000 raw files on my computer and Lightroom has catalogued them all in the library for instant display. Images can be filed by title,date metadata and so on. This aspect of Lightroom is really for a different tutorial and if there is interest I will put one together but for today let us concentrate on processing your raw files.

First we must open our raw file in the develop module of Lightroom. This screen capture shows the basic image in Lightroom with the develop module circled in red. The picture of the Gannet is ‘as taken’ and saved as a jpeg for you to see the blown highlights.( if you feel like taking on the challenge feel free to try and process the basic jpeg version of the image.

1St Screen

The first change I always make to an image is to try and correct exposure problems by reducing or increasing the exposure slider. The exposure values are roughly equivalent to f stops and you can either type directly into the box or move the slider with your mouse. In this instance I have reduced the exposure by 1.27, just over 1 f stop.

Reduce Exposure

Now we can adjust the recovery slider.This tool will only effect the highlights and will recover additional detail that may not be visible in the original image.

2 Recovery

leave the fill in tool for now and go instead to the Blacks, this darkens the darkest parts of the image without affecting the highlights. It is the opposite of the recovery tool used earlier. Moving the slider only a slight amount will give the appearance of more depth. In this instance I have increased the blacks by 5

3 Blacks

The fill tool brings details back into the shadow areas without affecting the highlights. This is a great tool for pulling detail back into the shadow areas and in this example I’ve increased the fill tool by 11.

Fill

In the top left corner of Lightroom select 1:1 this will enlarge the image in your viewing screen to full size. the clarity slider increases local contrast making the image appear sharper. This tool needs use with care, it is all too easy to overdo the effect.

5 Clarity

The vibrancy control will enable you to increase the depth of colour without the risk of over saturation , I find it a subtle enhancer for colour depth.

6 Vibrance

All that remains now is to export the image as a tiff to your favourite processing application for the final touches.

Final

In this example I have only shown the basic processing tools available in Lightroom. The objective is to whet your appetite and to illustrate the benefits of working In raw. If you think you can achieve the quality from a jpeg then do try with the gannet.jpg image. You will soon see that the lost highlights are lost forever.

Here’s the first and last image side by side (click to enlarge):

Gannet Jpg-2

At a later date perhaps it will be worth while looking at some of the more advanced tools such as noise reduction and curves!

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Nicolene

    I know you guys already spoken about Raw vs jpg a lot.

    My question is: If I shoot in Raw my pics is 5mb up but as soon as I export it from lightroom to a jpg file it reduce the file size to 1mb below. Sometimes even in eg 857kb

    Why is that and how can I fix it?

  • http://www.montaz.gr dona eleni

    5mb for raw is small file.
    do you shoot in full quality?

  • http://samrizzo.tumblr.com Sam

    Hi there,

    The title of this post is “How to process RAW files in Adobe Lightroom”, however it appears that you are editing a JPEG image, which I don’t understand.

    When you open a RAW file in lightroom, it adapts to the file settings, so the white balance and contrast fore example, will already be set to a number based on what the camera has seen. For example, when I open a RAW file, the contrast is set to +25. This is because the photo in question is native to these settings. When I open a JPEG in Lightroom, the settings are all in the middle, all set to ’0′, because it treats it as a file with absolute no data. I recommend editing this post with more accurate visual descriptions.

  • http://www.annisstudio.gr annis pana

    Nice if you have time and not to many images :)

  • http://www.canonphoto.co.uk John Short

    Annis

    For interest I have 4,500 images for sale through my agent http://www.designpics.com and I process all my images from raw files.

    John

  • yasmin

    hey guys..am just new to photography and i watched countless hours learning about it and am starting shooting raw..am asking, when exporting raw files after post processing which is the best format in terms of keeping the quality and the space.

  • Bob Dumon

    Click WHERE to enlarge the side-by-side last photo?

  • Don P

    Good article. I’ve only been serious about photography for less than a year, have been shooting JPEG and post processing with LR4, plus Nik Viveza 2 more recently. I already do post processing on everything after deleting the obvious duds, so I’m going to give RAW a try and see if I get improved results.

    I at least partially agree with some others who have commented on the final side by side photo. While the highlights on the bird have been recovered in the RAW shot (I think that would be more obvious if we were able to blow up the pictures to a bigger size), the water on the JPEG image looks much better than the water in the processed RAW image which is dull and too dark to my eyes. The problem is that the optimum exposures for the bird and the water are different. Nik Viveza 2, a plug-in to LR4 which only costs $79 or so, is fantastic for dealing with this kind of problem. You can put a Control Point in the blue sky, then expand the circle to cover all the sky in the image, then pull the brightness slider up until you had the sky color of the JPEG image and the improved bird detail of the RAW image. When you use the Control Point feature in Viveza 2, the adjustments you make are only to the similar color areas within the area of the circle you create to adjust and leave the other details within the circle unaltered. I know you can do the same thing in Photoshop using layers, but Viveza 2 is a lot cheaper and a lot easier.

  • Don P

    In my previous post I sometimes referred to water and sometimes sky, obviously the background in the shot of the bird was water and all the references to sky should have been to water.

  • http://www.silkroadmall.com John Suzenski

    If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the quality of the image. I happen to be a RAW shooter because I shoot at poorly lit indoor horse arenas and dog agility trials and I enjoy the flexability that RAW affords. If you happen to shoot jpeg, by all means shoot jpeg. You can run all the tests and calibrations that you want and if they all turn out perfect from a technical stand point you may still have a lousy image.
    Bottom line – if you like the image and your clients buy it, what format you shot in makes no difference…

  • Thephotomaker

    Thanks for the good example of why to shoot RAW. one issue I have in Lightroom, is after exporting a jpg. edited image too the same location as the original, I can’t find or open the edited image. I can only open the RAW image that i just edited. how do I find and view the edited jpg in Lightroom?

