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I get questions about what I shoot, and what I edit with a lot, so I thought I’d dedicate a post all about this. I believe these two concepts go hand in hand, that is why they are combined in a post together.

Let me first say that I shoot in RAW format and edit solely in Photoshop.

The phrase, “you can just photoshop that” kinda irks me, because I see Photoshop as an enhancer, not a FIXER.  I say this in my beginner book, and to people all the time, I believe it is important to learn how to use your camera properly first, then use these tools to enhance your images.


However, there are lots of tips and tricks to use both Photoshop and Lightroom to make bad images look better.  I was guilty of using them like that before I better understood my camera.

For those of you asking, what is RAW?

RAW image files are also called digital negatives, similar to negatives in film photography. The negative cannot be used as an image, but has all of the information needed to create an image. RAW files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed. The JPG is like unto the 4×6 print produced from the negative.  A copy of the bones of the image (RAW file).

So RAW images cannot be printed, they must be converted to something like JPG in order to print.

I tweak the RAW image, convert to JPG, but can go back to my RAW’s (think film negative) and change it back to its original. A jpg–once you edit it, there is no going back once it is saved.

When I first started shooting and editing in RAW, what sold me was the ease of using a few sliders (lighten, darken, warm up, cool down) to get my desired result quickly, and as a batch.

HOWEVER, I’ve learned in recent years that one can tweak JPG images in a similar fashion in Lightroom. When I started learning about all of this 7 or so years ago, I hadn’t even heard of Lightroom. It was only Photoshop, so that’s what I taught myself from. I tried out Lightroom, asked a bunch of friends, did some research and my lightbulb moment that told me I didn’t need to mess with Lightroom was this:

RAW is to Photoshop as JPG is to Lightroom.

You can edit your JPG (as well as RAW) images in Lightroom with sliders, the same as I edit my RAW images in Photoshop with sliders. There are other programs out there, but these two are at the top of the field.

Compare the similarities:

{The slider comparison I found here.}

Lightroom is much more user friendly and basic. Photoshop is quite overwhelming with many many facets to discover and learn. Lightroom has basic editing tools, so a lot of people like that. However, the professional photographers that do edit in Lightroom still use Photoshop for advanced features such as blemish removal, head swapping, creating templates with text, liquify, I could go on and on.

So for me, I didn’t need to go teach myself how to use Lightroom when I was doing the same thing with my RAW images in photoshop. But starting with Lightroom might be easier for those that have never used an editing program before…simply because it is less overwhelming than Photoshop (and less expensive). But if you had just ONE, I’d say go for Photoshop—am I making it more confusing? They do the same things–differently–but Photoshop does more.

So the answer to the questions should you shoot RAW or JPG, depends on what editing software you have. The highest version of Photoshop is quite pricey, but I haven’t even upgraded to that (I have CS2). I started with Photoshop Elements 2 (it came free with my Canon Rebel) and used that for years. However, that basic program does not edit in RAW (though other programs could, and then you would edit further in PS2). Now, there are “actions”  or recipes for Elements users, which is amazing, and quite a bit of advanced editing techniques can be used with Elements, and it sells at Sams Club for around $80 (last I checked).

I hear that many people love Lightroom for it’s photo organizing tools.

Now for some specific editing tips in using the sliders, I’ll first start with something important to note:

Digital images straight out of a camera–even shot with near perfect exposure will never have the vibrance and color that film camera’s had straight out of camera. That is where photo editing comes in, to enhance, liven up, and bring to life those lovely images from their dreary flat coloring.

Here is my tutorial on editing a RAW image in Photoshop, similar to using sliders in Lightroom on a JPG as well.

This is a shot straight out of my camera:

Looks pretty good, eh?

Above, my red arrow is pointing to my white balance.  I usually keep my camera setting on shade white balance. I shoot 85% in open shade, so it’s mostly accurate. Some shoot in Auto White Balance, but I like shade. This feature in RAW, if I happen to be in the sun and my camera is set to shade, I will change the slider to sun in my RAW edit software (as if it was on the sun setting on my camera).
If I don’t like it, and want to go back to my original RAW image, I go to “as shot” and can start all over.

