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Using Camera Raw 5.0

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Raw-format photography is now a fairly common technique used by photographers of all skill levels to ensure maximum image quality and a higher level of editing latitude. Many digital cameras today shoot raw—even small pocket cameras. For this reason, understanding how to process raw files is more important than ever so you can properly evaluate your workflow.
  • I not only use all the brains I have, but all that I can borrow.
  • —Woodrow Wilson

It has been an ongoing dilemma for digital photographers in recent years: JPG or raw? Some might say that only high-end photographers with high-end gear (read: "expensive") could afford to shoot raw, in all forms of the word. But raw-format photography is now a fairly common technique used by photographers of all skill levels to ensure maximum image quality and a higher level of editing latitude. Raw files are different from JPEG or TIFF images in that they contain all the data that was captured from the camera, but with minimal processing. Many digital cameras today shoot raw—even small pocket cameras. For this reason, understanding how to process raw files is more important than ever so you can properly evaluate your workflow.

What Is Raw Format?

Your digital camera has to do quite a bit of processing to turn the raw data from your camera into a JPEG or TIFF file. It must interpolate color, adjust for white balance, correct gamma, convert to a color profile, sharpen, and perform saturation and other adjustments before finally compressing the file into a JPEG image. Think of a raw file as the pure data that comes from the camera's sensor. Many image editors can open raw images on both PC and Mac, but occasionally raw formats won't communicate. This situation leaves you frustrated and stuck with a bunch of images you won't know how to handle. However, Photo shop CS4 can open your raw files, so don't worry. Raw offers several advantages over shooting in JPEG:

  • Because the files aren't compressed, you don't have to worry about the resulting images exhibiting unsightly JPEG artifacts.
  • Most digital cameras capture 10–14 bits of color per pixel, but JPEG files allow for only 8 bits per pixel, meaning that your camera must discard some of its color data when it converts to a JPEG file. With a raw image, you can keep all of the color data, which means that you can push your edits further before you run into posterization, poor exposure, bad color depth, etc.
  • With raw format, you don't have to worry about the white balance setting on your camera, because you can specify that setting when opening the image in Photoshop.
  • Raw files often allow for recovery of overexposed highlights. You read that correctly: The details in highlight areas that have blown out to complete white can be restored.
  • When improved raw converters are released, you can go back to your raw images and reprocess them, possibly securing a higher-quality image. A raw file is truly like a "digital negative."
  • When working with raw files in Photoshop and Bridge, you have access to handy batch-processing mechanisms that can greatly speed your raw-based workflow.

When you attempt to open a raw format image in Photoshop, the Camera Raw 5.0 dialog opens. This is where you can adjust everything from the overall color of the image to the brightness and contrast, as well as control how much sharpening will be applied.

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