  • Nupur

    Hi,
    I started shooting in RAW, after editing in Lightroom raw image changes to jpg n it become very small size. Please explain.

  • Steve

    You should be exporting your changes. Look at each selection in the export dialog boxes. Make sure you are not selecting a smaller image. It should be JPEG. But full size

  • qwop

    You have to import the jpegs into the catalog.

  • Nfulton

    I have the same problem as Nupur. If I save the same image in Large jpeg and RAW in my camera, if I edit the jpeg in LR5 and export, the files size is saved twice (if not more) the size of the same file I edit that is the RAW file. If I edit the RAW, it saves a very small jpeg image. I’m saving it at 100% and not changing the file size. Can you explain?

  • Rutilicus

    How can I correct a photo in Ligtroom if it is partly dark? In your example you have corrected the photo as a whole. But In my situation I want to correct a photo of a group of people standing under a tree, some of which are fine and some of them look very dark because of shadow. I think I have to use a filter but I have no idea which one to use. Can you maybe help me?

  • http://jamoroki.com James King

    This post is useful but when the RAW files are merged, in the case of HDR, or processed where are they stored for retrieval and later use?

  • kmarie

    My camera (Canon 5D Mark3) is set to RAW but exports as JPEG, is that how it is supposed to be?

Some older comments

  • John Suzenski

    March 28, 2013 12:52 am

    If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is the quality of the image. I happen to be a RAW shooter because I shoot at poorly lit indoor horse arenas and dog agility trials and I enjoy the flexability that RAW affords. If you happen to shoot jpeg, by all means shoot jpeg. You can run all the tests and calibrations that you want and if they all turn out perfect from a technical stand point you may still have a lousy image.
    Bottom line - if you like the image and your clients buy it, what format you shot in makes no difference...

  • Don P

    January 26, 2013 02:38 am

    In my previous post I sometimes referred to water and sometimes sky, obviously the background in the shot of the bird was water and all the references to sky should have been to water.

  • Don P

    January 26, 2013 02:28 am

    Good article. I've only been serious about photography for less than a year, have been shooting JPEG and post processing with LR4, plus Nik Viveza 2 more recently. I already do post processing on everything after deleting the obvious duds, so I'm going to give RAW a try and see if I get improved results.

    I at least partially agree with some others who have commented on the final side by side photo. While the highlights on the bird have been recovered in the RAW shot (I think that would be more obvious if we were able to blow up the pictures to a bigger size), the water on the JPEG image looks much better than the water in the processed RAW image which is dull and too dark to my eyes. The problem is that the optimum exposures for the bird and the water are different. Nik Viveza 2, a plug-in to LR4 which only costs $79 or so, is fantastic for dealing with this kind of problem. You can put a Control Point in the blue sky, then expand the circle to cover all the sky in the image, then pull the brightness slider up until you had the sky color of the JPEG image and the improved bird detail of the RAW image. When you use the Control Point feature in Viveza 2, the adjustments you make are only to the similar color areas within the area of the circle you create to adjust and leave the other details within the circle unaltered. I know you can do the same thing in Photoshop using layers, but Viveza 2 is a lot cheaper and a lot easier.

  • Bob Dumon

    November 9, 2012 03:30 am

    Click WHERE to enlarge the side-by-side last photo?

  • yasmin

    March 21, 2012 11:29 am

    hey guys..am just new to photography and i watched countless hours learning about it and am starting shooting raw..am asking, when exporting raw files after post processing which is the best format in terms of keeping the quality and the space.

  • John Short

    February 28, 2012 05:24 am

    Annis

    For interest I have 4,500 images for sale through my agent www.designpics.com and I process all my images from raw files.

    John

  • annis pana

    February 27, 2012 02:55 am

    Nice if you have time and not to many images :)

  • Sam

    February 25, 2012 10:59 pm

    Hi there,

    The title of this post is "How to process RAW files in Adobe Lightroom", however it appears that you are editing a JPEG image, which I don't understand.

    When you open a RAW file in lightroom, it adapts to the file settings, so the white balance and contrast fore example, will already be set to a number based on what the camera has seen. For example, when I open a RAW file, the contrast is set to +25. This is because the photo in question is native to these settings. When I open a JPEG in Lightroom, the settings are all in the middle, all set to '0', because it treats it as a file with absolute no data. I recommend editing this post with more accurate visual descriptions.

  • dona eleni

    November 7, 2011 04:47 pm

    5mb for raw is small file.
    do you shoot in full quality?

  • Nicolene

    October 24, 2011 08:17 pm

    I know you guys already spoken about Raw vs jpg a lot.

    My question is: If I shoot in Raw my pics is 5mb up but as soon as I export it from lightroom to a jpg file it reduce the file size to 1mb below. Sometimes even in eg 857kb

    Why is that and how can I fix it?

  • michaell

    August 29, 2011 10:30 pm

    RAW is the way to go if you ply around with files in fotoshop or lightroom. Personally what i like is sharpening and noise reduction sliders,in JPEG camera sets those parameters at same level in all photos,what i do not like.If you shoot clouds or macro photo of an ant there different levels required.And yes,human eye can not see all those millions or billions colours available in RAW, but gives you so much flexibility in editing, especially if you are doing a lot of adjustments.Not talking only about exposure or brightness sliders.Lots of heavy editing,presets,actions,double presets.Tone splitting, HDR. If you shoot in RAW just to make picture look a little bit better than whatever camera gets in JPEG, do not bother using RAW.

