Free Photography Tutorials, Beginners to Advanced

An Introduction to RAW

See also my series of videos on editing RAW files

This tutorial will show you how to edit RAW images and how, using RAW files will give you an instant boost in picture quality

Most good cameras these days have an option to save your pictures as RAW files, either instead of or as well as a JPEG file. A RAW file contains, as you would expect, the RAW (unprocessed) data straight from the camera's sensor, whereas a JPEG file is a compressed file. The RAW information from the sensor, instead of being saved straight to a file, is processed and compressed by the camera's software and saved as a JPEG file.

The advantage of a RAW file is that it contains a lot more information, rather like a negative in the old film days that can be used in creative ways to produce just the picture you want. The disadvantages of working in RAW is that the files are a lot bigger than their JPEG equivalent (my Canon 7D produces files around the 20Mb mark for each photo on the best quality RAW setting) so they take up more storage space, also there is extra work to do before you get your picture. However, for any serious photographer, the resulting increase in quality is well worth the extra effort. When I first saw the results from using RAW files it was as if I had bought a new, much better quality camera. Since I processed my first RAW file I have never gone back to JPEG even when time is precious.

There are several programmes available for processing RAW files, the most popular one comes with Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, it is called Adobe Camera RAW. At first sight ACR looks rather complicated but this is only because, like all software these days, there are several ways of doing the same thing. As this is an introduction article and not an instruction manual, I am going to talk about my typical workflow for a typical picture. These days I do most of my editing in ACR and only open the picture in Photoshop if I want to work on parts of the picture or I want to work with layers.

If you have a modern version of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements all you need to do is double click on any RAW file and Adobe Camera Raw will open automatically.

ACR Interface

Other tutorials in this section

Photo Editing

Introduction page.

camera icon

Scaling your files.

camera icon

Balancing those pixels.

camera icon camera icon

Dealing with color casts.

camera icon camera icon
Processing RAW Files

An introduction to Adobe Camera RAW.

camera icon camera icon
Processing RAW Files using HSL

Advanced use of Adobe Camera RAW.

camera icon camera icon camera icon

Using the unsharp mask.

camera icon camera icon
Using the Quick Mask

Masking parts of your picture to edit certain areas.

camera icon camera icon
Adjustment Layer Masks

How to build accurate layer masks.

camera icon camera icon camera icon
Straightening Horizons

A must for landscape and building photographers.

camera icon camera icon
Replacing Boring Skies

Using layers in Photoshop.

camera icon camera icon
Using the Channel Mixer

How to make a better job of changing images from color to black & white.

camera icon camera icon
Using Curves on Adjustment Layers

Playing with contrast and tones to give a more dramatic effect.

camera icon camera icon camera icon
High Dynamic Range

How to shoot and process HDR pictures with Photomatix Pro software.

camera icon camera icon camera icon
Back to the main 'Photography Tutorials' page
Learn Digital Photography with Geoff Lawrence eBook

If you enjoyed this page you might
be interested in my eBook
Learn Photography with Geoff Lawrence