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Raw files are your digital negatives!

June 12, 2012

a re-edited version of a two-year-old photograph by Tim Isaacson

For one reason or another, yesterday, I found myself reworking a few images from a folder of stuff I shot back in April of 2010. I got some pleasing results. I love to show my photography students the RAW, unprocessed images straight from the camera, and then show them how I processed that same image; kind of a before/after look–then listen to the gasps and awes as they express disbelief as to how horrible the image looked initially, then what it was transformed into after processing.

I will willingly share my unflattering images with people, if it will help teach them something about how to improve their photography. So I share this set of images with you now. Above is my final tweak of the original image below.

The following are some tips to help you with your own photography:

1) Shoot with your camera in RAW capture mode when at all possible (three exceptions here are: family snapshots, sports, and weddings). Why you ask? Well RAW captures more information per pixel than JPEGs do (the info is also saved in an uncompressed format) and therefore that gives more leeway when editing later.

2) Remember, capturing an image with your camera is just the beginning of the photographic process. You can do more than you realize to a photograph post capture! Digital photography allows the photographer to also be the editor and printer. It’s just like in the old film days, you had the image capture, then someone developed the film and finally someone printed the image on paper. If you did all three jobs yourself, you had creative license to change things at any point along the process. The same holds true in the digital realm, however, it is much easier to do it digitally yourself now.

3) Always save your RAW camera files! Think of these as your digital negatives. I used to shoot most of my images on 35mm film until as recently as 2006. Well if I ever want to reprint one of those old film-based photos, all I have to do is go back into the archives and find the original negative. Same thing with my digital images. The challenge is staying organized when you have thousands of images piling up on your hard drive, but that’s another topic for another day.

4) The digital toolbox of image-editing software is constantly improving. If you have your RAW originals, you can always go back and reprocess an image with the newer, more improved software and pull more out of the image or change the image into something completely different from when you first shot it. I do most of my photo editing in Adobe Camera Raw and then take it into Photoshop. With every new version of this software, comes more and more creative possibilities for my old photos. For example, I shot a family wedding a few years back and I had to shoot without flash during the ceremony and the images were shot at 1600 ISO. Well, as you can image, the images were pretty noisy! However, I shot and saved them as RAW files. Low and behold, about 6 months later, Adobe releases a new version of Photoshop. One of the big improvements in the new version was in the area of noise reduction. So my old wedding shots can now be reprocessed and the noise lessened using the new software! Love it!

5) With the passage of time, comes a fresh perspective and new ideas to apply to existing or past images. This is another reason I often find myself revisiting old photos in my archives. Often you can come up with something completely different from an image using this fresh perspective brought on by the passage of time. That’s the case with this pair of images. I really wanted to bring out more detail in the old coat hanging on the rack. I also wanted to give the illusion that this photo could have been taken 100 years ago. I think I succeeded. What do you think?

the original, out-of-camera, unedited version of the above photo

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