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The Big Fixx: digital camera image problems > Opening and Processing RAW Images

Opening and Processing RAW Images

The RAW format is about the hottest thing happening in digital photography. There are two reasons why: (1) unmatched quality, and (2) you become the processing lab, creating your own custom originals from your digital negative (the RAW file itself, which remains unchanged). Think of it this way: With traditional film, you take the film to the lab, and someone processes your prints from a negative. Well, with RAW, you get to be the person processing the photo—with control over white balance, exposure, and more—all before your file opens in Elements 3.

Step One

If you have a digital camera that is capable of shooting in RAW format, you can open these RAW files for processing by going under Element’s File menu and choosing Open. Navigate your way to the file, click the Open button, and your file will open in the Camera Raw processing window (you’ll know you’re there because the basic EXIF data, including the make and model of the camera that took the photo, will appear in the window’s title bar). (Note: You can import RAW photos into the Organizer once your camera is connected to your computer by going to File, choosing Get Photos, and navigating to your files. With your files open in the Photo Browser window, click on a cataloged RAW photo, then click on the Standard Edit button in the top-right corner of the Organizer window and the photo will open in the Camera Raw processing window.)


Step Two

Your RAW photo is displayed in the large preview window on the left of the dialog. There are only three tools: the Zoom tool (for zooming in/out of the preview), the Hand tool (for panning around when you’re zoomed in), and the White Balance tool (which looks like an eyedropper used for sampling colors or reading tones). Click the Zoom tool once or twice on your photo until your image fills the full preview area.

Step Three

Although there are a number of different settings in the RAW processing window, most users wind up using just a few. The most popular is the White Balance control. You can drag the Temperature slider yourself, or just choose one of the preset settings in the White Balance pop-up menu to correct for different lighting situations.

Step Four

The next most-useful (and popular) adjustment is the Exposure setting, which lets you adjust the exposure up to 2 full f-stops. There are Auto checkboxes for Exposure, Shadows, Brightness, and Contrast to help you if you’re not comfortable making these choices yourself. There are also sliders for controlling Saturation, Sharpness, Luminance Smoothing, and a slider to help reduce digital noise from photos shot in low-lighting situations or shot with high ISO settings.

Step Five

You’ll need to decide what the bit depth of your photo will be: Will it be 16-bit (for the highest image quality), or will it be a regular 8-bit image? (You’ll learn more about which mode to choose in the next tutorial.) Choose your setting from the Depth pop-up menu at the bottom-left corner of the dialog. Click OK and your new original is processed, but your original RAW file (your digital negative) remains untouched, so you can go back and make as many custom originals as you’d like. That’s the power of RAW.

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