Out of my depth editing raw files

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#1
I'm starting to realise how much out of my depth I am when it comes to dealing with raw files. I'm not even a serious amateur, just somebody who likes to take lots of photos, keep them moderately organised, and post them online. Maybe on day I'll try to get a photo book together or a small exhibit somewhere local.

I've been using Lightroom for a few years, mainly for its organising capability, and for the little editing that I do: crop, adjust exposure if it's really bad, saturate colours a bit. I don't really know what I'm doing, I just fiddle a bit with the settings :)

Now the problem: I'm finally figuring out why I'm often not that happy with some of my photos, and maybe why I liked the rending in Apple Photos (and their "auto-adjust" magic wand) better than in Lightroom (I'm moving back to Lightroom). I'm probably somebody who should just be shooting jpg -- but unfortunately I have years of RW2 pics (Panasonic G2), with or without associated jpgs.

I've been reading about camera calibration profiles with a lot of hope, before discovering that they seem to be a Canon/Nikon thing. I'm understanding that raw photos absolutely need some post-processing. I've read the advice to "tweak a photo until it looks like what you want", and save that as the default setting for importing photos, or as a preset. And this is where I feel out of my depth: the photo doesn't look "good" but I don't really know where to start to make it look "good", if you see what I mean.

For those photos where I have a jpg, I guess I should just grab the jpg. But there are many where I don't have it.

Where should I start?

Thanks for any help... I feel like somebody who has dug herself into a hole and can't get out.

Stephanie from Switzerland

Operating System: MacOS High Sierra
Exact Lightroom Version (Help menu > System Info): Lightroom Classic version: 7.2 [ 1156743 ]
 

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Welcome to the forum.
If you are patient with yourself I think that you will be fine with RAW files. Until you get comfortable with your abilities managing LRs RAW adjustments, I would recommend that you take advantage of the RAW+JPEG option in your camera. Import both into LR and look at the in camera processed JPEG as the processing target that you first want to match and eventually exceed.
Before you even compose the image and press the shutter, you have already made processing decisions to instruct the camera what adjustments to make with its tiny little processing engine to produce a finished JPEG out of the RAW image that is always captured by the camera. Instead of letting the camera throw away the RAW file, process it with LR. At first your LR results will look about like the 8 bit JPEG but you will have a 16 bit file that can be exported from LR.

When you Import the RAW file into LR, LR will apply some default adjustments. These may be good enough and they may even be as good as the in camera JPEG. With LR, you have the ability to adjust the White Balance, and the Exposure. With the in camera JPEG, these have been fixed and can not be corrected if the in camera settings were chosen wrong.
There are some develop presets that you can create or maybe borrow from others, that will help in the development in LR. These are similar to the Apple Photos Auto-Adjust magic. In addition to that, LR has an auto-tone function as well as an AWB.
Educate yourself here by asking questions and with some of the many post processing articles found on the web about developing images. You need to learn how to adjust Exposure, correct for clipping, managing the tone adjustments and how to apply local brush tools (which your in camera JPEG processor is incapable of doing. This will let you brighten up the shadow details and darken the bright over exposed parts of the image.

Because of he non destructive nature of LR, you do not need to worry about screwing up the RAW image because you can always start over from the way it came out of the camera.
 

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Welcome to the forum.
If you are patient with yourself I think that you will be fine with RAW files. Until you get comfortable with your abilities managing LRs RAW adjustments, I would recommend that you take advantage of the RAW+JPEG option in your camera. Import both into LR and look at the in camera processed JPEG as the processing target that you first want to match and eventually exceed.
Before you even compose the image and press the shutter, you have already made processing decisions to instruct the camera what adjustments to make with its tiny little processing engine to produce a finished JPEG out of the RAW image that is always captured by the camera. Instead of letting the camera throw away the RAW file, process it with LR. At first your LR results will look about like the 8 bit JPEG but you will have a 16 bit file that can be exported from LR.

When you Import the RAW file into LR, LR will apply some default adjustments. These may be good enough and they may even be as good as the in camera JPEG. With LR, you have the ability to adjust the White Balance, and the Exposure. With the in camera JPEG, these have been fixed and can not be corrected if the in camera settings were chosen wrong.
There are some develop presets that you can create or maybe borrow from others, that will help in the development in LR. These are similar to the Apple Photos Auto-Adjust magic. In addition to that, LR has an auto-tone function as well as an AWB.
Educate yourself here by asking questions and with some of the many post processing articles found on the web about developing images. You need to learn how to adjust Exposure, correct for clipping, managing the tone adjustments and how to apply local brush tools (which your in camera JPEG processor is incapable of doing. This will let you brighten up the shadow details and darken the bright over exposed parts of the image.

