Make better edits with a RAW photo workflow

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If you’re shooting, you should be capturing your photos in RAW format. It gives you much greater capabilities to edit images, allowing you to produce vibrant, attention-getting visuals for marketing materials.

At the Printing Industries of America (PIA) annual color management conference, Color15, last December, Professor Brian Lawler of the California Polytechnic State University (Cal-Poly) discussed the merits of Camera RAW in image capture and processing workflows. Lawler has been a well known color management consultant for more than 20 years and teaches classes on photography and color management at Cal-Poly.

Unlike JPEG and TIFF formats – images that have already been processed by the camera – Camera RAW files capture unprocessed or minimally processed data directly from the camera sensor. Lawler put aside any question about where he stood on Camera Raw when he began by stating, “Camera RAW is the best thing since sliced bread. It allows us to create masterpieces from regular photos.”

“We can call the data that was recorded by the camera a Digital Negative” Lawler added. One of the points Lawler was trying to drive home was the idea of converting all your Camera RAW files to Digital Negative (DNG) format because this is now an ISO standard. Canon RAW files end with the suffix .cr2, in Nikon cameras it’s .nef. In the future, these proprietary formats may be difficult to read since the format may not be supported from the manufacturer. Since the DNG file is open source, anyone can write software to read or write the files. Without converting to DNG, “you could end up with an archive of images that you won’t be able to open,” Lawler explained.

Lawler also said one of the things he stresses to all of his students at Cal Poly is proper organization of images and use of a naming convention with every image (may I suggest a DAM?). “Give files a descriptive name and organize them in folders so you can find them when you need to,” he suggests.

To prove his point that Camera RAW is “an almost magical set of tools for improving images,” Lawler showed a number of Camera RAW image captures along with the final processed image. Many of these color corrections and image enhancements simply aren’t possible to this level without the RAW data.

For each image pair, the original Camera RAW capture is shown first, followed by the final processed image.



“Processing and correcting color in Camera RAW allows us to better align our images with our memories, and make our customers happier,” Lawler said. “And it makes our images more colorful and effective.”

Lawler launched Adobe Camera RAW and demonstrated some of the tools available to improve the RAW photography including:

  • Curves
  • Levels
  • Exposure
  • Tonality
  • Color temperature
  • Other adjustments like noise reduction and color saturation.

He made a special point to show how the clarity function is a great way to bring out detail and contrast in midtones (where most of the image typically lives) more than it does in highlights and shadows. He also highlighted the new dehaze tool and how it can bring back detail and color saturation very well. “Dehaze is essentially a very low frequency unsharp mask,” Lawler said.

While all the image correction Lawler performed was accomplished in Adobe Camera RAW, he explained that the same edits can be made with Adobe Lightroom, as it essentially provides the same capabilities. Lightroom is a sort of blend of Adobe Camera RAW and Bridge that processes RAW images well and incorporates workflow and organizational tools to effectively handle a large volume of images.

Lawler touched on some of the options used for digital camera calibration from basICColor and Xrite, explaining that “Unless you are attempting to accurately reproduce colors as you would in product photography or fine art reproduction, camera calibration is not required. But using camera profiling tools, it is possible to get fine art reproduction-quality images more easily than it has ever been.”

“The Camera RAW imaging tools in the hands of professional imagers make the difference between ho-hum and wow!” Lawler said in closing.

Do you work with Camera RAW images? When customers provide Camera RAW files to Widen for content production, it allows our team to use the entire tonal range of what the camera captured. All the data from the camera sensor is saved so Widen color experts can create images with all the desired color, amazing detail and tonal ranges that provide you with more impact and “buy me” punch for your marketing efforts.  

Learn about our Digital Content Production services visit the webpage or contact us now!

Topics: Resources, Photography, Creative

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