Wow, what a long time! I started this post back in March 2015! 😳😲 Unbelievable!
Recently, I got again a question on my workflow, so I decided to finally finish this post. Hint: This post contains some links to software manufacturers. No one paid me anything for getting a link or had any influence on my opinion.
Besides creating jpg files directly in-camera many digital cameras are able to create raw files instead of the JPG or in addition. Raw file means saving the bare information captured by the sensor and not processing it in-camera. This has a couple of advantages. A few years ago, I already published a post on these advantages. Many years ago, I decided to capture only raw files and process them myself afterward to have more control over the process and the final look. No, don’t get me wrong, I don’t use any filters. In only do, what was necessary back in film days.
In the past, I already published some posts covering how I store my images and a bit about, why I’m doing the extra work for raw development. Some of the benefits of doing it this way are in this post. I really encourage you to click on the links and read a bit about the background. Although most recent digital cameras are really great in creating good-looking JPGs, you still have a lot more in raw.
I’m using dedicated raw-processing software and it’s not Lightroom, because this software needs so much unnecessary work which stands in the way where I’d have to work around. The workflow is complicated and not straightforward. And, you’re locked into the software when you want to keep access to your own work.
The DAM (Digital Asset Management) would be nice for the final images, but it’s absolutely the wrong way to import all undeveloped images only for deleting a huge portion right after the import. A database makes additional problems when being used that way and slows down the computer over time. You can google for these problems and find gazillions of people suffering from them. An often recommended solution of having a separate catalog for each job on the other hand leads the whole idea ad absurdum. (btw. the same is true for the recent versions of Luminar, and that’s the reason why I left their affiliate program). Not being able to save all your edits outside of a catalog also hinders you to get your image edited by someone else and get the edits back for learning from the outcome.
These are my steps after coming back from a job or a trip:
- copy all images in a dedicated folder on my internal disk named with the date and a tiny description of the contents (i.e. 20210507 – garden birds)
- create a first backup of the whole bunch of images, which will hopefully never be used
- import the GPS data into the image files (only for trips)
- normalize the file names when having used more than one camera body to get them in the right order again. My naming scheme is YYYYMMDD_hhmmss-XXX_xxx.NEF. I guess the first and second part of date and time is easily understandable. I take this information from the metadata of each file: the time of releasing the shutter. The XXX stands for a 3 digit code of the used camera body followed by 4 numbers. These third and fourth parts are given to the file by the camera at creation time. The metadata are pieces of information stored in the images by the camera at the time when the image is captured.
- create a second backup on a second external disk. This one is my backup in case of an emergency.
- open up a digital light table to check the images and select the ones to get processed.
- create a sub-folder called “edit” and copy all selected images in this folder, direct the raw processor to the edit folder and process the images
- the final steps are already in the post, I mentioned above.
In this post, I want to describe the actions I do in my raw processor. You know, I started photography more than 40 years ago and run my own lab in those days. And the options I had in those days are still the steps I do in digital photography:
- remove some blemishes and dust-spots
- brighten the shadows and darken the lights to get a better balance in the image if necessary
- balance the horizon if necessary
- correct the with balance if necessary
- boost the vibrance or increase the saturation if necessary
- crop, if necessary
- export to jpg
You see, my workflow is quite easy and straightforward. It costs me a maximum of approximately 2 minutes per image. Some of the actions can be bundled and applied to a couple of images at the same time to speed up the work. But, in general, I’m not a big fan of such bundlings, besides the export to jpg.
You might ask, what kind of software you can use. There are a couple of commercial products around. All I know, offer trial versions for a couple of days/weeks: DxO Photolab, Capture One Pro (free versions for some Fuji and Sony cameras available), OnOne Photo Raw, NX Studio (free, Nikon only – afaik Canon has something similar), and some open-source products, which are also free of charge: Rawtherapee, Lightzone, ufraw, digikam, Darktable. Affinity Photo is more a replacement for Photoshop or Gimp, although it also has a good raw development module. Photoshop brings kind of a lite-version of Lightroom for raw development called Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Gimp incorporates either ufraw or Rawtherapee, depending on the operating system you’re using. There might be some more products in the market, which I didn’t mention here because I don’t know them. So, this list isn’t complete. Sorry!