Because of he non destructive nature of LR, you do not need to worry about screwing up the RAW image because you can always start over from the way it came out of the camera.
And by all means, do buy Victoria's Lightroom 7 Classic book. Shop | The Lightroom Queen

Phil Burton
 

Victoria Bampton

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And by all means, do buy Victoria's Lightroom 7 Classic book. Shop | The Lightroom Queen

Phil Burton
Thanks Phil.

You might actually like my upcoming LR CC book better, from your description. I've focused the new book primarily on newer photographers, so how do you know whether you need to make a photo lighter or darker or warmer or cooler or when might you increase the shadows and how much. It's based on the newer LR CC cloud software, but all of the Develop controls are also in Classic, even if you decide not to move to storing your photos in the cloud. If it's a popular style, I might end up doing a simple LR Classic version. The bad news though, is I haven't quite finished writing it yet, sorry!! It's not far off.
 
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@clee01l thanks for all this. Actually, the technical part is not an issue. It's the "eye" part. When I look at a photo, I can't "see" what needs to be done to it, beyond some very general things. I know how to adjust exposure, clipping, highlights, and even local adjustments. I just don't know "how much" to do, where to start and where to stop. Sounds like @Victoria Bampton's upcoming book may indeed be for me! (I use LR CC too for the sync ability, have just spent a few days figuring out my workflow using both Classic and CC).

For the future, I'm definitely going to be shooting RAW+JPG and importing them seperately so I can play with the JPG and keep the raw handy if my photo processing skills improve in the future.

I know LR applies adjustments to my raw files, but they all look very flat to me and I can't for the life of me "see" what I need to do for them to look more "like the jpg" or "how I want them to look".

There are some develop presets that you can create or maybe borrow from others, that will help in the development in LR. These are similar to the Apple Photos Auto-Adjust magic. In addition to that, LR has an auto-tone function as well as an AWB.
I've found the compared to Apple's magic wand, the LR auto-tone doesn't do "as much" (or in the direction I'd want). Presets would be interesting to play with -- I've made a few, but as I said above, I'm quickly out of my depth when it comes to figuring out what it is I need to do to a photograph.

I have seen there is a camera profile for the G2 by huelight, worth trying?

With LR, you have the ability to adjust the White Balance, and the Exposure. With the in camera JPEG, these have been fixed and can not be corrected if the in camera settings were chosen wrong.
I've seen this mentioned over the years, but I find it very confusing. If I open a JPG in LR, I CAN adjust white balance. I seem to be able to adjust everything I can adjust with a RAW file. What am I missing?
 

Denis Pagé

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I've seen this mentioned over the years, but I find it very confusing. If I open a JPG in LR, I CAN adjust white balance. I seem to be able to adjust everything I can adjust with a RAW file. What am I missing?
Welcome to the forum Stephanie,

I miss the understanding of bit depth.
 

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Hi Stephanie, and welcome from me too.

You are quite right that all the Lightroom sliders affect both RAW and jpeg images, but the difference is in the degree of adjustment you can make (obviously, it's a bit more complicated than that!).

I think it's very hard to figure this out from scratch, so maybe you need some help? Everyone has their favourite guru, but the one who helped me the most is George Jardine at George Jardine on Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Digital Photography — Learning Lightroom, and Digital Asset Management for Photographers

I know you say that you don't need technical help, but I'd like to say why I found George's approach so helpful. His approach is rather two pronged. First he takes you through what is actually happening when you pull those sliders around. Then, he considers photos he's taken, discusses how they are lacking, and then, armed with an understanding of how Lightroom works, goes about fixing them.

He doesn't go into every Lightroom detail, that's what Victoria's book will do for you (he's not at all a substitute). His videos are based, I think, on Lightroom 5, but the underlying principles haven't changed.

Anyway, it worked for me, and he has a free video so you can get an idea if it might work for you.

Good luck, Dave
 
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Thanks to you both @Denis Pagé and @davidedric! Past bedtime for me here, but I just wanted to let you know your inputs were helpful. Regarding "technical", yeah, I guess it depends how we define technical, and my understanding is probably limited. The idea of being walked through examples sounds appealing.
 

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I really like George's work, and I've learned a lot from him myself.

For your jpeg white balance, imagine you have some blocks of plasticine or modeling clay, and a multicolored model you made earlier. It you try to change the existing model (the jpeg) into something else, the colors all smush together a bit and it's just not quite as good as starting from scratch (the raw unedited data). The more you try to change it, the bigger the difference you'll see.