  • td

    June 4, 2011 03:33 am

    @ Kelly

    Generally the Raw + jpeg setting is for people who want to edit their Raw files but want to have a preview of the captured image. I think that setting is useless if you edit your photos to look exactly like the jpegs, you should just shoot jpeg, save yourself the time - especially if you compare the final raw and jpeg and can't tell the difference!

    To answer your question - Raw images are horrible to view but great to edit. Jpeg are great to view but not as good as Raw to edit. You need special software to view Raw files, but jpeg is a universal format that is supported everywhere. Generally for highest quality shoot and edit Raw but as you can see reading this article and comments it depends on what and why you are shooting and whether editing is necessary and works for you. There is no one correct workflow so you should find what suits you and use the workflow for your needs.

    If you want to send your files to people or publish them on websites etc... You should convert to jpeg as this is the best viewing format. It is also personal preference and/or whether it is necessary to save higher quality versions with huge file sizes such as Tiff files as yes you do loose file size when you convert to jpeg. By this stage after editing you won't really be able to tell the difference or the differences will be pretty minor between your edited Raw version and your saved edited jpeg.

  • kelly

    May 23, 2011 03:13 pm

    hi, i shoot in raw and jpg fine. im a little unsure with it. im editing the raw files but do i save them as jpg after editing? or the images that get saved as already jpg do i edit those instead? is there a loss of file size editing in raw and converting them to jpg. sorry only new at this

    thanks
    kelly

  • Mike

    April 7, 2011 01:25 pm

    The best thing about this entire article is the comment by Jeff Lowe where he spouts off such gems as "
    "Because you “like” how an image looks does not make it a properly exposed image." HAHAHAHAHA. What a loser. Sorry Jeff, the inverse is true also....a properly exposed image doesn't mean you will like it. Funny how your site is down now....out of business are we?

  • Steve

    March 5, 2011 01:21 pm

    I would like to know if I can process RAW files from the new Canon S95 with the Lightroom 2 version? I am new to all this, have an older Mac that will only run Lightroom 2. I don't have the Lightroom software yet but I would like to purchase a version on eBay. What I want to know is if this is at all possible before I get into it? I see there is a new version of Adobe Raw 6.3 and I'm wondering if this works with Lightroom 2? Sorry if I'm all over the place but like I said, I'm new to all this. Any advice???????????

  • Sii

    February 9, 2011 01:10 am

    About 6 months ago I discovered this artical and my first reaction was one of, good god how the hell do I do that and get my pictures to look as good as darren's? but actualy, it realy is as simple as he makes it sound, one just needs the confidence to fiddle around.

    The thing that gave me the confidence to 'fiddle' was that my camera, as I belive many do, has the option to save both a RAW copy and a JPEG copy of one exposure. I had the confindence of knowing that if I could not make anything of the RAW file I would still have the trusted JPEG to show for my 'click'. Imagine my supprise when after a couple of hours of fiddling the RAW files I had been trying to prosses were coming out sharper, clearer, more vibrant and pleasing than any of the JPEGs.

    A great artical and, as always, very encouraging.

    I would like a more detailed and tecnical artical on the subject of RAW prossesing. I am finding I worry about things like white balence and exactly how much I sould be moving that saturation dial.

    Many thanks,

    Sii

  • DONNA

    January 31, 2011 05:06 pm

    VERY HELPFUL IM JUST READING AND IM GOING TO START SHOOTING IN RAW SOON THANKS LOVED THE ARTICLE

  • Oye

    November 24, 2010 01:36 pm

    Hi,
    Thanks for this tutorial. I have a question for you though. I took some raw images and I have been trying to use lightroom trial edition to save it as 750px by 150px. When i do the export it always defaults to 200px by 150px. How can I do this? I take pictures and use them for website headers. I want to be able to retain the quality. I have not had any luck doing this in lightroom.

    Thanks.
    Oye

  • Dave

    June 23, 2010 01:55 pm

    I believe we can boil this down to a simple argument. RAW is RAW. It is the un-manipulated information gathered by the camera at the moment of exposure. The jpg file is the RAW data processed by software in the camera.

    If you use you camera in program mode and allow the software in the camera to make all the decisions regarding shutter speed and aperture for you, then jpg would follow as your file format of choice. Allow the camera to make image processing decisions for you as well.

    If, on the other hand, you are more apt to use your camera in manual mode and base exposure on knowledge of lighting, composition and desired tonal range recorded, and believe you have a much better understanding of your desired result than your camera, shoot RAW.

    Yes, you will spend more time processing files if you shoot RAW, but creating quality is not a race. You can have it fast, or you can have it good, which do you choose?

  • Denver Photographer

    June 23, 2010 01:11 pm

    Honestly I think that JPG can be pushed just as much if you shoot appropriately, and know your way around Photoshop.

  • Scott Adolph

    April 23, 2010 01:47 pm

    I use to be a hard core Jpeg shooter and then one day I decided I would try to use Raw. I will never look back at using Raw over Jpeg. Just being able to change the White balance and the temperature at any time is worth it, the 2 stops of Leeway you have with most images, and from my experience of Using Jpegs you can see the difference not just at 400% but at 100%. The images just look they have more substance to them. The focussing on the images seem better to me. My images improved over night by switching to Raw. I noticed a big difference when I shot reception shots at a wedding. It didn't matter how much I tried I could not bleed the reds and yellows out but with the raw even just going to Auto in the White balance it made a huge difference. I had great skin tones now. After probably 8 years of shooting jpeg I almost feel ashamed I didn't shoot Raw for my clients. I don't even know why you would shoot Jpeg anymore. Each to their own but I think your shorting your self not using the raw.

