Photoshop Info

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 ?


A Better Way to Sharpen in Photoshop …


Click to Enlarge …


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. 


Having challenges getting your image sharpened properly in Photoshop? Try using this technique, rather than the generic Sharpening tools, which are not as effective and prone to over-sharpening – it’s also much harder to accidentally over-sharpen your image, and gives incredible results.


This is a “non-destructive” technique, which means it will minimize throwing out unnecessary pixels.  Without getting into total “propeller-head” mode, it simply sharpens only the “Luminance” values of your image, but NOT the Hue and Saturation values, resulting in a much better end result. 


By the way, as we discuss it below, don’t let the term “Unsharp Mask” throw you for a loop – it really does sharpen your image!  The term’s just a carryover from the analog / film days.




Sharpening your images shows more detail and enhances focus in your image.  Due to failures in digital technology, which tend to introduce “softness” into your images, it’s usually necessary to apply some sharpening to get the absolute most out of your printed image.


When to Use:


Sharpening is one of the last things that you’ll do to an image:  You should never sharpen your Master File (more on Master Files here).  The amount of sharpening that’s necessary for a 16×20 is more than it would be for an 8×10 – – If you sharpen your Master File for a 16×20, your 8×10 will be over-sharpened.  It’s best to sharpen a duplicate file of your Master File for the intended output size.


Selectively Sharpen:


The method that I’m showing you involves creating a Background Copy (it’s easy – see below).  You can then selectively sharpen just part of your image by creating a Layer Mask  on the Background Copy, and “painting out” those areas you don’t want to sharpen (MUCH more on the power of Layer Masks in my book, “Not Just Another Photoshop Book”, available on Amazon).


How to use “Unsharp” Mask:


•  Step 1 – Create a New Background Layer Copy:  To create a Background Copy, simply drag the original Background Layer to the “New Layer” button.


•  Step 2 – Change the Blend Mode:  Make sure that your Background Copy is highlighted (as shown), then change the Blending Mode to “Luminosity” from the drop-down menu.


•  Step 3 – Go to “Filter” menu -> “Sharpen” -> “Unsharp Mask…”:  This brings up the Unsharp Mask Dialog Box. (see below for more on this)


•  Step 4 – Apply the proper amount of “Unsharp Masking” (more on this amount in a minute) – – Click“OK”


Here’s a zoomable example to the bottom right:


•  In Example A, There is no sharpening at all – this is what came out of the camera.  The lack of sharpening is most noticeable in the palm tree left-of-center, the slats in the roof, and the unreadable blue sign above the arch.


•  In Example B, The sharpening is just right – not too soft or too harsh, you can see detail in the palm tree and slats – plus, you can read the lettering in the sign.


•  In Example C, the image is over-sharpened and harsh-looking, to the point that the palm trees have “halos”, the slats have a “rough” look to them, and the corners of the stucco look fake.


Some pointers to get started:


Click to Enlarge …

•  Suggested starting points in the Unsharp Mask Dialog Box are:


•  Amount 50 to 200
(the bigger the enlargement, the more sharpening you’ll need)


•  Radius = .9 to 1.2


•  Threshold = 2 to 3.


The vast majority of the time, I leave the Radius at 1.0,Threshold at 3, and I’ll increase the Amount until it looks over-sharpened, and back off a bit.  Also, I can always back off the opacity of the layer.


•  How much is too much?  (Don’t forget to see the “zoomable” sample to the right!) Mostly you’ll have to rely on a bit of trial and error at first, but the trick is to keep things looking natural and not too intense – you’ll gain more experience at this as time goes on.

By the way, if your image isn’t fairly sharp to begin with, I wouldn’t expect Photoshop to correct it completely –when it comes to sharpening, it’s not a miracle program.


Unsharp Mask Dialog Box:


•  You can “preview” your sharpening in the Preview Window in the Unsharp Mask Dialogue Box by holding your cursor over it (the cursor changes to a “hand”), then pressing your left mouse button – pressing it and holding it down is the “before” view, releasing the mouse button is the “after” view.


•  You can also put the cursor in the Preview Window, press and hold down the “Space”bar on your keyboard, press and hold down your left mouse button, and drag the view of the preview pane to a more desirable location.


•  With the Unsharp Mask Dialogue Box open, you can put the mouse cursor in your actual image (a small square “box” will show up as your cursor), place it over an area that you’d like to see in the Preview Window, and left-click: Voila! That area shows up in the Preview Window.


How to view your image for proper sharpening:


•  I normally judge the effects of my sharpening with my image at a 1:1 magnification (expressed as a percentage), as shown in the Document Window of your open file – this is “actual size” (or close to it) for a print on my monitor if the image resolution is 300 PPI.


•  To determine this, turn on Photoshop’s “Ruler” (“View” menu -> “Ruler”), hold a physical ruler against your monitor, then zoom in or out on your image until an inch on your image equals close to an inch on your physical ruler – the magnification shown in your Document Window of your open file is your “1-to-1” viewing magnification, expressed as a percentage.

For most monitors, this will be 25% magnification, but on some higher-resolution monitors, it can be much higher (it’s 66.7% on my MacBook Pro 2015 Retina Display).


•  I’ll also set the Preview Window in the Unsharp Mask Dialogue Box at about twice my 1:1 magnification (default is 100% – press the “plus” or “minus” symbols to change the value) – – as an example, if my 1:1 magnification is 25%, then I’d set the Preview Window magnification at 50%


•  Between the two views / magnifications, I get a real good feel for how the final image is going to look once sharpening is applied.


•  Use the “Preview” check box to judge the effects of the sharpening in your image in Photoshop (This does not “preview” in the Preview pane).




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 🙂



February 2020
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