In the same way, the jpeg has already been made into an image, so when you try to change it, the result will never be as good as starting from the raw materials.

There's an example in my book of my little white dog, shot in very yellow indoor light and a bit overexposed (too light). When you correct the raw file, most of the highlight detail is recovered and the colors look natural. If you try to do the same with the jpeg, it just looks weird. That's the flexibility of raw.
 

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This may help Stephanie. As you get more familiar with RAW processing you can make 1/2 dozen or so presets with the basic settings. This will speed up you basic editing time.
General guide for a starting point.
white balance and exposure 00
contrast + 5-10
Highlights -30
Shadows + 30
Some prefer to use white and black sliders instead
Clarity + 30
Vibrancy + 20 [leave saturation at 00 for now --- I often increase vib and decrease satu
Tone curves -- whites + 20 [sort of a mid-tone brightener
Detail
sharpen + 60
radius default +1
detail +50
masking +20
noise + 25
contrast +15
Lens correction>> Basic -- tick all three + set up your camera and lens

will not suit all subjects or cameras. The idea is to get something similar to how a JPG may look . Not everyone or anyone will agree so you will need to refine your settings and likely need to make other subject presets; however I general auto sync similar to all new files and then fine tune [add "_" and/or "1" will put the preset and the top of the list. I also have a "_mine" group so it's at the top --- I very seldom use or look at the Lr presets and have never downloaded presets.

Another great set of preset that can add that often missing wow factor
Camera Calibrations
Blue Primary >> saturation >> preset for each at 00 / 25% / 50% / 100%.
I also have >> a starting point presets with a couple already added -- if I don't like it I just click the 00 preset
>> It can pay to have a "detail" only preset instead of built into the starting point preset

>> The thought of RAW processing is worse than the actual doing it <<
 

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I have read all the posts on this thread and my suggestion to the OP is this:
Practice, experiment, over and over again!

The process is parametric so the underlying image data is never altered.
It took me many years of trial and error to fully leverage the power of raw image editing.
Part of this process also incorporated learning to shoot a raw image optimally - this can be very different from optimally shooting JPEG images.
Nonetheless, from a post-processing perspective I would revisit images already edited and try to do better than the previous time. I did not do this arbitrarily, but rather from reading or watching a video I would have an idea that I waned to try and implement. Sometimes it was to test something on a purely technical level, but more often it was an actual aesthetic effect I was after.
This was true trial and error. Sometimes it did not work, sometimes the effect was different from what I expected, and, occasionally I hit the jackpot!! Whatever the result the prime effect was that I learnt! I learned the limits of what was possible, I experimented with the effects of various sliders and controls, I learned how changing one slider affects what is possible with another slider or control and so on...
Many of my better and more interesting images have been edited a dozen times or more! I have tried B&W versions, duotone, high contrast, low contrast variants and on it goes...

Another important bit of advice: avoid presets!
By this I mean do not download presets developed by others.
I use presets, but these are ones I developed myself. In my case they are mostly ISO- and lens-dependent combinations of noise reduction and sharpening adjustments. If I was doing a lot of studio shooting then I would develop more comprehensive presets because i could control all aspects of exposure.

The result is that now I am completely comfortable with any of the controls and sliders in the Develop module, but more importantly my judgement of what is required and why.

FOOTNOTE: I am a bit ambivalent about the advice from one or two posts to shoot JPEG+raw for the this reason: One of the mistakes in raw editing I see made by many beginners is to try and emulate the JPEG image where there is one for comparison. This is a mistake! The whole point of raw image editing is to develop your own style. By trying to emulate the JPEG image all one is doing copying what engineers at Nikon or Canon, Olympus, or Sony or whatever regard as a good result. If one is happy with that then there really is little point in wasting time shooting and editing raw images when the JPEG gives one what is desired. I presume, however, that your real desire is to develop your own post-processing style!
 
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#12
I have read all the posts on this thread and my suggestion to the OP is this:
Practice, experiment, over and over again!
...
FOOTNOTE: I am a bit ambivalent about the advice from one or two posts to shoot JPEG+raw for the this reason: One of the mistakes in raw editing I see made by many beginners is to try and emulate the JPEG image where there is one for comparison. This is a mistake! The whole point of raw image editing is to develop your own style. By trying to emulate the JPEG image all one is doing copying what engineers at Nikon or Canon, Olympus, or Sony or whatever regard as a good result. If one is happy with that then there really is little point in wasting time shooting and editing raw images when the JPEG gives one what is desired. I presume, however, that your real desire is to develop your own post-processing style!
Well, the thing is... I'm not that interested in learning how to take full advantage of raw shooting. As I said in my initial post, I should probably just be shooting jpg and not worrying too much about it. I do like the idea of shooting raw + jpg so that if one day I want to try and get more out of a particular photo, I do have the original. I'm starting to understand what extra flexibility raw gives (your explanation was helpful, @Victoria Bampton) and don't want to lock that door shut forever by chucking the raw materials.

