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Making Your RAW Photos Look More Like JPEGs

The #1 complaint I hear at my Lightroom seminars is “When my RAW photos first appear in Lightroom, they look great, but then they change and look terrible.” What’s happening is when you shoot in JPEG, your camera adds contrast, sharpening, etc., right in the camera. When you shoot in RAW, you’re telling the camera to turn all that contrast, sharpening, and stuff off. So, when your RAW image first comes into Lightroom, you’re seeing a sharp, contrasty preview first, but then it draws the real preview and you see the actual RAW image. Here’s how to get a more JPEG-like starting place:

  • Step One: To get a more JPEG-like starting place for your RAW images, here’s what to do: Go to the Develop module and scroll down to the Camera Calibration panel. There’s a Profile pop-up menu near the top of this panel, where you’ll find a number of profiles based on your camera’s make and model (it reads the image file’s embedded EXIF data to find this. Not all camera brands and models are supported, but most recent Nikon and Canon DSLRs are, along with some Pentax, Sony, Olympus, Leica, and Kodak models). These profiles mimic camera presets you could have applied to your JPEG images in camera (but are ignored when you shoot in RAW). The default profile is Adobe Standard, which looks pretty average (well, if you ask me).
  • Step Two: Now all you have to do is try out each of the different profiles, and see which one looks good to you (which to me is, which one looks the most like a JPEG—a profile that looks more contrasty, with richer looking colors). I usually start by looking at the one called Camera Standard (rather than the default Adobe Standard). I rarely see a photo using Camera Standard that I don’t like better than using the default Adobe Standard setting, so this is usually my preferred starting place.

    Note: If you’re shooting Canon, or Pentax, etc., you’ll see a different list of profiles, as they’re based on the names the camera manufacturer gives to their in-camera picture styles.

  • Step Three: If you’re shooting landscapes (and you want that Fuji Velvia film look), or you just have a subject where you really want vivid colors, try the Camera Vivid profile, which mimics the Vivid color preset you could have chosen in your camera. I love this one for landscapes, but I’ll also try the Camera Landscape profile and compare the two, to see which one looks best for the particular photo I’m looking at, because I’ve learned that it really depends on the photo as to which profile looks best. That’s why I recommend trying a few different profiles to find the one that’s right for the photo you’re working with.

    Note: Don’t forget, you only get a choice of these camera profiles if you shot in RAW. If you shot in JPEG mode, you’ll only see one profile: Embedded.

  • Step Four: Here’s a Before/After, where the only thing I did was choose the Camera Vivid profile. By the way, Adobe doesn’t claim that these profiles will give you the look of a JPEG image, but in my opinion these surely can get you fairly close. I use these profiles anytime I want my starting point to be closer to the JPEG-like image I saw on the back of my camera.
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