Is Lightroom for You?

A portrait of a young boy, with his father in the background, in front of their store in Kolkata, India. This is the original unprocessed RAW file.

Photography doesn't end in the camera. Or at least it doesn't have to. You can take your photography to an entirely new level through post processing with applications like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

When Is RAW More Appropriate Than JPEG

It’s fine for most folks to make photos with their camera set to JPEG. For them the fun is in the moment the shutter is released and in the event surrounding that moment.

But for those wanting the best possible results and the opportunity to continue the journey, beyond the camera, software like Adobe Lightroom offers so many creative possibilities.

As a way of helping to illustrate my view lets examine four versions of a portrait I made of a young boy in front of his father’s shop in Kolkata, India.

The RAW File And What You See On Your Camera’s LCD Screen

It’s important to understand that, when the Image Quality on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera has been set to RAW, what you see on your camera’s LCD screen after hitting the Review or Playback button is not the actual RAW file.

In fact it’s a tiny, temporary JPEG that the camera has generated for the purposes of image review.

By selecting either the previous or next image the camera deletes the temporary JPEG you’ve been looking at and generates a new one based on the image you’ve just selected.

In the production of this tiny, temporary JPEG file the camera has made basic decisions and, potentially, corrections to image brightness, contrast, color and sharpness.

Now the camera makes similar decisions when you’re photographing in JPEG mode, but a RAW file is an unprocessed file which you’ve decided to process for yourself on the desktop.

With that in mind, if you’re photographing in RAW mode, you should consider the image displayed on your camera’s LCD screen as just a rough guide.

It can give you an idea as to what the RAW image in question might look like after fairly basic processing on the desktop has been undertaken.

A portrait of a young boy, with his father in the background, in front of their store in Kolkata, India. This is the RAW file after some basic processing conducted in Lightroom.

RAW Files are Not Designed for Viewing, Sharing or Printing

The original, RAW data needs to be processed (a little like what Kodak, Fuji or Agfa labs did for us in the days of film based photography) and converted to a format like jpeg that’s designed with output to a print or screen in mind.

The original RAW file at the very top of this post looks surprising good and much better than most RAW files generated by my camera.

Normally they look much lower in contrast, less colorful and less sharp.

The version you see just above features a few basic adjustments to the Hue and Saturation of the image.

That’s because I wasn’t happy with the orange tinge in the lad’s skin, nor the over saturated colors of the bags of confectionary behind him.

This particular rendering is a little more gentle, which I think is preferable. I could have done more, but I knew at the time I made the original photo that it was destined to end up as a black and white image.

A portrait of a young boy, with his father in the background, in front of their store in Kolkata, India. Here's a B&W version of the RAW file processing entirely in Lightroom.

Black and White Processed in Lightroom

The obvious difference with this next version of the photo of the young boy in Kolkata is that I’ve employed Lightroom to render the image into black and white.

I think it’s a smart move as it takes away the vividness of those bags of confectionary, the impact of which I’ve also reduced by cropping the image.

We still get a sense of the environment in which the photo was made. But our attention is now more easily placed on the young lad and then, secondary to that, on the relationship between him and his father.

A portrait of a young boy, with his father watching on, in front of their store in Kolkata, India. This is the final warm tone, black and white version of the image.

Black and White Processed In Lightroom And Photoshop

This final version of the original RAW file has undergone more aggressive processing.

After basic processing in Lightroom I’ve taken the original RAW file into Photoshop where I’ve made a series of local changes to brightness and contrast to better shape certain areas of the image.

I believe these changes further emphasize the mood and place even more attention on our primary subject’s face and expression.

You might also notice the extra sharpness and creamy warm tone I’ve added to this final version of the image. I made those changes in Photoshop, though it would have been possible to quite easily achieve a similar result in Lightroom

This final, warm tone version is the one I prefer. I think the young lad’s expression is more poignant and the overall mood more sombre.

I believe that particular type of melancholy beauty is well suited to this image.

JPEG Or RAW, Only You Can Decide

Whether you're a confirmed JPEG snapper or a RAW devotee, image processing with programs such as Adobe Lightroom is well worth considering.

If you're just not interested in spending the time processing all your photos that's fine, stick with JPEG. But if you want to expand your photographic horizons, start thinking beyond the camera.

Remember, Adobe Lightroom offers great advantages for RAW and JPEG files alike.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru