Photoshop 101 Part 3: How to edit with RAW
What is RAW?
Firstly, the name RAW is not an acronym, but a reference to the files uncompressed and unedited state. Normally when you are taking photographs your camera saves the files in a compressed JPEG form. JPEGs are very useful; their smaller size means more can fit on your memory card, and you can look at them on your computer straight away as any picture viewing software will be able to read them. This also means they can be instantly uploaded to the web. RAW files are not compressed in the same way; they are larger files with much more data. This means that they can replicate elements of the shot much more accurately, especially lighting and colours. This greater detail makes editing photos much, much easier as you don’t have to contend with nearly as much resolution loss. In fact there is so much detail in RAW files that if you accidentally over or under-expose by a few stops you can probably recover the shot in the editing process. This can be a real relief when the best shot of the day was ruined by the sun coming out from behind a cloud at the worse possible moment.
How do we edit them?
The main point of RAW files is that they can retain integrity when editing them… so how do we edit them? As this blog is Photoshop 101 I will be focusing on how to use the Photoshop RAW software, however there are many programs out there for RAW editing, such as Picasa and Rawstudio (Free), as well as Capture One and Photoshop Lightroom (Proprietry Software). If you have a slightly older version of Adobe Creative suite you may need to download the updates to be able to use the RAW editing software plug in (all of the newer versions come with it as standard). Many people who shoot a lot of photos all at once like to begin their editing process by organising and selecting which files to work with in Adobe Bridge. Bridge lets you view the RAW images first, rather than just opening hundreds of files in Photoshop and hoping for the best.
What do these controls do?
However you choose to open your files, they will first be loaded into the Adobe RAW editing suite. If you have selected multiple photos, they will be shown as thumbnails down the left-hand side of your screen. The one at the top of the list will appear enlarged in the main window. The toolbar on the right is where all of the fun happens. From the top down we have the histogram which represents your photos colour balances. Next we have some basic file information stating the cameras settings. Beneath that are several control tabs, but this blog is focusing on the basics so for now we will look at the main exposure controls (which is the first tab and should be the default setting). Take a look at the first two slide bars: these adjust your white balance or colour tone. Slide your bars to the right for a cooler effect, to the left for warmer. These can really come in handy when you have misjudged the white balance or are editing photos of subjects under coloured lights, such as those taken at music events.
Adjusting the light.
The next slider adjusts exposure; use it to brighten or darken your image across the whole. The slider marked “Recovery” helps you to recover details lost in bright shots by enhancing the darker spots on the image; this can help to subtly boost your contrast. The “Fill Light” slider does the opposite - if you have some areas that have lost detail due to being too dark you can add some more brightness. The next two sliders, “Blacks” and “Brightness”, do something similar to the last two but in a more specific way by boosting shadowsand highlights.
The “Contrast” slider serves to separate the colours along the scale; the dark shades get darker, the lighter shades get brighter. Have a play with these sliders and you will see that they all serve to adjust the play of light in the image, enabling you to change its look and meaning completely.
Playing with intensity.
The “Vibrance” slider is one of my favourites. If you have a picture with brilliant colours this slider can really help them to pop. Alternately you can scale vibrancy right back for a more sombre look. If you want to be less subtle with your colour adjustment then the “Saturation” bar is what you need. This slider is also my favourite way to make Black and White pictures- simply bring it straight to the left, then play around with the contrast with the sliders in the previous paragraph to achieve the perfect balance of light and dark. General rule of thumb is that the best Black and White photos have at least one area of pure white and one of pure black, to give the rest of the shades of grey some context.
When you think you’re done you can save your image and then select “Open Object” to make it open in the main Photoshop program. You can even select all the pictures you want to continue with and open them all up. From there you can continue playing with your photos, or simply save to JPEG.
In the grand scope of Adobe Photoshop this is really is just a drop in the ocean, but take some photos in RAW and give these editing tools a go.