So after I do my tweaking….I put the white balance to shade, then lighten it with the exposure slider, warmed it a bit with the temperature slider, and a slight bump in saturation.
I mostly use those elements:
-sometimes shadow
Do you see how this image was “brought to life” with those minor tweaks?
Notice the numbers in the white box to the right of the sliders are different. See how the images is warme (temperature) and a bit brighter (exposure)?
The only other thing I do is add a slight vignette by clicking on the “lens” tab. Then pulling the “amount” tab to the left and the “midpoint” tab slightly to the left. It didn’t show up much on this image, but does on others.
 Another aspect that I LOVE is that you can edit MULTIPLE images at the same time!!! This only works if they are in similar settings with similar exposures, but I use it a lot.
In photoshop on a JPG, to lighten an image, it is painstaking to do a bunch (one at a time). I can quickly edit 100 RAW images in 5 minutes or less using these sliders.
Below, I took a bunch of shots of the family by the bridge, all with same settings. I can “select all” and edit all the same ones as I did the above, moving the sliders as needed–and they  all get done at the same time!
After editing RAW files, hit DONE to go back to bridge.
Now to convert to JPG. You will then have all your RAW files stay as is, and a new folder to create the JPG’s of those RAW images.
When all the images are highlighted that I want to convert, I hit:
Tools–Photoshop–Image Processor

You will get a pop up window that asks where you want the folder of jpg images to go.
I say to save in same location (it will create a folder for you called “jpg”) and then apply my color pop action to all my images. This is GREAT if you have a “go to” action that you apply to every image no matter what.

Then hit “RUN” and it will process each image. Depending on the speed and how full your computer is, it will take 5 minutes to an hour. Also depending on how many images you are processing. It takes mine about 10 minutes to process 100 images. With my workflow, I shoot an average of 250 images per session. I go through my RAW images and assign a star rating (1-5) to my images. All 5’s get processed, the 1’s don’t. That way I am only actually processing half of the images I took. I don’t quite get rid of all the RAW’s though. An overall image may not be great enough to show to clients, but could be useful for a headswap for one later.

Drawbacks? RAW files are HUGE! My 5D can shoot over 500 large jpg images on a 4gb card, but a little over 200 RAW files.

If you are unsure, shoot in RAW+jpg mode and you will get both, but will take up even more space.

P.S. Some very basic Dslr camera’s may not even have the option to shoot in RAW.

P.S.S. Since I don’t actually use Lightroom, all of this information is an observation on my part in asking lots of questions, so please correct me if I get something wrong!


Join The Discussion



  1. Aline says:

    THANK YOU!!!!!
    Seriously… you just validated my picture taking — and since my goal is to be as good as you that means a lot to me! 🙂
    I mostly use lightroom for these tweaks because for some reason I’m much faster there than in photoshop. I use photoshop to create my scrapbook albums. But that´s not the point. The point is thank you!!! I do these tweaks to my photos, and I´m very happy that I tweak much, much less now than I did when I started taking pictures, but I tweak. And I felt guilty… thinking that if I did it right I wouldn’t have to. And then you posted this.
    I´m now happy that even when I do it very well (working towards that goal here) I can continue to make small enhancements without guilt.
    You made my day! 🙂

  2. Jen says:

    This post is a great idea. You did a great job explaining the differences between jpeg and raw – I should probably do something similar on my website. I think it always helps clients to understand what goes into the process. I also like seeing how other photographers are editing – what their tweaks are.

    I recently bought Lightroom and I absolutely love it. I was using Photoshop, but I move so much faster through Lightroom. I still use Photoshop for the more detailed stuff, but I’m able to do just about everything with LR now. I feel like I’ve gotten my life back! 🙂

  3. Liz H says:

    i’m no professional, but much i much prefer LR to camera raw. it just has a lot more functionality. if you’re going to run your images through a program before you head into photoshop, you might as well run them through LR. then, use photoshop for the more detailed tweaks. at least that’s what works for me 🙂

  4. Mindy says:

    I use LR, mostly bc PS seems intimidating. I didn’t know about the star system, that seems like a very helpful tool! Thanks for the insight on how many you shoot per session, I’m always curious to that number as well!

  5. do you use RAW in everyday family pictures too? like your husband working for snap shots of your kids? I’m starting the whole RAW world now it’s fun!