My current issue is that many of the photos I've taken over the years are just raw, so I do need a stopgap measure (in a way) to get something "not much worse than if I'd shot jpg" out of them. I like the idea of having a general preset I can use to help me with that (thanks @Ian.B for the very concrete suggestion). I also am going to try the huelight camera profiles.

I'm just not that serious about photo editing. It might change, but right now my main purpose for using LR is organisation, and yes, what little editing I do. But given how little I do (I'm happy to NOT retouch a photo if I can!) I definitely think I need to stick to jpg for the time being, and the current discussion is confirming this idea for me.

Still welcoming extra thoughts on the topic!
 

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Hi Stephanie

I read your reply.
I don't think that there really is a "magic bullet" here for you.

I would be very hesitant to suggest that a preset can solve your dilemma.
I am pretty certain that you have taken images in a huge variety of scenarios with different lighting and therefore exposure required.
Some images will be high contrast images and others not.
Some images will require colour corrections - whether that be global white balance or tint issues or more specific colour issues.
Noise reduction and sharpening requirements vary dramatically depending on the type of image, exposure, ISO, and even the lenses used.
No one preset can achieve an acceptable result in all these different scenarios.

I get your problem, and if there was a "magic bullet" that could solve your dilemma I would be the first to recommend it...
My suggestion is just to knuckle down and learn how to use the Develop module.

Tony Jay
 
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@Tony Jay yeah, I fear you're right :eek2:

So, veering to a secondary question: is the a way for me to filter out, in Lightroom, the RW2 photos I have which do NOT have a JPG sidecar?
 
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I would be very hesitant to suggest that a preset can solve your dilemma.
I am pretty certain that you have taken images in a huge variety of scenarios with different lighting and therefore exposure required.
Does a camera profile solve this issue differently than a preset? Or is it just the same kind of "rules" applied to the raw file, only at another moment/level in the development process in LR?
 

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Does a camera profile solve this issue differently than a preset? Or is it just the same kind of "rules" applied to the raw file, only at another moment/level in the development process in LR?
In many ways it's the same, but there is one difference: A camera profile applies certain adjustments without changing the position of any sliders. That means you can apply a profile and then still change any slider without changing the camera profile adjustments. A preset applies certain slider positions. As soon as you change one of those sliders again, you 'undo' that part of the preset.
 
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So, I've now got the huelight camera profiles for my camera (low contrast, standard, high contrast). I took a series of photos of my cats and imported the RW2 and JPG files separately so I could compare. I made a pile of virtual copies using the four different camera profiles, and also with or without the auto adjustements.

So I'm staring at a pile of near-identical photos of my cats, which are not quite the same, I can see that much (the huelight profiles seem more red than the adobe standard one, which looks a bit more red than the jpg, which looks positively green when I compare it to the huelight profiles). But I can't for the life of me figure out what is "better". Each time I try to compare two, I think "oh, this is better", but if I compared them the other way around I would find the other one better (does this make sense?)

I've also used survey mode to compare but I'm just feeling more lost.

Big thanks to any ideas to help me find some sanity in this collection of not-quite-identical cats. (Is there any preferred way I could share the set so you kind people can see what I'm seeing?)
 
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Let me say in a kindly way that you are in the early stages of developing your own style. There's not a simple answer to your question of which is "better"; that's up to you and what you prefer. There is not an easy, one-size-fits-all answer, especially when dealing with a wide range of subjects. It can take a long period of experimentation before you settle on a certain look. One approach would be to try to make the shots look like the way you perceived them in real life. Another is to try to achieve a certain feeling or response in the viewer. This whole set of issues is a big part of why photography and post-processing are so engrossing.

Even if, as you say, you aren't that interested in devoting lots of time to post-processing, in the process of learning how to achieve the look you like, you will get skilled and fast at it.

Good luck and have fun.
John
 

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So I'm staring at a pile of near-identical photos of my cats, which are not quite the same, I can see that much (the huelight profiles seem more red than the adobe standard one, which looks a bit more red than the jpg, which looks positively green when I compare it to the huelight profiles). But I can't for the life of me figure out what is "better". Each time I try to compare two, I think "oh, this is better", but if I compared them the other way around I would find the other one better (does this make sense?)
)
To add to the fun, I'll often go back a week later and look at them - and I often don't like something about the one that was my favorite last week.
I find that if I post process too many in one sitting, my brain gets "tired" and the later ones always need more work.
So I just walk away for a while.
 