Although the open-source products usually have a background in the Linux community, they are also available for Windows and macOS. I worked with all of them a bit and would recommend either Lightzone or Rawtherapee. ufraw is a bit like Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop. Darktable has the same mechanisms as Lightroom. So, it’s unusable for me. I don’t want to import the raw files into a database and stick with this single database because all of my edits are in that database. A corrupt database could make me lose all ever-done edits. DigiKam is an all-in-one solution: fat but mighty. I like the organizing module very much: DAM = Digital Assets Management. For some time, I’m using Excire Foto for DAM. You see, the linked post is quite old. I have to write a new one. This product is amazing.
For modern lenses, it is extremely important to have software being able to adjust and correct lens failures: barrel or cushion distortion and achromatic abbreviations. Back in the film days, the good lenses were designed for not having them. Nowadays it’s easier (and cheaper for the manufacturer) to create a piece of software to correct the failures. All the software I mentioned above is IMHO able to work that way. On the other hand, I have a lot of old lenses, which don’t need such corrections.
In case, you want to start developing your photos, I’d recommend either DigiKam, because it is an all-in-one solution, or Lightzone / Rawthereapee. In case, you need some image manipulation tools, try gimp. You can find tutorials on the relevant homepage I mentioned above or on YouTube. Although there are rumors of Gimp would be complicated, that’s not completely true. Also, Photoshop is very complicated, but there are more talkative called-by-themselves experts telling it otherwise because they are kind of experienced because of extensive usage. Each software is complicated on the first try. But, open-source software usually has a very active community willing to help when you’re investing at least a bit of time reading or watching (YouTube) tutorials. The other option is, to give one of the commercial software a try and download the trial version. Also, commercial software needs you to learn how to handle them. So, giving open-source a try first, won’t cost you any money. When talking about commercial software, I like DxO Photolab the most followed by Capture One Pro. When it comes to image manipulation software, I’m using Gimp and Affinity Photo. In the past, I used Photoshop CS6, but it’s not necessary anymore. First, I need such software only for approximately 10-20 images a year, on the other hand, Gimp has everything, I need. A few weeks ago, I published an article on one of my use cases for image manipulation software on NikonRumors and here in my blog.
I tried all the products I mentioned above last year when I had to investigate a replacement for my raw development software. Although the last update was in 2012 it run well and gave me the flexibility, quality, and tools I needed. Unfortunately, the developer decided to retire the software. For some years I was unable to re-install it if there were a reason to do so, but the recent updates of the operating software of my computer made the tool even completely unusable. So, I needed to find a replacement and I did. Recommending software to someone else is not easy because everyone has her own workflow, her own requirements, and her own wishes. So, you have to try on your own and find the software fulfilling all of your requirements to the best.
Below, you can see two screenshots from while developing a raw image in LightZone. The final image is on the top of this post.
In this image, it was necessary to darken the highlights to recover the fine structures in the petals. In-camera development would have left only completely white spaces. From the raw file, I was able to recover the fine lines in the petals as well as the stamens. The erected twig was removed afterward with image manipulation software (Gimp) as well as the cropping.
Take care and happy snapping 😊
5 thoughts on “editing a raw file”
I use RawTherapie for my RAW files. Once you get used, it works fine !!!
A good choice 👍
That is really informative. My grandson Mackenzie is really into photography – I gave him one of my old Nikons when I jumped ship to Olympus last year. I personally use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, but he can’t afford it. He currently uses Darktable – which is very good, but he struggles with it as it is very comprehensive. Nikons software is his choice but we didn’t realise about the others such a Rawtherapee etc, so he is going to give them a go. Thanks for the heads up 🙂
You’re welcome, James. You can give all of them a try and choose the one that most fits your (his) needs 😊