Post-Processing for Beginners: Working with RAW Files
In 30 seconds you can make your images really pop by following these steps
Post-processing is a constant source of debate and discussion within the photography community: What is too much? What software do you use? How do you use those programs? Here, we’re going to address these issues by showing you, using video tutorials, how to make basic and critical adjustments to RAW files. These files are like undeveloped film: You need to take them out of the camera and finish the process to get a final image.
We stuck with Adobe Lightroom as our teaching tool of choice. Many photographers use this program and it is readily available. We didn’t push the software though; instead, we stuck to highlighting steps that almost every photo editing program has. Whether it is Mac or PC, phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop, these steps can be easily replicated.
What made this especially fun for me was that I have never used Lightroom before! I’ve always used Adobe Camera RAW inside Photoshop. But this proves the point: Lightroom is a straightforward program and the simple steps we are highlighting will be very similar for you, no matter what software you use.
Introduction to Lightroom and Simple Editing Steps
As you can see in the difference between the before and after pictures, we have made only minor adjustments. Post-processing doesn’t mean that you must create crazy effects and spend hundreds of hours trying to figure out how to do it. Our goal is to transform your unfinished RAW image and turn it into a JPEG that reflects what you saw in your mind during the dive.
…and after from a photo shoot in Wakayama, Japan (Olympus Tough TG-4, f/4.5, 1/80s, ISO320)
Simple Wide-Angle Fixes
Sometimes, the best adjustments are the ones you don’t make. If you’ve got a good shot to start with, you only need to polish it. Focus on highlights, shadows, and minor color correction and you can check 90% of the post-processing off your list. It’s fast, easy, and you don’t need to worry about permanently ruining your shot. If you don’t like the result, don’t save it! Plus, it is easy to hit the undo button and you can forget some of those times you pushed the saturation slider all the way to the right.
…after. Sometimes you don’t need to do much—just a little tweak here and there (Olympus OM-D E-M1, 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, f/11, 1/125s, ISO200)
Easy Tweaks Make a Huge Difference in Macro
Macro photography shows off the power of these steps. In just three or four quick steps, you can transform an image yet still be true to the original. Minor post-processing is allowed in most photo competitions, and these adjustments are minor. They are also powerful. You can see how simply moving the highlight and shadow slider brings the image to life.
…and after. Boom! Talk about a little time well spent. Just a few easy tweaks transforms the image (Olympus OM-D E-M1, 60mm f/2.8 macro, f/20, 1/250s, ISO200)
Logical Process Flow and Great Results
If the software you’re using is not easy and intuitive to use then find something else. There are too many great products on the market. You don’t need to stick with some dinosaur of a program just because you paid for it. Great post-processing programs can be found cheap or even free. Photoshop is the great wizard behind the curtain for most people, all-powerful and impossible to understand. Consider leaving Photoshop alone for now and get comfortable with the basics. When you are ready to take your post to the next level then click the button for “Edit In Photoshop.” Those are lessons for another day though.
Not every image turns out mind-blowing after these steps, but it is still an improvement (Olympus OM-D E-M1, 60mm f/2.8 macro, f/20, 1/200s, ISO200)
Not Every Picture Turns Out Great!
Sometimes an image is flawed. In this example, the image was very badly lit and our fish is even slightly out of focus. But it illustrates a good point: You can’t—and shouldn’t try to—save a poor image. If you try and sharpen the heck out of an out-of-focus subject, all you will end up with is a pixelated, noisy mess. The lesson is that sometimes the best way to show off your photography skills is to delete a photo—if it doesn’t meet the basic criteria of proper exposure, sharp focus, and pleasing composition.
…and after. Sometimes an image just doesn’t work: It turns out the face of the fish is slightly out of focus (Olympus OM-D E-M1, 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, f/8, 1/80s, ISO200)
RAW files represent the unprocessed data recorded by the camera sensor, and with an appropriate RAW converter, these files allow a great deal of flexibility in how a final (JPEG) image should look. For underwater photographers, the ability to shoot in RAW format is absolutely essential because this flexibility is necessary to adjust for the challenging photographic conditions underwater.
Learning how to make these post-processing adjustments is as important as learning how to take the picture. Fortunately, as this article shows, basic post-processing is a simple task that anyone can master using any one of a range of different software tools. So, if you aren’t already doing it, make sure you start shooting in RAW, and get tweaking those sliders like everybody else. You’ll be amazed at how much you can improve your images with just a handful of quick and easy adjustments.
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