  • Adam

    February 22, 2010 08:23 am

    Karen: NEF is the proprietary RAW format from Nikon.
    His photo says TIFF because that is the format he was using; you can always convert your NEF's to TIFFs if you are going to be exporting the changes to PS or the like.

  • Karen

    February 12, 2010 11:35 pm

    Dumb question alert!

    In RAW the photo name will be .NEF right? So in LR2 when I click on develop and choose my photo it will be named, XXXX.NEF, correct?

    My question, why does it look like yours says tiff? Is it b/c you shot with RAW + Tiff?

    Otherwise, I sat down and did this tutorial and it was great. Easy to follow and I was wowed by my results.

    Thanks!

  • raine

    July 13, 2009 09:32 am

    Thanku for the tips, i am not too crash hot with lightroom yet but will be checking out all your tutorials about it, and putting what i gain into practice! Cheers Raine

  • K Trang

    July 11, 2009 02:40 pm

    Most of these types of arguments stem from the fact that two different type of views are expressed to address two different points. The argument on one end is if RAW or JPEG is better. Quality wise, RAW is the best there is and that's what people are saying. Now, the people justifying JPGs, what they are ACTUALLY saying is that RAW is better, but with disadvantages that outweigh the reason to switch to raw (e.g. larger file size, longer processing, having information that current monitors/printers can't support). This really comes back to the old debate between usability and technology. They don't always go hand in hand.

    For me, RAW is great, but it makes my workflow so much slower to process and copy these huge files! Yes, there's lower resolution RAW files, but that wouldn't be comparing apples to apples (er... resolution to resolution). I think the reason why people are so stuck on one side is for valid reasons. If you listen to each other, you'll realize that you guys all are right and agree; just about different points...

    JPG PEOPLE: Give the RAW people acknowledgment that RAW is the best quality image you can get from your camera.

    RAW people: Give the JPG people acknowledgment that there are some "side effects" that could outweigh the benefits of using RAW or that JPGs are most of the time good enough (90%).

  • Lukas

    May 13, 2009 05:52 pm

    I used to shoot a mixture of RAW + JPEG and then I would import them into Lightroom to process them. I found out that this is too time-consuming, especially when you have a lot of weddings lined up.
    I now only shoot JPG, I even edit out in-camera whenever I have a spare moment during the reception and then I go straight to Photo Mechanic to select the keepers.
    It saves a lot of time.

  • Mindrinos Dimtris

    March 21, 2009 08:28 pm

    I am wedding photographer and I shooting in Jpg. I have tried many times to shoot in RAW format but i find it bad form me! I know that it's is better quality photos from Raw. But i have tried many softwares ( lightroom - CatureOne - BibblePro ) to make my raw file like my jpg and i find it to difficult! I have make many correction in my camera to correct my photos (contrast - sharpness - saturation.... ) so I see many deferents in Raw and Jpg files! I believe that if you are sour that you take a good picture it better Jpg and if you are not in Raw. I used both of them but mostly jpg! I find Raw better for Landscape photography but not for weddings. All my photos in my website is form jpg

  • Dave

    December 9, 2008 03:05 am

    Dynamic range is the most important advantage RAW has over jpeg and has not been mentioned here. There is no way you can retain as much information in an 8 bit jpeg file as you can in a 14 bit RAW file. Compression means loss of image quality. Shooting RAW allows me to process that file for the highlights and again for the shadows and combine them in Photoshop for a result not possible shooting jpeg. If you study and understand the Zone System, this is the digital version. I don't care about the number of images I can get on a card. I care about the quality of every image I create.

  • Keith

    March 19, 2008 10:18 am

    I do believe you are refering to WinRAR and RAR files, not RAW. This is something completely different. RAW files are digital camera image files, this is a photography site.

    If you have WinRAR installed then you open RAR and ZIP files by double-clicking them like any other file in Windows and the program will handle the rest. Best of luck!

  • dave

    March 18, 2008 02:17 pm

    can someone help me i have winraw but i just dont know how to open up raw and zip files please someone help as i could do with opening them all the time and would a better program be better thanks ..............

  • John Short

    March 6, 2008 10:32 am

    Interesting and valid arguments Jeff, I sincerely hope the rookie comments were not directed at me ! I started photography at 17, developed my own mono and colour, even dish developed the film as i couldn't afford a dev tank. made contact prints until I got my first enlarger.

    Camera was a Zenith B with hand held exposure meter, aperture and shutter selected manually.

    At 54 I hope I have learned a little about photography

  • Jeff

    March 6, 2008 04:15 am

    I am finding that the photographers that use RAW the most and swear by RAW opposed to JPG are photographer that came from film much like myself. If you think you can recover or bring back as much detail and information in JPEG as you can in RAW, you have absolutely no understanding about the differences of these two files.

    tea eral grey stated "I just get annoyed when people say RAW is better and by using it it will make your photos better. Yes RAW files have slightly more information but its not information that is likely to be needed."

    Okay you really have NO understanding betwwen JPEG and RAW if you can actually say that with a straight face. in RAW and 8 mb image is an 8 mb image, in JPEG an 8 mb image is 4mb, where did the other 4mb go? It's lost. You can't recover something that is not there to recover.

    "Like a wider colour gamut of colours that no printer or screen can reproduce…" There is SO much you have to learn about these file formats, RAW has EVERYTHING in it that the lense saw when it captured the image. JPEG has everything in it that the camera software/firmware interprets, huge difference.

    Those that say they like the first image better than the second do say (A) because you just want to support your argument that JPEG is better than RAW OR (B) yoou have NO understanding of properly exposed image, which is understandable since the vast majority of you posting on this article are "digis" (people that THINK they are a photographer because their first camera was a digital camera and they started shooting about 5 years ago) as opposed to PHOTOGRAPHERS that started many years ago with film and have a complete understanding about light and how it effects exposure. Because you "like" how an image looks does not make it a properly exposed image. An image that meets all the proper exposure guides make it a properly exposed image, blown highlights fall beyond those exposure guides. Bunch of ROOKIES. Get educated.

