Digital Imaging

The Philosophy of RAW


NOTE – For maximum clarity, you can zoom in on (or download) any image in this post!  

For best results, maximize your browser, then click on the desired image – navigate as needed. 


One of the most misunderstood (and mis-used!) concepts in digital post-processing is how to properly work with RAW files to maximize your images.  What to do with all that digital information?  How do you work with the format correctly & maximize your image’s potential?  When enhancing your image from RAW, what is the “goal”,  and why?  What the heck are you aiming for?


First, what is a RAW File?


A Camera RAW file contains unprocessed, uncompressed data from your digital camera. It’s just information, but lots of it. It isn’t really a file “format”, like JPG or TIFF.  It also doesn’t have a Color Space.

You should be shooting in Camera RAW for your important work — the results are worth it! The more information you are able to capture when you shoot, the more information you have to effectively create your image.

We’re focused on the “Philosophy of RAW”  in this post, to give you direction.  For more valuable information on RAW “by the numbers”, click here:  Why shoot in 16 bit (RAW), rather than 8 bit (JPG)?


What is the INCORRECT way to work with a RAW file?


So, why not just use a few sliders willy-nilly to make my image “nice-looking”, either in Photoshop’s Adobe Camera RAW plug-in (ACR), or in the Develop Module in Lightroom?   You can try, but by doing so, you’re cheating yourself of all of the available digital information, which you can use to your advantage in Photoshop – and more digital information in your file is a very good thing!


Keep in mind that Photoshop & Lightroom are two totally different programs, with two totally different purposes – more here: Photoshop vs Lightroom?  Wrong Question!


What is the CORRECT way to work with a RAW File?  What are the Goals?


Here’s where the “Philosophy Of RAW” comes into play – – Set Goals!  There are 4 individual goals  – the “Overall Goal” is to bring your final RAW image into Photoshop:


•  Slightly Under-Exposed – – It’s easier to lighten in Photoshop …


•  Slightly Low orFlat” in Contrast – – It’s easier to increase your contrast in Photoshop …


 Slightly Over-Saturated – – It’s easier to de-saturate in Photoshop …


•  Best Overall Color Balance – – You can “fine-tune” individual areas in Photoshop


Why these “Goals”, you ask?


Following these 4 “Goals” will bring LOTS of information from your digital capture into your Master File in Photoshop, and information is king in post-processing.  Further, it provides you “headroom”, or a “margin of error” – it’s always better to have more information than not enough! 


Keep in mind that by using these “Goals” your aim is NOT to make a perfect image in ACR (which is what most people try to do, including Lightroom users in the “Develop” Module – and you simply can’t – see PS vs LR link above)  –  – – by using these “Goals”, you’ll take advantage of the strengths of both ACR and Photoshop in your overall workflow to end up with your final desired “killer” image (via your Master File – see link below). 


What are those strengths? ACR is designed to get as much digital information as you can out of your digital capture, and Photoshop is the industry standard in using that information for the best possible (and most flexible) results.


More on Master Files here:   What is a Master File, and why do I need one?




If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this series of screen grabs of two different images will visually show you the evolution from the Original RAW Capture, to the Optimized RAW file, to the Optimized Master File in Photoshop (click on image to zoom in)and many thanks to Stephanie Rudd & Mark Ochenduszko for allowing me to use their beautiful images:





















By the way, all of this is part of my book designed for photographers, “Not just another Photoshop Book”, available exclusively on Amazon:


… and here are more free useful downloads for photographic post-processing:


Questions?  Comments?  Lemme know – I’m here to help …


Thx again, and cheers!


JW ?


Need to Calibrate and Profile your Monitor? Here’s how to do it correctly – WITH VIDEO


There are 3 steps necessary to successful color management – Profiling your Monitor is “Step #1”.  But let’s face it:  the main reasons most people avoid profiling their monitor are because they’ve got to buy something, and/or they think it’s too complicated.


The truth is, it can be quite simple to get your monitor to match the output of your printer.  All you need are the right tools, the main one being a Monitor Profiling package, which consists of a piece of hardware called a colorimeter, and the software to go with it.


Here are the two best packages available:


1)  X-Rite i1 Display Pro –   I love X Rite products, and this is the one I use.  It costs around $225 street price, and is available from Amazon, B&H Photo, etc.  Click here for more from X-rite.

2) Datacolor Spyder 5 – Around $225 street price – Although the package does an excellent job, I personally don’t think the software is as user-friendly as the X-Rite product.  Click here for more from Datacolor.


The following 4 videos (split into 4 parts for ease of viewing) are specific to the X-Rite i1 Display Pro, but the procedure should be similar for the Datacolor Spyder.  Watch all four videos sequentially – these take about 15 minutes (or less) total to watch – Best viewed in HD – Enjoy!


Subscribe to my YouTube Channel here:




Here are some subjects mentioned in the Videos:


•  Calibration Starting Point: In the “Advanced Mode” of your software I would suggest setting a calibration “starting point” of:


•    5500°K (Kelvin)
•   2.2 Gamma
•   110 Lumens (CD/M2).


•  Here’s the procedure for “zero-ing” in your optimal monitor settings: you may need to “zero-in” your optimal monitor settings – but generally I’ve found that the above values are correct 90+% of the time.


If, after calibrating and profiling your monitor, you see a trend of your prints coming out consistently dark, then you need to recalibrate and re-profile and lower your lumens value to, say, 100 lumens.


Or, if your prints tend to be consistently warmer (reddish-yellowish) overall, change your color temperature to 5000°K.  Conversely if they are consistently  cooler (blue-ish, cyan-ish), change your color temperature to 6000°K.  A note of caution: Before you make these adjustments, all other aspects of your Color Management must be in order.


•  By the way, if you’re new to Color Management, here’s a link to my FREE PDF, “The 3 Steps to Successful Color Management” –   Click here


•  Click here to buy my Photoshop book, “Not Just Another Photoshop Book”, exclusively on Amazon – available in Kindle or Paperback:


Questions?  I’m only an email away – Thx again, and cheers!


JW 🙂


April 2020
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