  6. Tara Long says:

    I have only used Lightroom, and it works so great for me. I try not to “fix” my photos as much as I can, but I’m still learning. I feel like Lightroom allows me to do everything I need (lighten, darken, color enhance, vignettes, blemish removal, back ground fixes) but also keep it real! That’s what I love about it. I don’t feel like I’m “photoshopping” my images…ya know?

  7. Norman hill says:

    Very detailed. Even I understand it.

  8. kriste says:

    I’m still confused. You can’t edit JPGs in Photoshop??

  9. Kristen Duke says:

    I answered most of these to the person back with an email, but I thought I’d comment here in case others have similar questions.

    Jessica–Yes, I don’t take my camera off of RAW shooting. It’s part of my workflow to great images. There are just limitations to editing jpg images. After I process the RAW’s and once I close out a clients account, I delete all RAW files and just save the jpgs because they take up so much space.

    Tara–I didn’t realize LR could do blemish removal, very cool!

    Kriste–You can edit JPG in PS, it just has limitations. Often people will edit and save over the original and you can never go back to that original (but you can save as a copy and have both files). With RAW, you edit and convert to JPG but the file is so large that you don’t lose any quality with editing a RAW file like you do a JPG file.

    Hope that helps!

  10. Jacqueline says:

    Hmmm…another reason to be content with my (really good) point and shoot for the time being. I didn’t realize that happens with a “real” camera too!
    Thanks! And I’m pinning this 😉

  11. Amber says:

    Pinning….this is a lot of great info!

  12. Marlies says:

    Great post!! I shoot RAW and jpeg but have yet to edit a RAW file because I didn’t really have the know-how but now I am going to give it a try…

  13. I guess I am sort of a “hybrid” user when it comes to Photoshop and Lightroom. I shoot in RAW (after much kicking and screaming for not wanting to switch), and I have both Lightroom and Photoshop. We got Lightroom first, then my husband went into web design and bought the entire CS5. I was slow to learning Photoshop, but I like many features. I usually start in Lightroom, since it is more user-friendly, and do my basic edits there. Then, I export the file as a RAW image under a different file name (to keep my original in-tact) and go to Photoshop for using my favorite actions. This method does create some extra files, but I like using Lightroom for the basics since it’s what I learned first. I also like the Preset feature in Lightroom, similar to the batch conversion you were talking about in Photoshop, so that I can edit several files with similar lighting/settings more easily. I am continually learning, so maybe one day I’ll be using just Photoshop. Thanks for all of your tips and ideas! I’ve learned a lot from you!

  14. This is great Kristen!! I started out with Photoshop. Now LOVE Lightroom and have lost most of my Photoshop skills;D I only wish that LR had the capability to switch heads!!

  15. Kym says:

    Thank you so much for keeping up this blog! I have learned so much from you and am sure i will continue to as I grow in my photography hobby/possible future business. As I’m learning, I would like to move into Photoshop and shooting RAW. However, I’m not ready to take the plunge into purchasing CS6. I would like to graduate into shooting RAW and have the ability to process many images at the same time. Is my understanding correct that you can now accomplish this in Photoshop Elements 11?

    • Kristen Duke says:

      Hi Kym,

      So sorry, I don’t know anything about photoshop elements 11!

  16. Connie says:

    Just wanted to share a little something I just learned. I just bought a new camera body. I shoot in RAW also. Turns out adobe camera raw won’t read the raw images in the new cameras without the latest version of camera raw. I have photoshop cs5. But I cannot get the latest version of camera raw with out cs6. It is incompatible with any version but cs6. So in order to see the RAW images from my new camera I had to upgrade my photoshop. Which is something I wasn’t aware of. I guess photoshops policy is to provide RAW support for new cameras in only its most current version of photoshop. {and I really don’t don’t get what the difference is in the RAW files between cameras. Both are a .cr2 but there is definitely a difference.} Hope I didn’t get too confusing!!

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  19. Maren says:

    It was amazing when I discovered that you can edit jpegs in camera raw as if they were raw images, including selecting and editing multiple images at the same time. Just select the images, right click, and choose “open in camera raw” and from there it’s the same (although it doesn’t always show all of your exposure data). I started out as an old-school film photographer and struggled switching to digital. But I learned Photoshop before Lightroom existed, so that’s the tool I use.

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