  • kim

    January 18, 2008 09:39 am

    wow... i dont see adobe photoshop lightrơom before ...i see u do show bird in it..that's cool..i want to design but it's hard....i do adobe indesign and photoshop!!! i love it..thank for show how bird ..um i dont know how to say and explain what i mean this..i m not gơod explain..lol.. XP

  • Keith

    October 7, 2007 12:18 am

    Just as an extreme example, I did this test recently when I first had RAW available to me as an option using a Canon G9 and shooting in RAW+jpeg. All camera settings for color, contrast, sharpness, white balance were left at their defaults.

    This first shot is the original jpeg straight off the camera. The exposure is blown due to forgetting the camera was in full manual mode and it being a quick grab. Not an ideal situation, and it wasn't meant to be anything great as a photograph but the exposure was clearly blown by over 1 stop. The original jpeg: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8405833@N03/1398542341/in/set-72157602094329923/

    This is what I was able to recover from the jpeg using Lightroom, the most damaged portion of the photograph is obviously the sky where you can see excessive banding. Recovered jpeg: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8405833@N03/1398551231/in/set-72157602094329923/

    This is what I was able to recover from the RAW version of the same image, again in Lightroom. It's worth noting that to recover the image from RAW required nothing more than dragging the exposure slider down a bit while recovering from the jpeg required a couple separate adjustments which speaks to the ease with which one can recover a photo from RAW. The picture recovered from RAW: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8405833@N03/1398552747/in/set-72157602094329923/

    The jpeg could probably be recovered to more closely match the RAW version with more work, but again recovering the RAW version required simply pulling the exposure slider a bit to the left and nothing more.

    This is an extreme example, and one not likely to occur if you take even the slightest glance at your exposure settings, but it gives a very good idea of how much more latitude you have when editing a RAW image vs. an identical jpeg. It's clear that RAW won't work miracles as the sky is still blown towards the right, but it's very much better than the jpeg version and illustrates clearly why 8 bits of color information is not enough to allow significant post-processing.

  • Brian Eady

    October 6, 2007 09:12 pm

    I use a slightly different approach when shooting an event. I shoot in Raw+ and have a .jpg available to print as an instant picture at the event. I also then have the Raw file that can be manipulated if better prints are required at a later date.

    The only downside is amount of space this takes up on a memory card and so I carry a couple of extra cards. Problem solved.

  • Daniel

    October 6, 2007 02:28 pm

    You CAN recover blown highlights in Raw that you can't in Jpeg in many cases. I have done my own comparisons many times. You can often open up blocked shadows a bit as well, particularly with Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw (although with some increase in noise at high ISOs).

    I do, however, agree that excessive use of "Recovery" in LR or ACR can really sap a photo of its liveliness. For that reason I have been using the Brightness slider to reign in my highlights instead of Recovery. It has about the same effect in terms of avoiding blown highlights but it does a better job of retaining the "pizazz".

  • Keith

    October 6, 2007 11:14 am

    tea earl gray,

    You can't really compare zip to jpeg. Zip is a lossless compression algorithm as is required when compressing things like executable program files which obviously wouldn't work if they were changed in any way. Jpeg files are what's called "lossy" compression, because there are certain kinds of details in an image that the human eye is unable to discern. Jpeg compression capitalizes on this fact by mathematically eliminating those details from the image file in order to cut down on the size of an image file.

    An analogy might be somewhat useful here. If you're old enough to remember the days of VHS video casettes and knew anyone who copied them, you'll know that copies of VHS tapes never looked quite as good as the original did, and the more copies of copies you made, the worse the copies looked. VHS tapes were not able to survive more than about 6 generations of being copied (a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy), you would barely even have audio at this point. Realistically they could only survive about 2-3 generations and still have an acceptible image quality.

    To continue this analogy, zip files would be more like a compact disc. You can make as many copies of copies of copies as you want and every copy would be exactly identical to the original.

    If you like, you can try an experiment. Open an image file in the image editor of your choice, then save it as a jpeg. Then open the newly saved image and save it again as a jpeg to a different filename. To make this experiment go faster, set the jpeg compression to somewhere around 5-7 where image quality is acceptible but filesize is small, otherwise you'll have to do this quite a few more times. Eventually you'll start seeing some horrendous artifacting in the image when you compare it side by side to the original file.

    This quality loss is the main reason that professionals shoot RAW format, it keeps the image quality at the maximum possible by holding off the loss of compressing to jpeg until the final step in the process after all the editing has been completed.

    The other main reason why people shoot RAW format is that most cameras which support RAW actually capture more than 8 bits (per channel) of color data from the sensor. RAW format holds onto all of that data, whereas jpeg is limited to only 8 bits of color data per channel which limits you to 16,777,216 colors, blown highlights and all. Most cameras that support RAW format today are either 12 or 14 bit (which is another reason they're larger than the jpeg files) allowing them to capture 68,719,476,736 (12 bit) or 4,398,046,511,104 (14 bit) colors, blown highlights and all. Obviously you're going to be able to recover a lot more detail without image quality degradation from one of the latter RAW images than you will ever be able to get from a jpeg.

    Is it a huge difference? Not in most cases. But in a handful of cases, and especially if the image is needed for lots of post-processing or enhancement then those extra bits become of huge importance. Each time you make an adjustment you're losing a little bit of color accuracy, so editing in 16 bit color vs. 8 bit color will give you several more generations of edits before you can start to see the artifacts showing up.

