The Great Journey in Photography

Digital Editing Basics

split view Brown Pelican

Before and after basic RAW image processing

I always say that given the choice you should almost always shoot RAW. RAW is a format, usually proprietary  to the manufacturer, that holds much more data than the optional Jpeg format. RAW images however are minimally processed. What does that mean? Well it means that your new image is not tuned, it will almost never look the same as it does on the back of the camera, and sometimes it means that you will pass on processing the photo because it does not look very good. RAW images contain more data though and in the end will process to better quality than Jpeg images. Processing RAW data is a pretty straight forward procedure all you need is some sort of converter. Manufactures often bundle a basic converter with the camera and sell stand alone editing software for additional cost, and there are the big third party processors, Adobe and Apple Aperture. I use two Adobe products Lightroom and Photoshop, they both have Raw image converters built in with software known as Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). I use them both in concert and often use ACR features of both on one image. Allow me to explain.

I always import images into Lightroom, that is an organizational thing, I want my images stored, tagged, and key-worded right off the bat. Light- room has presets upon import and if you want to see your image just like it appeared on the back of your camera you can set it to display that way on import. I don’t often do that because most of the time I plan on processing to a bit more creative level and I am better off starting from the same baseline every time. You can also adjust one image and quickly apply the same adjustments to some or all of the other imported images with the click of a button. I do that sometimes but not really too often. What I do very often is pass the raw image off to Photoshop and start processing in the ACR module. I do this for one big reason, most of the time my bird photos get a dusting of NIK Color Effects Tonal Contrast and that is in Photoshop. Yeah, I know there are other ways to access NIK filters that may seem easier but this is what works best for me. So in ACR I do all the basic stuff, exposure, color temp, blacks, contrast, saturation, I also manually adjust highlights and shadows with adjustment brushes and will often enhance the blues and browns with luminescence adjustment. If the image has a lot of water in it I will usually set the white balance on the cool side at this point, then I save the adjustments and move back to Photoshop. There I will mask and paint in a warming filter on my subject and any highlights that are to be kissed by the sun. Those color balance changes are very subtle and a little bit goes a long way but it can really make a good photo great. Then it is off the the Tonal Contrast, starting at about one third of default settings and then only applied to the subject in most cases. Tonal contrast applied to water backgrounds looks really bad so be sure to use the selection tool to keep those parts original. Then it is back to Lightroom for a few last checks. This is where I will look at vibrance, sharpening, noise reduction, and any minor adjustments to make the histogram just right, then export as needed. This all may sound like a long convoluted way to process an image but I like it because at the end it is loaded in both Lightroom and Photoshop and it is in  Photoshop’s recent items list and that means I can do any additional editing from minor adjustments t big Photoshop projects in a snap, I can also save many of my clean up and color balance adjustments on separate layers that can be changed later. This whole process can be done in just a few minutes once you get it down.

I often hear others say things like “I only allow myself five minutes to process a photo” implicating it is not worthy of processing if it takes longer than that. That is a big load of crap, any one who limits their edit time, for what ever reason, is a fool. It takes as long as it takes and if you consider your work as art you need to work on it as long as it takes till it is finished.

Thanks for reading everyone, I am really glad you were able stop by. Live well.

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One response

  1. Very interesting demo. It is a big expense for each image to make color correction. I prefer to turn film-final with profile setup in the camera.

    December 6, 2012 at 11:45 pm

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