How to Develop RAW Files

On this blog, we usually steer clear of the topic of unprocessed (RAW) photo data. But now it’s time to give it a day in the sun. Let’s take a look at how to get the data you need out of your RAW files and save it in a typical image file format.

In the Zoner Photo Studio Manager, select the photo or photos that you want to convert from RAW to JPEG, and open them in the RAW module.

Our sample source picture was taken slightly against the light, or more precisely with the sun high above. This put very hard shadows on the subject’s face. Also, the camera’s automatic white balance didn’t do a very good job here, and so we’ll have to play with the colors as well. Fortunately, Zoner can handle this easily. Photo: Tomáš Slavíček

Our sample source picture was taken slightly against the light, or more precisely with the sun high above. This put very hard shadows on the subject’s face. Also, the camera’s automatic white balance didn’t do a very good job here, and so we’ll have to play with the colors as well. Fortunately, Zoner can handle this easily. Photo: Tomáš Slavíček

The layout of the RAW conversion module is similar to that in Zoner’s Editor. But the left side has some added elements. For each picture you’ve selected for processing (just one in our case), it shows a thumbnail and a History of settings changes. This makes it easy to go back or forward by any number of steps.

The RAW Module’s interface.

The RAW Module’s interface.

The Side Panel at the right has tabs with controls for everything from basic edits to global settings. Today we will only be looking at the first tab. These Basic settings offer controls for Exposure, White Balance, Sharpness, Tone Curve, Color, and Noise Reduction.

First let’s correct the picture’s minor tinting—more precisely its White Balance. This should always be the first setting you change during RAW conversion. That’s because white balancing affects the histogram and can cause blowout, which will then need to be corrected via the Exposure controls.

We did our white balancing using the Eyedropper. We clicked on a part of the picture that should be neutrally-colored (i.e. white or gray), in this case the cloud at the top left.

We did our white balancing using the Eyedropper. We clicked on a part of the picture that should be neutrally-colored (i.e. white or gray), in this case the cloud at the top left.

After white balancing.

After white balancing.

Now’s a good time to check for blowout. The histogram tells us that the light tones in this picture are OK, but there are some losses in the dark tones. The Blowout view (turn it on in the View menu) is a great aid for seeing which parts of the picture have no color information.

Blowout view.

Blowout view.

So getting as much detail out of the shadows as we can will be our next goal. For this we use the Shadows slider. It’s in the Exposure controls. We move it to the left.

For this picture we moved the Shadows slider almost all the way to the left. By doing this we rescued almost all the details in the shadows.

For this picture we moved the Shadows slider almost all the way to the left. By doing this we rescued almost all the details in the shadows.

Another look at the blowout shows us how much we have managed to salvage from the shadows with this technique.

Another look at the blowout shows us how much we have managed to salvage from the shadows with this technique.

The same technique could be used on the light tones in a picture, just with the use of the Lights slider instead.

Note: It may look like RAW is all-powerful and you’ll never have to worry about blowout again. But that’s not the case. When fighting blowout using RAW, you’ll still be working within the limits of your camera. In other words: you still have to avoid sloppy exposures.

In our example, we’ve also increased local contrast by moving the Clarity slider up to 25. That’s all for the functions in Exposure. The picture is still drowning in shadows, but we will worry about those later.

For now we’ll use the Sharpness controls to sharpen the picture slightly. We use 1:1 zoom for this, and all other sharpening jobs.. For our photo, we got good results using a Sharpening strength of 75, a Sharpening radius of 1.5, and a Sharpening threshold of 0.

As you can see, we used only weak, basic sharpening. You can also instead go the route of sharpening after all other edits have been made, or wait until you decide to present a picture on the web, on paper, etc.

As you can see, we used only weak, basic sharpening. You can also instead go the route of sharpening after all other edits have been made, or wait until you decide to present a picture on the web, on paper, etc.

Use the Color controls to add Saturation (saturates every color) or Vibrance (saturates only the less-saturated colors). Work carefully here, and review your changes periodically while you work.

The picture after color adjustments.

The picture after color adjustments.

In our case we left out noise reduction. This picture was taken with an ISO of 200, so it wasn’t needed.

We could have extracted the details from the dark tones using the Curves controls instead; in fact, these controls are great for this kind of work. There’s a tool in the Editor that is rather mysterious for some users, but will serve us here very well.

We don’t develop this picture or queue it up for conversion; we click on To the Editor instead. This converts our photo from RAW and sends it straight to the Editor for further editing.

We don’t develop this picture or queue it up for conversion; we click on To the Editor instead. This converts our photo from RAW and sends it straight to the Editor for further editing.

In the Effects menu, we use Tone Mapping. With default settings, this function makes the clouds look more painted than real. But the shadows are already visibly better-looking. Now we just need to make this look like a photo again.

Default Tone Mapping settings.

Default Tone Mapping settings.

So we move the Light slider to half its default value (25%). This gives us our desired result.

Tip: Click the icon next to the Apply button to see how the picture looks without your planned edit.

Blowout previews.

Blowout previews.

Checking blowout (by pressing Shift+O) ensures you can quickly see if the edits have left the picture under- or overexposed. If they have, then move the value for the White point (or the Black point). In our case, we did just that: we reduced it from 0.5 to 0.1%.

The picture is now almost devoid of shadows, which doesn’t look natural. So we now raise the black point like we lowered the white point. We go for a value of 1.5%.

The picture after converting it and applying Tone Mapping.

The picture after converting it and applying Tone Mapping.

We’re now done editing the picture and we just need to click Apply and save it: File | Save As. We go for the highest JPEG quality level, and a Sampling of 1:1.

Saving to the JPEG format.

Saving to the JPEG format.


The original, and the final picture. To switch between views, run the mouse over the picture.

Last updated 19. February 2014

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Author: Zoner

Zonerama Magazine: Brought to you by the team behind Zoner Photo Studio.

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Comments

  • I dont havw any website

  • 1. Can I re-open a raw file and see the modifications I made the last time? Where are the modifications saved?
    2. I Googled “Zoner’s Editoru” and got nothing.

    • admin

      Julian, thank you for your question.
      1. In RAW module, you will always see the history of adjustments in the History panel on the left side of the screen. The modifications are saved in XML file alongside your RAW files, so do not delete those, if you think you will need them in the future.
      2. We are sorry, for the ’Zoner’s Editoru’ expression – it is a typo. The Editor (without U at the end) is a module of Zoner Photo Studio, where you can edit your photos (usually in JPG). It has many features, filtres and other adjustments do achieve a better pictures.

      We hope this was helpfull and we wish you just a great photos!

  • William Bourdon

    Good article. It should have noted the “level” slider in most all editing programs and put it to use.

  • James

    Thanks for the article; jumping into RAW processing has been like drinking from a fire hose. Articles like this are a help working with specific tools, when and why to use them.

    • Zoner

      Thanks for your comment, we’re happy to help!