    Is RAW necessary for your average Joe shooting snapshots? Not at all. The fact that you have to zoom in and "pixel peep" to see the boxy little artifacts that jpeg creates is a testament to just how well this clever compression algorithm works. You're not going to see that difference in a print or in production. Jpeg is perfectly adequate for most photos. RAW is more for those who insist on the highest quality in their images, or who want to maintain archival quality images, or those who like to play and tweak or try new things and want the extra creative latitude.

    In the end, shoot what you like, use what works for you. These days either one will give you great results. :)

  • nick

    October 5, 2007 09:13 pm

    The biggest reason to use RAW is the fact that you can adjust white balance and a lot of other image properties without losing any quality. Once I switched to raw (and got a good workflow going) I never looked back. If you need to buy a bigger memory card to practically use raw, then it is worth the money.

    I currently use RawTherapee, which is freeware but pretty good (better than the open source alternatives, IMHO.) It runs on Linux and Windows.

  • tea, earl grey

    October 5, 2007 01:44 pm

    I agree about saving jpgs multiple times, i just make a copy of all the files i shoot and put the originals somewhere safe and then work on the copies. I always have the originals to go back to. JPG's are a different size because they are a different file format, it represents the data in a different way. And its compressed.

    When you zip a file it doesn't degrade the quality of the file, it just restructures the data so that repeated strings can be represented by a single unit. instead of having the whole string again and again in the file.

    "The object of raw is not however to recover a badly exposed photograph ... We all make mistakes, personally I prefer to have the lattitude to recover if I have to."

    I am usually suspect of selective quoting but come on?

    I think people should use whatever file format they like, i just get annoyed when people say RAW is better and by using it it will make your photos better. yes RAW files have slightly more information but its not information that is likely to be needed. Like a wider colour gamut of colours that no printer or screen can reproduce...

    If you have lightroom/aperture the edits you do to jpg's are non destructive just like with RAW. You can even use Photoshops Bridge to do the same thing.

    One of the main reason I advocate JPG though is that it’s more fun. You spend more time taking photos and less time sitting in front of a computer. I set a custom white balance in camera, I aim to expose correctly and then take photos. Most of my computer time is spent captioning.

    Oh and I like burst mode sometimes.

    do whatever makes you happy, and whatever you camera/budjet can handle.

    try not to get hung up about insanely minor technical details. A good photo is a good photo regardless of its pixel perfection.

    One of the magnum photographers has been shooting his recent stuff on a camera phone... and no i dont think it does RAW

  • JerryW

    October 5, 2007 11:49 am

    I worked with a pro studio several years ago and learned to shoot jpeg while photographing weddings.

    This studio does over 400 weddings a year using 12 or more photographers, and only shoots jpeg. They required at least 1200 images per wedding. That's 480,000 images a year in jpeg.

    The majority of the pro printing labs only accept jpeg for printing services. The ones that do accept a Raw File charge on average FIFTY CENTS for each file to convert it to jpeg for printing and you still have the printing fee to pay.

    Fuji and Kodak professional digital printers are optimized for jpeg printing and a pro lab (not Costco) can rez them up on the fly for larger print sizes. They can take a quality jpeg in a 3MP size and enlarge it to 24" x 36" and larger.

    Why shoot Raw?

  • John Short

    October 5, 2007 10:08 am

    Seems the article stimulated lots of discussion which is always a good thing. For those that say you can recover a jpeg file as well as a raw file then I suggest you do some research. You simply cannot, try adjusting the white balance and I'm sorry a jpeg does not retain the information to recover a blown highlight. I'm no expert but many others are and I'm happy to listen to the experts

    The object of raw is not however to recover a badly exposed photograph , the example I used was picked to illustrate the benefits.If a jpeg retains the same amount of information how come the file size is so much smaller? something has to give !!

    I have been a photographer for 30 years or so and love photography with a passion. For me raw provides the control I used to enjoy in my darkroom as a lad. The modifications never touch your original ( equivelent of a negative ) so modifications can be one without concern of changing the original file.

    Many of your comments refer to professionals using raw format, they don't do that for fun or because the are snobs, it is simply the best format. Yes some photojournalists use jpegs but they need small files for transmission and generally repro standards for the press are not as demanding.

    Every time you adjust and save a jpeg you add artifacts. fine if you are not planning on a large print. what happens if that once in a lifetime shot comes your way and you are saving as a jpeg and you happen to cock up the exposure or the WB. We all make mistakes, personally I prefer to have the lattitude to recover if I have to.

    I'm enjoying the banter and arguments of this resource. As I say I'm not an expert, just an amatuer with a passion for photography.

    Thanks for all the comments, I'll think of the next controversial piece I can put together.

  • Frito

    October 5, 2007 07:31 am

    Michael,

    you can open RAW images in PS. I've got a Nikon, so the RAW files are .NEF. At first PS didn't recognize this, but there's a way to update the raw files that PS understands. Once I updated this, I was able to open those files in PS. You can open one or multiple ones, though it may be limited to memory size as recently I wasn't able to open more than, say 25 or 30 RAW images at once. You are then taken to a screen with thumbnail previews on the left and the main image in the middle and editing choices on the right. You edit, then either "save" it or "open it" or select multiple files to save or open them all.

    For the record, I am not a RAW fanboy by any stretch of the imagination. I never used it because it was a total pain to use and preview images with it - not to mention getting half the number of images on my memory card. But with Lightroom, it's an absolute joy to work on them. I'm sure Lightroom handles .jpgs just as well. I dunno.

    The other reason I've been using RAW is that my camera (D50) is 6 mega pixels. So any crops I do, I want as much detail as possible when I try to print out at 13x19 - or even if it's a tight crop and I want an 8x10.

