Camera RAW in Photoshop

In my Basic Photoshop Workshop I first gloss over the differences between JPG and RAW files. I explain (or try to, at least) why I prefer to take photos in the RAW format. I like to show how much more control one can have over photographs when use RAW and the RAW Camera Filter in Photoshop.

What is Camera RAW? Basically it is the unprocessed and uncompressed data from the sensor in your camera. JPG, on the other hand, is a “lossy” compressed file, meaning data is trimmed from the file in the camera, based on some of the photographer’s input, and a lot of figuring out on the camera’s part. It’s called “lossy,” because it loses data during this compression. For old folks like me, it’s easy to use the analogy of old-school developing with film (RAW) versus modern digital processing (JPG). Since I always enjoyed developing my own film, it makes sense I like processing RAW files.

RAW, up until the recent past, has been the domain of the professional photographer, with expensive DSLRs. Nowadays all DSLRs, and even a lot of point-and-shoot hobby cameras, have the capability to shoot in camera RAW.

So what can you do with a RAW photo that you couldn’t with a JPG one? Well, let’s take a look in Photoshop and hopefully I can show you the advantages of using camera RAW.

[As always, we will start with the assumption that you have already launched Photoshop, and that you know your way around Photoshop on a basic level. If you don’t, you should sign up for my Basic Photoshop Workshop.]

The first thing we need to do is open the photo you want to change. (File>Open, or Ctrl+O in Windows or Cmd+O for Mac).

Camera RAW One

Please note that you can also simply drag and drop the camera RAW file onto the Photoshop workspace and it will open the file.

Camera RAW Two

As you can see, it’s a little different than when you just open a JPG file in Photoshop. Right from the get-go you have more tools at your disposal! Here you can “correct” your image with the use of the various sliders shown.

Camera RAW Three

The first thing you can change is the white balance. Maybe you forgot to change the settings on the camera when you took the photo. You can correct that error here!

Camera RAW Four

The sliders below that can be used to change your photo dramatically, or simply. In this screenshot you can see that I made some adjustments to the photograph. Basically, I wanted to brighten everything up a little, and highlight the mural painted in the little alcove.

Camera RAW Five

I think the sky is a little blown out, due to the cloudy conditions of the day I took the photo. I would like to add a little mood to it, and tone down the sky a little. For this, I use Graduated Filter tool (selected in the screenshot above). To use this tool you click at one point and drag it to the end point (and then release the mouse button). Here I have started at the top center part of the photo (the green dot, signifying the beginning point), and I have dragged it to just above the mural (the red dot, or ending point). From there you can use the sliders to accentuate/correct/beautify your photograph.

Camera RAW Six

Once you are happy with the changes/edits/corrections you have made in your camera RAW image file, select the Open Image button.

Camera RAW Seven

I’m still not 100% happy with the look of the photo, so here I do a little tweaking of the levels.

Camera RAW Eight

In particular, I feel like I need to darken the photo a little more, so I drag the slider marker on the left (or dark) side over a bit until I am happy with it.

Camera RAW Nine

Ahh, much better and much more aesthetically pleasing. Once again I can sleep soundly, knowing my photo looks like I want it to.

To give you an idea of the differences between when we started with the photo and when we finished with it, here’s a side-by-side comparison.

RAW Comparison One

So there you have it. Camera RAW is a little more time-intensive, but I think it is worth it, especially when it comes to your favorite photos. Go ahead and see if your camera outputs to camera RAW and, if it does, give it a go. If it doesn’t, don’t worry, because Photoshop provides you the chance to work on a JPG like it’s a camera RAW file (albeit a lite-version of it). I will discuss how to do that in next week’s blog entry. See you then!


Steve Holsonback
Instructional Media Design Specialist
Center for Academic & Professional Excellence
Ext. 3425




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