An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing

March 22

15 min. to read

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If you are using RAW as a basic source for photo editing, you have a lot of options for conversion.

Even if you’re a new photographer, chances are you’ve already heard of the RAW file format that your fancy camera supports. Many photographers prefer this format over compressed formats like JPEG and TIFF for various reasons.

If you’re in need of a RAW photo editor, Luminar can help you out. Luminar lets you store, organize, and edit your photos easily and quickly. It’s a powerful tool that’s equally great for those just getting into photography and for advanced photographers looking to minimize their editing time.

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An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing  Image1

What is a RAW photo?

If you’ve ever had the chance to take photos with a film camera, you’re familiar with the process of sending negatives to a lab and waiting days to get your prints back. A negative contain a lot of information about the scene that was captured, and it takes a long time to develop prints by extracting all that embedded information. A RAW file can be thought of as the digital version of a negative. A RAW file contains all the information recorded by the camera sensor for any given shot, which means it can be processed to pull out details in your photos that may be lost with other formats.

RAW photography editing basics

In order to be viewed on any device, a RAW file needs to be processed and compressed into a more traditional image format. That’s why you need to be familiar with RAW image editors. Yes, you read that right: a RAW file cannot be edited or processed in just any image editor.

RAW editors allow you to adjust almost anything you can imagine: exposure, sharpness, color, noise, and more. So unlike with a compressed format (JPEG, for example), if you happen to take an underexposed photo in RAW, you may very well be able to save it by pulling out more detail from the shadows. And the best part of a RAW editor is that the edits you make don’t hurt the quality of your photo!

An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing  Image2With that understanding of how RAW photography works, let’s take a look at some of the best RAW photo editing software.

Free RAW photo editors

There are a few options if you want to save money and use a free RAW photo editor. 

GIMP

The main advantage of GIMP is that it’s an absolutely free RAW photo editor, without ads or paid upgrades.GIMP is open-source and offers a sufficient yet minimal set of features. The mobile and online versions often lag; however, this is the program you need if you don’t want to spend money but do want to edit RAW files for the first time.

Fotor 

Fotor is a photo editor that’s available for desktop, mobile, and as a web app. It’s not the best RAW photo editor available, especially since it has ads. However, the desktop version lets you edit RAW files for free. Bear in mind that only the desktop version supports RAW conversion. Even though the possibilities for image retouching are also limited, this free RAW photo editor is a good start to find out if RAW editing is for you.

But if you’re serious about photography, you should probably invest in software that will let you achieve the best results instead of using free RAW photo editors.

Popular RAW photo editors 

Lightroom and Photoshop by Adobe

It seems like almost everyone who has even the weakest of connections with photography or design has heard of Photoshop. That’s because Photoshop has ruled the world of photo editing for a very long time. It’s the go-to editing tool for most people thanks to the amazing amount of control it provides. However, Photoshop isn’t really designed to be a standalone RAW photo editor, which is why it’s best used in combination with Lightroom, the other giant in the Adobe family.

Lightroom has been around for a long time too, and is usually the first choice when it comes to processing RAW images. It isn’t quite as easy to use as Luminar, but the features are more or less the same. 

The best part about the Lightroom and Photoshop combo is that they can be used together; you can make basic adjustments to your RAW files in Lightroom and then bring them over to Photoshop if you want to go pixel-deep with your editing. 

Capture One Pro by Phase One

If Luminar is too simple for you and Photoshop is too feature-packed, then Capture One Pro is probably the one RAW image editor that you’ll like. It has a robust processing engine that’s usually deemed even better than Lightroom’s, plus a slew of features that pro users around the world are satisfied with. Capture One has become a direct rival to Lightroom and Photoshop when it comes to RAW processing thanks to its straightforward interface, depth of control, and amazing image quality.

Capture One has a very capable cataloging system so that all your files are stored in a systematic way and can be accessed with ease. The software also comes with built-in presets and styles that can give your photos a new look with just one click.

