Bad Raw Processing?

I have seen several images recently that suffered from insufficient or inaccurate processing the raw converter. How can I tell? In most cases the high values are the tip off. Initial processing in the raw converter should contain the values of the image within acceptable limits for reproduction including printable highlight and shadow details. If a highlight value in a portion of the image is brighter than it should be and further processing in Photoshop did not raise the value somehow, then the initial raw processing was incorrect.

An accepted technique for raw processing is the hold down the <Alt>[Option] key when moving the Exposure slider to see if any channels are clipped at the high end. Making the on screen display black except for specular highlights is a good start. However, it is usually better to go beyond this to establish a target value for a detailed highlight area and make that value work by lowering the Exposure. This will pull down overly bright high values, especially in skin tones and other bright subject matter that should have full detail. This is generally not hard to do. Processing those areas later in Photoshop is occasionally necessary for added detail, but there is no reason why a value that should be around 230 should be processed to 250 as a starting point.

The occasional image that exceeds a reasonable contrast range may require a double processed raw file and subsequent tonal merging to reign it in, but that is generally not the case with most images. It is far easier to control the overall values of an image in raw where there is more information available in the file. Saving hot areas in Photoshop requires more work and generally results in lesser quality in the final image. Why work harder than you need to.

I suggest that photographers with a lesser knowledge of a good workflow in raw take advantage of the changes in the processing in the CS6/LR4 raw processor to learn better control while familiarizing themselves with the new interface. This is not difficult to do, and the results will be more than worth the effort. Conceptually, there are only a few primary target values to aim for and the result will be files that are easier to finish once they are opened in Photoshop.


Author: Bryson

Architectural/Commercial/Industrial Photographer - Digital Photography and Photoshop Educator

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