Some Lightroom tips to make RAW more fun – Peter Gregg

Shooting “RAW or JPG” is an age old argument that today is about as personal as the age old question of “boxers or briefs?” If you really wanted to go through the trouble of arguing one point or the other you could find that each has it’s own qualities and real life reasons for using one or the other.

Boxers are said to be more stylish while briefs are said to be more supportive, and then there is the group that says they like to go with neither one :) But this isn’t about underwear but I wanted to bring in the point and in a visual way that to argue which a person should wear is about as silly as telling folks whether they should use RAW files or JPG files.

Read more good stuff after the jump.

The important thing in photography today is to see the shooting experience as a whole process, something a man (or a woman) can sink their teeth into and it be a complete hobby experience. When the hobby becomes so intense it can then elevate towards growing to a professional level. in fact I know some “hobbyists” that actually know more and produce better shots than some of the professionals I know.

One aspect of photography today is what to do with your files once they come out of the computer. Whether raw or jpg they have to go somewhere. If you shot in jpg mode then some of the “developing” is done for you.

If you shot on raw mode then you have more processing control than allowing the camera to do it for you. Just remember to wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident :) Mom’s voice still haunts . . .

Raw shooters will have to take their files and polish them up to a level that hopefully is good, and with practice can be great. Lightroom has emerged as one of the bigger winners in the battle of raw converters. I am not putting any of the others down and yes, there are some other great raw processing software choices out there.

For this little tutorial I am going to focus in on Lightroom. If you can get a happy raw workflow you will enjoy ANY kind of photography a lot more than the alternative of fighting with your files to get them to look halfway decent. Bringing the files into Lightroom is the first step and while Lightroom does have a feature to import the files from your card, I use another program dedicated to importing files called Downloader Pro. Remember, I created a workflow for myself that is so slick and easy to do I look forward to getting my final files and part of MY workflow is to use a dedicated program for importing picture files. Just a heads up though, Downloader Pro is a PC program and those still crazy enough to use a Mac will have to find another method to import files or use Lightroom’s own import feature. Actually, I didn’t mean to target the Mac users I love the Macs, I just wanted to entertain you a little along my story here, and a little rise in blood pressure will get the old blood moving along :) I have NO quarrel with any computer system you use, even the dumb Mac :) The blue pill is for your blood pressure right? – lol.

Okay, off the comedy stage and back to business – once you get a file into Lightroom you will notice it changes in appearance once LR (LightRoom) is finished loading it. I get a lot of photographers complain bitterly that they HAD a good picture and then LR ruined it by processing it and altering it’s appearance. These actually are your own choices and you just haven’t realized that you made them – much the same as the way JPG files are developed inside the camera with too many people not realizing what has happened to the file.

If you go to the Develop tab and then scroll to the bottom of the develop slider section you will see a Calibration category. Personally, I find Adobe Standard to be something I wouldn’t pick if knew there were other choices. And there ARE other choices. You can go thru them all, but I can save you some time and tell you that X-camera (meaning your brand) Neutral is my favorite choice. It takes away some of the contrast in your picture, but you can control how much to add back and in the process it gives you a little wider dynamic range.

For the sake of this story, I want to stick to my workflow a bit so I will tell you I set my defaults to Nikon Neutral, where you would be using Canon Neutral or Olympus Neutral or whatever is closest to the blandest setting you can pick for your camera. I choose bland because I want to fine tune the pictures discreetly, quickly and with more finesse rather than doing it like gangbusters.

Next thing I want to check on is the Brightness setting. LR pumps it up a lot and you need to fine tune that in yourself and even if it means bumping up the Exposure a bit, it’s better to use gentle nudges than extreme blasts of any one slider alone.

Don’t try and do too much towards getting your exposure corrected until you settle on the correct white balance first. Once you get the right white balance, you will find you exposure needs will be quite different than the “straight from the camera” white balance setting. I like to white balance in the camera as i am shooting to get the white balance close to what is properly should be because it WILL effect the outcome of the final exposure. Once you tame down those reds, or whatever primary color is punching it’s way through, you will often find the camera could have used more light. By leaving this until later and assuming that the computer can correct this, you will get surprised to find that adding one stop of exposure to an ISO 1600 picture suddenly makes that picture an ISO 3200 picture – yikes! I have used a variety of tools and the one I bought for myself is the Colorright Max. It is the same as a regular Colorright, but it also has built in corrected white and gray patches along with an array of patches that will cause reactions to skin tones rather than to the whites or blacks in a frame. it is an all-in-one tool that has very tight tolerances in terms of accuracy. By white balancing in the camera, my high ISO pictures don’t move to a higher noisier exposure simply because of white balance errors by the camera.

Once the Calibration is set and the white balance is set, I move on to the correct exposure for both the highlight levels and then the black levels. The white levels are obvious and I don’t think I have to explain much about them other than don’t BLOW OUT your highlights :)   The black levels are less obvious, but they are one of the links that can make or break your pictures. What I am saying is to pay attention to both.

After those components are done, then I tune in the color saturation. I like a little more color saturation  probably because I am used to the color I would get years ago from my film when they would return from the lab along with the prints. The color labs used to do all the corrections automatically for me and I would walk around think what a darn good photographer I am – lol. Now, with RAW I can see all my weaknesses and on top of that I have to have the skill to correct all the in-camera mistakes I made in my new darkroom – the computer.

I will be making a DVD or a booklet taking a journey through my whole raw workflow in Lightroom including tips on dealing with dramatic skin colors and making the pictures pop. There is no “one button fits all” and there needs to be a few techniques and skills acquired that you need to have available to your thinking and under your belt. And I guess that would bring us round full circle back to boxers or briefs. There is no wrong answer, but color, brightness, saturation, what they look like up close and also at a standard viewing difference all make important impacts on the final appearance. You realize I am back to the topic of raw files right ;) They give you a lot of room for tweaking to make masterpieces out of the ordinary. If you are going to be interested in my raw file workflow, shoot me an email at and I will inform you when it becomes available and when and how much.

Happy shooting and see you online,
Peter Gregg

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