Once you go with RAW files, it seems like you never go back. I’ve said before that RAW photography isn’t for everyone. Even so, I feel that there comes a time in every photographer’s life when making the switch to RAW just makes sense. For me, it came just after my purchase of a high powered computer with a nice 500GB hard drive. Now that I can store all those digital negatives, I want nothing more than to take all of my pictures in RAW. Here’s how you can get on the RAW bandwagon with Adobe Photoshop Elements.
What is RAW? Why shoot in RAW?
The RAW format is the completely unaltered image data, taken straight from the camera’s image sensor. Before creating the JPEG files we are all accustomed to, your camera does some basic modifications to the RAW data. It adds a little sharpening and some compression to reduce the file size. If you shoot in JPEG, you never see the RAW file because it gets deleted once the JPEG is created. That’s unfortunate because RAW files give you so much more options than JPEGs do.
You can think of a RAW file as a sort of digital negative. Nobody ever sends or prints RAW files. They process them into other image formats that then get shared with others. Why is this? Well, it’s partly due to the fact that RAW files are very large. They aren’t so easily shared. The second reason has to do with processing. You never want to modify a RAW file because if you did, you’d make an irreversible change to the original image.
I always keep all of my RAW files in a separate folder, completely unmodified. This ensures they will never get corrupted. If I ever want to modify any of my images, I open up the RAW and process it into a shareable JPEG image. I never modify the JPEGs more than once because it tends to degrade the quality.
Always do this: RAW File –> Adobe Photoshop Elements –> JPEG File –> Share, Print, etc.
Never do this: RAW File –> Adobe Photoshop Elements –> JPEG File –> Adobe Photoshop Elements –> JPEG File –> Share, Print, etc.
Importing RAW files into Adobe Photoshop Elements
To import a RAW file into Photoshop Elements, you simply open up the RAW file. The Adobe Camera RAW dialog box will open up, giving you a number of options to change your image before you import it. You’ll also see a histogram on the top, so you’ll immediately know if you’ve taken your changes a little too far. Here’s what it looks like.
Bear in mind that there all kinds of different file formats for RAW camera data. I have a Nikon D40X, and it spits out .NEF files. Your camera might create some other file type. Most RAW files are compatible with Adobe Photoshop Elements. Just open them up with the software, and you will get this import dialog.
Let’s start with the fill light setting
We’re going to start with my favorite first adjustment. When I’m importing RAW files, I usually start with the fill light because it tends to brighten up dark shots when I’ve underexposed them. This image is a little dark because I had a few shots earlier that turned out too bright. In a bid to keep some of the definition in the snow, I upped the aperture setting and doing so made the sky a nice dark blue.
By turning up the fill light, you can brighten some of the blues in the sky without affecting the nice crisp definition in the snow. To confirm that this is actually happening, just watch your histogram as you slide this setting to the right. Most of the colors will shift to the right while the far right end of the spectrum stays mostly in place. This means the darker colors are being transformed into lighter variations.
For this photo, a fill light setting of 40 worked really well. Anything greater than that, and the rest of the image starts to look hazy. Take some time to play around with the fill light setting. You’ll see what I mean.
Exposure, recovery, blacks, and brightness
The rest of the settings are handy if you accidentally overexposed your image. The recovery slider shifts the entire histogram to the left, meaning it has a darkening effect. You can think of as the inverse of the fill light slider.
The exposure slider works by moving the entire histogram either to the left or right. Adobe tied it directly to exposure on your camera. If you want to expose one stop up or down, you can set the exposure to plus or minus one. You can also slide it until you like what you see. From my experience, I prefer not to use this slider because I would hope to have nailed the exposure in-camera. I like tools like fill light and recovery because they do things the camera cannot do.
The “blacks” slider increases the prominence of darker colors in the image. You may want to increase it if you feel as though those colors aren’t represented enough in your histogram. For this photo, I increased the blacks to +11, just enough to flatten out the histogram a little more on the left side. Sometimes you can’t really see these differences, but they are there.
Lastly, brightness does exactly what you would expect it to do. I’m not the hugest fan of it because it’s not as targeted as the fill light slider. Once again, you can simply get more brightness from the camera itself if you just decrease the aperture or shutter speed. Try to get this taken care of before you enter the post-processing phase.
Open up and save as a JPEG
If you were to open up the image right now, you would have effectively converted it from RAW to a format that Adobe Photoshop Elements can use. Clicking “open” is just like processing a negative. From that point on, you will only want to save a single JPEG. If you want to make any more of these import-time adjustments , it’s best to import the RAW file again.
The next few photoshop tutorials will go over some of the other Camera Raw options you get with Photoshop Elements. For now, enjoy using this rather cheap software (Just $80) to import your RAW files. What a bargain!