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If you are reasonably happy with jpg files; prepared to lose some photos because exposure/white balance mistakes; than continue using jpg. Some insurance in the way of bracketing would reduce any loses. In some ways more care is needed when using jpg. Not too many years ago; jpg was all we really had.
We (the more fussy/experienced and so on) often forget not everyone wants, or needs the "perfect" photo that is "only available from a raw file".
However most would benefit with putting quality over quality of their photography and therefore their photos
And we (the more fussy/experienced and so on) need to remember we are very much in the minority when it comes to people taking photos today.
Serious happy-snapping photography is a rather a time consuming hobby these days --- raw files are just a bit more time consuming
The most important thing is to enjoy photography Stephanie; however some very basic editing is just part of modern photography, and just some basic editing can take a jpg file to a next level photo or even to being a great picture displayed on your wall
BTW: you can still make several presets to suit your different of the card jpeg files
 

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Does a camera profile solve this issue differently than a preset? Or is it just the same kind of "rules" applied to the raw file, only at another moment/level in the development process in LR?
Hi Stephanie

As Johan has already mentioned how profiles work I won't repeat what he said.
Every raw image has a camera profile of one type or another applied.
The important point is that no profile is a substitute for editing.

Tony Jay
 
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@Ian.B, I think you've hit the nail on the head, and express very clearly where I'm at.

Still mulling over all this.

I realise that my "inability" to decide which of the variations of my photos is "best" is not just a photo editing issue. Though for some reason I take "not too bad" photos, I have very poor "visual esthetics" skills. Zero fashion sense (I just can't "see" which clothes work with which other clothes), or graphic design sense (and part of my work has to do with helping people build websites, I always skip the visuals), etc.

I am interested in learning more, of course, I'm interested in all sorts of things, but it's true that post-processing is not high in my priorities. Shoot JPG, hit magic wand or auto setting (or why not, a couple of presets) and see if it seems globally better or worse (there's usually enough difference that I can actually tell), and move on.

I went back to look at some of my raw photos and they're not as horrible as they had become in my memories. For those that look flattish, I'll sweat a bit at post-processing, if I don't have a jpg available. I've had a look at George Jardine's courses and definitely look like something I'd enjoy and find useful, so I'll start digging into them.
 

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@Ian.B, I think you've hit the nail on the head, and express very clearly where I'm at.
Thank you for those kind words -- no point making digital photography harder than it already is imo
Yeah; the hair colour was a bit of a giveaway :p :eek: :rofl:

The important thing is you asked the questions; too many don't!
A few general comments
Don't get bogged down in techo stuff. . Photography is more about seeing and noticing the subjects; appreciating the light, reading that light, and the shadows of that light. And while photography tools are important none yet can decide on the better placement of the camera to capture the subject inside the best composition.

I realise that my "inability" to decide which of the variations of my photos is "best" is not just a photo editing issue. Though for some reason I take "not too bad" photos, I have very poor "visual esthetics" skills. Zero fashion sense (I just can't "see" which clothes work with which other clothes), or graphic design sense (and part of my work has to do with helping people build websites, I always skip the visuals), etc.
again, general comment to anyone interested
You, as many others do are likely being too hard on yourself.
One big mistake I have noticed so many doing (me too in the past 40 + years) is trying to learn while photographing too many different subjects types with too much gear and expecting the all that gear to it perfectly for you. I have learnt that minimal is better -- minimal gear and minimal subjects, as in less subjects and simpler subjects. In other words; keep it simple; don't expect to get every photo you might see; go for quality instead of quantity; with less photo one has more time to edit the better quality files.
Winding the photography clock a few too many decades; a basic slr film camera came with a standard lens; around 50mm. Imo; that is still the better learning tool for basic photography. Many will be surprised how many subjects can fit very nicely through that ONE lens. As an WWW article stated; a 50mm, or standard fixed local lens is very liberating.
A little mirrorless camera with a 20mm lens (=40mm) is now my favourite camera. I learnt, and re-learnt so much about photographY (and myself) with that little gem!! Minimal gear / minimal subjects ;)

But in the end; editing is part of the more serious digital photography
 
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I think it's probably fair to say that most of us just "fiddled with the settings" when we started. That is how we learned.

RAW files ALWAYS look flat when you first see them, particularly in comparison with a jpeg taken at the same time. They are just a starting point. But they do have a lot of flexibility or "malleability" within them to allow you to adjust them to quite a significant degree some times. It is worth it if you have the time and patience.