Shooting RAW + Lightroom post-processing

Started Jun 29, 2012 | Discussions thread
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djst Regular Member • Posts: 217
Shooting RAW + Lightroom post-processing

I've been interested in photography for the last few years, but never really understood the point of shooting in RAW since jpeg seems so much more convenient and space efficient. I knew that raw allowed you to tweak white balance after the fact, but I never really had a problem with white balance to begin with -- and I always thought I could achieve minor corrections easily in a jpeg anyway.

In the last few weeks, I decided that I wanted to give Lightroom a try because editing photos in GIMP felt too time consuming (I'm an open source nerd, so actually paying for proprietary software has always felt "wrong" to me). In order to get started using LR, I spent a half-day with a far more experienced photographer, and he then convinced me to also start to shoot in raw.

One month later, I can finally say that I'm getting it: shooting in RAW is amazingly liberating and produces far better results in post processing -- especially if you're a lousy photographer like myself who constantly exposes incorrectly! The key, however, is that RAW only starts to get really useful if you also plan to post process your photos. If you're not into PP, the benefits of RAW are smaller (but still there).

So, I thought I'd share some of my experiences for others who are hesitating about entering RAW territory.

Disclaimer: I know that there are some really great photographers in this forum who are far more experienced than I am (and far better at actually taking photos!). This thread is not really directed to you excellent stars, but to those less experienced like myself who are still learning. I thought that my point of view might be worth sharing anyway for other amateur photographers who are interested in squeezing out a little more from their current cameras and making their photos look a little better.

Lastly, I'm in no way trying to present you with actually good photographs here! I'm just using some examples from the last month of shooting to try to illustrate my points. Some people may actually think I ruined the photo by over-processing them (I'm still learning to master a new tool, so naturally I might overdo it at times).

With that out of the way, here are some before and after photos. They're all shot using my Olympus E-PM1, in raw, obviously.

Here's a photo that I shot on a sunny afternoon in A-priority mode with the aperture wide open (Olympus 45mm f/1.8):

It was hard to see on the screen of the Olympus E-PM1 but I realized I was overexposing it since the shutter speed was blinking on the screen at 1/4000s. Yet, I decided to keep it just in case.

When I got home, I loaded this shot in Lightroom 4.1 (LR) and by just pressing the Auto exposure button (and adding some vignetting), I got this:

Absolutely no critical highlights blown, despite being more than two stops overexposed according to the camera's metering system. This already shows one big advantage of RAW: you can recover from incorrect exposures with much higher quality results.

What I like about LR is that it's optimized for the most common adjustments you'd want to make on a photo. Here's a photo of my friend and his 2-year old son Oscar, unedited:

In LR, I 1) cropped, 2) added mild vignetting and 3) made the faces brighter painting over the face with the adjustment brush tool and increasing the exposure ever so slightly. Lastly, I removed a spot Oscar had on his forehead after slamming it into a carousel door (oops!) -- again using the adjustment brush tool to increase the brightness a little extra on that spot. The result looks like this:

Here's another example of a landscape photo shot with the Olympus 9-18mm @9mm:

Again, LR makes tweaking the photo very straightforward. In this photo, I 1) fixed the slightly angled horizon by rotating the photo, 2) cropped gently to give it a "wider" look and 3) increased the local contrast to bring out more of a dramatic effect to the sky. Lastly, I adjusted the brightness of specifically blue colors (this is a wonderful feature of LR that allows you to selectively mute or intensify specific colors) to make the blue parts of the sky look a little darker. The result:

Similar to how RAW makes it easier to recover highlights, I'm equally amazed by how much can be done in the shadow area. This photo looks a little dull compared to what I saw with my own eyes (and as you can probably see, the metering system of my camera made it underexposed).

To try to recover from this, I 1) first of all fixed the exposure, 2) increased Shadow areas (this is a separate slider that can make a lot of difference in photos shot with a strong backlight for example), and 3) specifically increased the brightness of the greens while reducing a bit of its saturation. The result is drastically different from the original:

One final example, pretty similar to the one just above. Here the camera exposed for the bright sky, so the people in the shot all appear very dark:

To make this shot more interesting, I 1) increased the Shadow areas, 2) increase local contrast to bring out more crispness to the green grass, 3) cropped it to make the photo appear more wide, and 4) added slight vignetting to bring out more of a dramatic effect to the sky. The result:

 djst's gear list:djst's gear list
Olympus PEN E-PM1 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 9-18mm F4.0-5.6 Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH Panasonic Lumix G Vario 45-200mm F4-5.6 OIS Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 14-42mm 1:3.5-5.6 II R +1 more
Olympus PEN E-PM1
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