    But I agree. It's best to get the exposure/composition correct in the camera to minimize your post-processing time.

  • Nunya Bisnas

    October 5, 2007 06:08 am

    anytime you're making tonal or luminance adjustments you want to work with as much image data as possible. converting to 8bit and then making more adjustments is a bad idea. for an excellent visual on the tonal damage done see:

    www.photoshopessentials.com/essentials/16-bit/page-2.php

    you're not going to see much difference between a file shot in jpg and a file shot in raw and ten gently processed before conversion to jpg. the true benefit of raw is when you need to make more aggressive adjustments.

    @michaeal - photoshop can open most raw files either directly or through adobe bridge, although photoshop doesn't exactly handle raw files directly. they raws are handled using adobe camera raw (ACR) and then handed to photoshop. the benefit of lightroom is the ability to do non-destructive edits. the closest photoshop comes to this is adobe bridge, but it doesn't have as many adjustments available. lightroom can still pass the image to photoshop for more advanced editing, but it will convert the raw file to a tiff first, thus preserving your raw file.

    if you're asking why lightroom at all if you can do all of it with phtoshop, the answer is that lightroom is geared more toward the professional photog in terms of workflow and image management whereas photoshop is more about image manipulation. there are no layers in lightroom, no masks, no real plugins/actions/filters, but it beats the pants off of photoshop for image/project management, batch adjustments, and the like. basically use whatever tool works best for you, in fact, use both if that is works best =-)

  • Dawn Del Guerco

    October 5, 2007 04:47 am

    BTW, to the author John Short- Lovely bird regardless! :)

  • Jamie H

    October 5, 2007 01:36 am

    I think that if you are happy with the way in which your camera processes your photos, stick with jpeg. If, like the majority of people here, you mess about with the images in photoshop, then maybe use RAW. Why wouldn't you want to use the best quality image during post processing?

    I am a sound designer and it is the same for that too. I wouldn't record material at the highest uncompressed quality, then squash it down to mp3 to edit it. I would only do that as the final step. I don't think it is any different with photos IMO.

  • Michael Padnos

    October 5, 2007 01:24 am

    Very interesting, and yes, a big step forward after the dust-up over the boat picture.
    The next question is, can't I manipulate RAW images in PS as well as in Lightroom? I understand Lightroom has many advantages in terms of storage, filing, etc, but I keep reading that I can do the same manipulations in PS. And in spite of the help someone generously offered me the last time I asked this question, I still am puzzled about how to open a RAW image in PS. Sorry to be a dunce ........

  • Bobumc

    October 4, 2007 11:59 pm

    I suppose it is a personal preference kind of thing, but I agree with the philosophy, "Shoot RAW for the important stuff and jpeg for fun". I use Bibble as my RAW converter and it gives me an amazing amount of flexibility. Even on days that I am extremely careful and have the time to ensure that I "get it right in the camera" as an amateur I still make mistakes. That's fine for casual photography, but for really important shots I like knowing that RAW gives me a little leeway in fixing mistakes. I convert to TIFFs from Bibble and then do my final processing in CS2. It takes a little longer, but I think it's worth it, and I agree, it is like working in a darkroom - very satisfying!

  • Pete

    October 4, 2007 06:12 pm

    Great article for a beginner who is starting to use RAW files like myself.

  • tea, earl grey

    October 4, 2007 04:18 pm

    since that is on the apple website advertising their RAW software i think theres a bit of a bias.

    its true some organizations want raw files as its a simple way to prove its the original. but this can be done in other ways with JPGs.

    its similar to 64bit dual core computers...

    sure 64bit computers could be faster, and parralel computing can do some really cool stuff.

    but harldy any software that people run uses either the 64bit features or the multiple cpus. yet people will flame the hell out of everyone telling them they are idiots because they dont have 64bit dual core chips.

    actually its not a perfect comparison because 64bit/dual core does have huge potential, its just not used yet.

    im sick of hearing people say they need RAW and it makes them better somehow.

    there is a similar thread on dpreviews in which a large number of wedding photographers say they all shoot in JPG.

    i have spoken to several working photojournalist, two of whom are currently working for AFP and they all shoot in JPG.

    in the end of all the madness i came up with a nice little sentence to sum it all up.

    Don't rely on RAW to fix badly exposed photos, learn to expose them correctly in Camera.

    good day.

  • PLouie

    October 4, 2007 02:47 pm

    Evidence that supports National Geographic using RAW is here.

    http://www.apple.com/aperture/profiles/winter.html

    Steve Winters, a photographer for National Geographic says "At National Geographic,we need the digital files sent in a RAW form, so adjustments can’t touch that raw file."

    I don't know why all the fuss over RAW and JPG. Just know when to use which.

  • PLouie

    October 4, 2007 02:37 pm

    Actually, I hear that National Geographics ONLY accepts RAW files from their photographers.

  • tea, earl grey

    October 4, 2007 02:02 pm

    He did the work on a tiny file, of course there are going to artifacts and he could of easily changed the sea. Though I don't think the sea needs it. thats the thing about RAW edits, they are universal and not as fine tuned. Obviously you could do the RAW then the JPG but my point and I think jasons is that you dont need the extra RAW step.

    "I read somewhere where someone suggested to shoot RAW for important photos, but if you’re just playing around or taking snapshots at a party, use .jpg."

    So thats why the majority of photojournalists and many other working professional photographers shoot JPG? Photos that you see in National Geographic or in TIME which were shot in JPG.

    You know lightroom just came out a little while ago, editing RAW files wasn't so easy as recent as one or two years ago. Even Capture One which was the coolest thing since sliced bread for RAW isn't very old.

