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Processing Raw File Format Images

Converting and fine tuning Raw image files in Photoshop

raw file format

So you've got your first batch of pictures taken in a Raw file format (definition of Raw image files). Well, just like in the days of film, you'll have to wait a little bit before you can see the results of your shoot.

But relax, producing originals in the digital world of Photoshop is a snap compared to all that tedious dark room work of the past. The whole Raw file system is simple and fun. So let's get straight to it...

(I use Photoshop, but if you don't own a copy, and need a Raw file converter, there is other fantastic software available, such as Lightroom and Capture One)


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Opening your Raw image files

Once you have imported your pictures to the 'Organizer' workspace of Photoshop, find the one you want to process first, right click on it and select 'Full Edit'.

The main 'Editor' workspace will open up with a 'Camera Raw' dialogue box in front of it (the Raw file converter, shown at the top of this page). This is where you convert the RAW image from its current unadjusted state to a brilliant shot with the perfect contrast, white balance, exposure and more.


Adjusting White Balance

You'll notice that you have the option to select from a list of preset white balance settings, just like those in your camera. Try out some of these and by all means select one if it looks right.

It is possible, though, to really fine tune the exact tone of your shot by using the 'Temperature' and 'Tint' sliders beneath the preset options. Play around with the amount of blue, yellow, green and red in the image, by moving the sliders left or right, until you hit on the right feel.


Adjusting Exposure

One of the best things about a Raw file format is that it gives you the power to retrospectively tweak the exposure. Improving the exposure in this way preserves much more of the image's quality than when 'Levels'or 'Brightness' layers are applied in the main 'Editor' workspace.

You can even produce 2 differently exposed versions of the same picture (because, remember, you have a permanent Raw 'negative') and blend them together in Photoshop.

This is a big advantage of the Raw file system, which can transform your photography - here's my step-by-step tutorial on creating multiple exposures

Move the slider right to increase the exposure and left to decrease it.


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This is a really handy one if there are parts of a shot which are much brighter than the rest. Often skies turn out overexposed compared to the rest of the picture, leaving annoying patches of bright white.

Well, the recovery slider saves the day here, rescuing lost highlight detail without affecting the exposure of the well exposed parts. Simply move the slider across to the right however much is necessary.


Fill Light

This does the reverse of the recovery slider, rescuing detail lost in the darker shadowy areas of a picture. Slide it across and see the shadows lighten, without affecting anywhere else in the scene.



This function deepens the darker parts of the image, intensifying those shots which seem a little faded. It's also great for boosting the contrast in black and white shots by focusing on just the darker tones and not the highlights. This slider really helps to bring a lot of pictures to life.



Whilst you may find it helpful to increase brightness - with the exposure, recovery and fill light sliders available, I rarely use this feature.



Increasing the contrast adds depth, shape and general bite to an image. It's a great way to improve images taken in a Raw file format up to a level that only fantastic lighting conditions would enable a JPEG original to achieve.

The contrast slider is especially useful for black and white shots, deepening the shadows and lightening the highlights at the same time. Very few black and white images will not benefit from this treatment.


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Adjusting the clarity of a Raw image can give it a much crisper appearance. It allows you to improve the contrast of an image, but confines the changes to within the midtones. So where the contrast slider affects the highlights and shadows, the clarity slider works on those well exposed areas which might otherwise look a little flat.



This allows you to boost or reduce the depth of colour in Raw file format images. But unlike the saturation slider below, which applies 'global' changes (changes to the entire image), vibrance applies only to the least saturated parts of a photo.

This is a great function to make use of because it allows you to bring up some of the duller areas of an image to the level of the most colourful parts.



Increasing saturation deepens the colours throughout the whole shot. Drag the slider over to the left to completely desaturate an image and turn it into a black and white picture.


Hit 'Open Image' to bring up your newly formed original in the 'Editor' workspace. Apply any crafty little Photoshop tricks that you think would benfit the image further - and that's it, the workflow for Raw file format images complete!

Before long this will be a straight forward habit and you'll wonder why you ever limited yourself to JPEG's!


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As mentioned, there are great alternatives to using Photoshop as a Raw file converter, such as Lightroom and Capture One.

Both Photoshop and Photshop Elements allow you to convert Raw image files, and the latter is extremely good value for money.

Need a re-cap on the definition of a Raw file format? Click here...


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