OK, so you've been out on a shoot and have a bunch of RAW files. Where do you go from here?
When I shoot I save RAW + JPEG (low quality). This gives me the ability, without any software other than the standard viewer software on the computer, to take a quick look at the pictures in their JPEG state. This usually allows me to discard quite a few pictures immediately. The accidental shots, the experiments that went wrong, too much flare, subject blur and so on. If they look bad in this simple view they are probably not worth keeping.
Out of the pictures that made it past the first cull I'll select what look like the best ones to process. Not all make it, but I won't delete those not chosen as, once the first selection have been processed, it may turn out that another was in fact better.
Stage 1 - RAW to TIFF
You can shoose a stand alone converter for this, maybe the one supplied with your camera - or the one built into your favorite photo processing software. Whichever it is then there are some Dos and Don'ts to make sure you keep the image quality really high. Here are the Do items. Select those that are necessary.
- Adjust the White Balance
- Adjust Exposure (reduce if you adjusted to the right in camera)
- Apply noise reduction
- Apply corrections for lens defects such as chromatic aberration, distortion and softness
- Adjust saturation, clarity and vibrance (these are normally increased)
Don't be tempted to do anything else as your photo processing software can do that better than the converter. Most importantly leave sharpening, cropping and resizing until the very end.
Save your file as TIFF format. Use 16 bit if your processing sotware will read it, othersie use 8 bit. Note that Photshop elements won't read 16 bit TIFF files.
Stage 2 - TIFF adjustments
When you work on the image as a TIFF file you should make every effort to use layers and avoid editing youroriginal image. Then you can always go back and undo something that has turned out badly. Yes, the files turn out to be huge, but it is all under control.
Apply all your edits and adjustments such as...
- Further noise reduction (if needed)
- Apply contrast & adjust curves to bring out the features
- Selectively apply dodging & burning to key areas
- Clean up any dust spots
- Correct perspective
- Remove or clean up unwanted features by cloning & patching
When you have got the image looking right save it as a TIFF again.
Stage 2 - Prepare output TIFF & JPEG files.
Make a copy of your TIFF and open it again. Flatten all the layers to reduce the file size and finalise the adjustments.
Straighten your horizon and crop the minimum amount to make the image rectangular again.
Crop to show only the image you want to print and apply a border if needed.
Resize to your final image size.
Convert the color space to sRGB
Save the TIFF and save as JPEG, your final output file. For good quality coose 'best' or 10 or more depending upon the selections available for your JPEG save.