Luminar by Skylum: your RAW image editor

Another option in the world of RAW photo editors, Luminar has a unique way of handling photo editing. Available both on Mac and PC, Luminar has an interface unlike other major editors and is more intuitive and smarter than many others, too. Additionally, it’s inexpensive, and you can pay once and enjoy it forever. The best part? It comes with a free trial.

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What’s inside?

Luminar puts a variety of filters and sliders at your fingertips. A special RAW Develop filter makes it a great RAW image editor. Both beginner and professional photographers recommend Luminar and are satisfied with the results. With Luminar, you can adjust brightness and contrast, pull highlights and shadows, adjust the white balance, remove noise, and do so much more before converting RAW files to JPEG

An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing  Image3
An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing  Image4


Photo by Evgeny Tchebotarev

Another great feature that’s available with the Luminar 3.1.0 update is the ability to organize your JPEG and RAW photography in your library. If your camera captures RAW and JPEG files at the same time, now you can easily organize these seemingly identical photos in a more convenient way. In Luminar, you can view them as a single image but switch between versions easily. You can also organize and rate pairs simultaneously in this RAW editor, no matter your view preferences.

Luminar has excellent filters and presets that you can use if you’re running short on time and wish to achieve a certain look.

The best part of using Luminar over rivals like Photoshop and Capture One is that this RAW image editor is easy to use. There’s no need to spend days or weeks getting used to the interface like with other programs. Even if you’re already invested in a program like Lightroom, you can use Luminar as a plugin. And if you don’t want to download the whole program as a standalone app, you can just add the Photos for Mac Luminar extension!

Edit a RAW photo in Luminar

Let’s learn how to edit RAW images in Luminar. It’s easy thanks to the RAW Develop filter. Just click on Add Filters and find the Develop filter in the Essentials filter tab. You’ll see that the Develop filter is organized into three categories:

  • The Adjust tab contains fundamental color and tone adjustments: white balance, temperature, tint, exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, and so on.

For example, you can easily salvage an underexposed photo by using the exposure, highlights, and contrast slider.

An Easy Guide to RAW Photo Editing  Image5
  • The Lens tab allows you to fix flaws in your RAW photos caused by the lens. Settings include distortion, chromatic aberration fix, and devignette.
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If you notice signs of chromatic aberration in your photos, you can quickly fix them using the sliders in the Lens tab.

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  • The Transform tab allows you to compensate for perspective problems caused by the position of the lens at the time of capture. Settings include vertical, horizontal, rotate, and aspect, all of which are essential for a good RAW editor.

If you use an ultra-wide-angle lens at a very close distance, the people and objects in the image are bound to be distorted somehow. That’s when you can use the sliders in the Lens tab to fix matters.

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These three neatly organized sets of tools are all you need from a RAW photo editor. They form a powerful triad for correcting many of the problems encountered with unprocessed RAW photos.

In a world where RAW editors for serious users are often intimidating and difficult to use, Luminar is truly a breath of fresh air. It’s an almost perfect blend of simple and complex tools that beginners and experts alike can take advantage of. We highly recommend giving Luminar a try.

In conclusion

If you’re a photographer who shoots in RAW or if you’re new to photography and want to know how to work with RAW photos, this article should help you decide which RAW image editor you’d like to work with. We’ve also given you a basic understanding of how to edit RAW images. Of course, the editor you choose will depend on what kinds of photos you take and how you plan on using the software.

That’s why we suggest that before making any decision you give various programs a try and see which works best for you. Maybe you prefer a simpler interface over crazy amounts of control, or maybe you don’t mind spending time learning the software if it gives you all the control you can imagine. But no matter which software you choose, make sure it’s also a dedicated RAW converter. Otherwise, you might not be able to work with the RAW photos your camera captures.

For your RAW photography, we recommend Luminar. It’s easy to use, provides all the features you need, and gives excellent results. You can buy Luminar and own this RAW editor forever. No subscription fees! Not ready to invest yet? Give it a try by clicking the button below.

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Replace the sky in your photos, instantly! Boost details with AI Structure. Discover more amazing tools in the new Luminar 4.

  • AI Sky Replacement
  • AI Structure
  • 60+ cutting edge features
  • Instant Looks
  • And more

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