    In the last few years computers have gotten way faster and memory cards way bigger which is one of the main reason people have gone RAW crazy.

  • Frito

    October 4, 2007 08:24 am

    I've been shooting in RAW - mostly because I forget to change the mode on the camera! But I dig it. Lightroom is great at making the majority of the changes I want to make and reversing them without affecting the original. I know you can do it in PS as well, but it seems to require more work to get the same affect.

    Also, no disrespect to Jason for his work on the recovery of highlights from the .jpg, his end result was not nearly the same quality as the edited photo in the tutorial. You've left the water more exposed, but the bird looks like it's just escaped from an oil spill. There also seems to be a large amount of artifacts around where you've recovered in the highlight areas. I know if I were to do the same thing in PS, it would have taken me immensely more time to do than tweaking a few sliders in Lightroom. But then I may not be as adept at PS as you are.

    I think RAW is difficult to adapt. I'm cool with shooting JPG as well. I read somewhere where someone suggested to shoot RAW for important photos, but if you're just playing around or taking snapshots at a party, use .jpg.

  • tea, earl grey

    October 4, 2007 05:32 am

    I agree with Jason,

    I started out as a RAW zealot because i had this strange gear head mentality that more is always better. I did lots of tests and comparisons and the advantage of raw is minimal.

    To address Klaidas's comment about why these things are always just about recovery, its because that’s the main advantage of RAW. You have a very easy to use system to correct badly exposed photos or bring back highlight details.

    Though as mentioned one can do the majority of these corrections in PS with a JPG.

    The other difference that i found by looking very hard is the difference between any 16 (really 12 or 14 if you have a newer camera) bit and 8bit image. If you are a nut and look at photos at 400% zoom you can notice differences in pixilization, the 8bit jpg having a bit more.

    But this shows up in the final JPG anyway when you export your raw file so why bother. None of this shows up in normal sizes, even 100% zoom and not in printing.

    Instead of relying on being able to do slightly (ever so slightly) more in the way of correcting bad shots by shooting RAW. Why not try to take ever so slightly better exposed photos.

    Since i stopped shooting RAW and started shooting in Manual and only in JPG I have gotten a much better understanding of exposure and hardly need to do any correcting to my photos.

    The last advantage of RAW is the ease at which you can correct White balance issues. Yes it makes it easier by just clicking on "auto" but you can do excellent (more fine tuned) white balance correction in PS using curves. I also just carry a pocket sized grey card around with me and use custom white balances for all my shooting set in camera so don’t need to correct it latter.

  • Innershell

    October 4, 2007 05:07 am

    I agree with what Jason said. I have taken pictures in both raw and jpg and notice that I can do the same recovery in jpg as I can in raw when using Photoshop. Personally, I also prefer the original blown highlights version.

  • Jason

    October 4, 2007 04:24 am

    This was a great intro to the benefits of RAW. Many photogs in my local club do as much 'development' work with digital RAW as they did in their darkroom days, probably more. And at a fraction of the cost and time required. Thanks for the article, and I'd definitely like to see more in near future.

  • Dawn Del Guerco

    October 4, 2007 03:52 am

    Jason,
    I appreciate your comment. I am too new to digital photography to really think about working with RAW, especially considering I haven't even installed a photo processing program (am reading up on Capture NX before installing and trying)! I was really hoping someone would speak up for jpg work. Obviously RAW has it's advantages, but for someone new the game, it's comforting to know that I can play around with JPGS to learn basic workflow before diving into RAW work.

  • Jason van der Valk

    October 4, 2007 01:58 am

    I generally use RAW for most of my shots, but jpg can be pushed nearly as much if you know your way around Photoshop well enough. It's definately better to push RAW then jpg for the best final results, but I feel people knock .jpg too much at times, thinking that RAW is the saviour of photos. The fact is, if the information is there, it's there. RAW conversion is just a program, it's not a magical tool. The same tools are found within the actual Photoshop program but they've made it easier in a RAW conversion program and more streamline.

    This was done with your small jpg, nothing else. Isolated the blown highlights, adjusted with levels, toned down the saturation it added. Had I the full resolution I would be able to see what I could have pushed and how well. I probably would have ended up using Neat Image on the final result.

    I find your photo you've now underexposed the background and water leaving it looking dull. I actually prefer the first version, even with the blown highlights.

    Anyway.. here is your jpg with the return of the blown highlights. There was no trick here or using your "properly exposed" photo as an overlay. This was done with just your jpg.

    http://www.edgeflowmedia.com/jason/gannet-jpg-1.jpg

  • Bozo Tic

    October 4, 2007 01:23 am

    I just recently started to use 100% RAW shooting. And not until last week I tried any RAW editing. But now I know, there will have to be something special to revert me back at jpeg format. I edited 300 RAW pics in 8 hours time and the reality of the colour and sharpness is just to good to ever try anything else.
    It realy saves some thinking and lot of time while shooting pictures, and it's really not that difficult to use one of those RAW editing programs: Lightroom, DxOoptics, Bible, ACDSee pro...
    I personally recommend Bible Labs program Bible pro 4.9 for it's speed in converting RAW into jpeg and ease of use. The one thing I couldn't deal with in Lightroom and ACDSee pro was that those programs took my RAW and enhanced the photo automatically, leaving me to do a whole lot of work (but as I understand it's just a problem with Nikon users).
    NIKON users - One interesting reading about this topic:
    http://www.bythom.com/raw.htm

  • Klaidas

    October 4, 2007 01:13 am

    Heh, a little more RAW stuff here than in the previous one (the boat image). Still, this mostly focuses on highlights being lost. More pros of RAW would be nice.
    All in all, an interesting tutorial.

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