Why I shoot in RAW

There are many articles out there that talk about the advantages of shooting in either the RAW or JPEG file formats, in this post I'll show you an example of why I shoot exclusively in RAW.

I was at a Manor farm and country park near Southhampton this weekend with my partner and we came across some pig pens. Now, being a bit of an animal lover I wanted to take some photos of the pigs, especially the little piglets. 

If, like me, you shoot with your camera set to Manual every now and then you'll get your exposure way off. This happened to me and I had hugely underexposed the image. Here is the image straight out of the camera.

 Only slightly underexposed......

Only slightly underexposed......

You might think that this image would be a total write off but because I shoot in RAW, I have a lot of latitude with the file that I wouldn't have with a JPEG. After a bit of work in Lightroom and Photoshop (which I'll go into detail about a little later) I managed to get a nice image. Now I know that this is just a snap of some pigs but it might help if you had something more important to shoot and you needed to rescue an image.

This is the finished photo and I'll outline the steps I took to get to this point below the photo.

The first step I took was to open the file in Adobe Lightrooms develop module. You can access this module by either clicking "Develop" on the top right of the screen or by hitting D on your keyboard. 

I then applied Lens correction and removed Chromatic aberration which gave me a base image to work with.

The next step was to increse the exposure and make some other basic adjustments.

As you can see I increased the exposure by just over 2 stops, added a touch of contrast, pulled my highlights right back, boosted the shadows to 100%, added a bit of clarity, tweaked the white and black levels and pulled back the yellows in the temp slider. At this point you can at least see that it's a photo of some piglets and at first glance it looks OK but if you look closer you can see an awful lot of noise and nasty artefacts in the image because I've pushed the file quite a long way. 

So now I had to deal with the noise and artifacts in the image. I had already used Lightrooms noise reduction panel (as you can see in the image above) but to take things further I opened the photo in Adobe Photoshop by right clicking on the image and selecting edit in > Photoshop.

As with all things Photoshop related, There's probably a million and ten ways to achieve this effect and If you would do it in another way, I'd love to hear it in the comments below.

Once in Photoshop I made two copies of the layer by pressing ctrl+j twice (cmd+j if you're on a Mac) which gave me three layers and I turned off the top layer as seen below.

The next step I took was to convert the middle layer "Background copy" (you can re-name these layers as something more meaningful if you wish - it makes no difference to the final result) into a Smart Object.  This means you can go back and make changes to any effects or filters you apply to the layer later on. It's a nice non-destructive method and a good habit to get into.

Once I had done this I applied a Gausian blur filter from the Filter > Blur menu and set it to around 41px.

This gave me the following look:

Not much noise but very blurry! I then turned on the top layer and aplied a layer mask by clicking the little rectangle icon as seen in this image:

All that was left to do then was to select the paintbrush tool from the tools menu, make sure it was set to solid black with a low flow (64% worked for me on this image but every photo is different, you might have to play around a bit to get the result you like) and paint on the Layer mask NOT the image itself. To do this, just click the white rectangle that has appeared on the top layer. What this is doing is letting the layer below that I blurred through to the layer above.

I reduced the opacity on that layer to around 65% to make it look less obvious and closed the file the file in Photoshop which because I had opened it from Lightroom appeared once again in my Lightroom catalogue as a .tiff file with the original intact. (remember to hit "yes" when it asks you to save the file).

All that was left to do then was export the image as normal. So like I said at the beginning of this post that it was only a snap of some piglets, this technique might well "save your bacon" on something more important.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this process, what would you do differently? Have you tried this approach and had good results?