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How to Edit RAW Photos

Published: 30/12/2021

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Knowing what a RAW file is and what it does is one of the first things that you will learn when you get into real estate photography. Usually, when someone starts their real estate photography journey, they don't know how to edit RAW photos. 

Many real estate photographers don’t see the use of RAW files. Granted, RAW photos are two to three times larger than the standard JPEGs, as JPEGs usually range between 5 to 8MB while RAW photos range between 18 to 22MB. However, RAW files offer much more than JPEGs can offer and if you know how to edit RAW photos, a whole new world will open up. 

How to Edit RAW Photos

A RAW image file comes from the camera’s image sensor and it is data that is minimally processed. What you see in a RAW file is what the sensor captures. There is no compression added which is why RAW files are larger compared to JPEG files. 

To be able to edit RAW photos, you will need a reliable DSLR camera and editing software like Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. You also need to make sure that your camera is ready to shoot RAW images before you go out and take pictures. 

Canon camera with flash

Check out the detailed guide below so you will have an idea of how you can effectively edit your RAW photos. 

Get Your Equipment Ready

Now that you have an idea as to what a RAW file is, how do you go about taking RAW images and processing them? To start, you will need reliable equipment. 

First, you need a DSLR camera. There are tons of DSLR cameras in the market that capture RAW images. Any RAW shooting camera is fine as long as it is compatible with the RAW software that you have. As for the software, you can go for the following:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Camera Raw

You can download any other software as long as they support RAW data. Next, make sure that your DSLR camera’s setting is ready to shoot RAW. Just look for the Menu button and navigate to the Image Quality. Select the option that shows RAW or RAW+L. 

Go Out and Take Pictures

The next step is the one that you've been waiting for. You can go out and find any subject to take pictures of. There are a lot of shots that you can take and there are a lot of ways that you can take them so that they can look good. 

Make sure that you frame up the images and do not take pictures in a hurry. You can take up to 20 pictures so you can have a wide range of selections and choose the one that you think came out best. In case you want to get started editing an image yet you can't go out to take images yet, you can find things indoors that you can take pictures of. 

Open Your Software 

Once you've got the image, you can open the editing software that you've downloaded. Go to File, then select Open to navigate to your RAW file. You may see an error if you do this because usually, the software does not support the RAW files from new cameras. 

You can just download an upgraded package of your editing software. Download the zip file and run the updated software application. Once you are done, restart Photoshop and you will see the new version of the software running. Once it is imported into the software, you can start editing. 

Man taking a photo of a house

Make Modifications

You can now edit the images. Every photographer has a different taste and they see images differently, so there is no right outcome as it will depend on what you want. To start, change the temperature or tint if you need to. If you took a picture on an overcast day, the picture will have a yellow tint, if you want it a bit more on the blue side, just bump up the tint to adjust it. In order to help you get a better idea of what each slider on software does, you can review the definitions below. 

  • Exposure: Exposure is about how bright the image is and the higher number, the brighter the image.
  • Contrast: Contrast is about the variance between the image’s highlights and its shadows. 
  • Highlights: Highlights are adjusted if some parts of the image are too bright or the details in certain areas that are not visible.
  • Shadows: Shadows are used to recover areas that are too dark that details are lost.
  • Whites and Blacks: The Whites adjust the white in the image while the Black adjusts the black areas in the image. 

To save your time from going through each slider, you can select the Auto button and it should modify your image. However, make sure that the automatic process does not make your image look terrible. If it does not look good, just select Default to undo the changes. 

Familiarize Yourself With the Bottom Sliders

Once you've gone over the sliders at the top of the editing software, you need to also review the bottom sliders as you will need them in editing RAW photos. There are two sliders at the bottom:

  • Clarity
  • Vibrance and Saturation

Clarity is a very useful slider because it sharpens your images and it adds a grungy effect too. If you wish to add a soft glow to your image, you can decrease the clarity. It needs to be used in moderation because too much or too little clarity will have an adverse effect on the picture. 

Vibrance and Saturation are sliders used to increase the color of the image and to make them more vibrant. It is useful with RAW files because they usually fall flat and they often look colorless. The colors on some RAW images may look fitting yet on others, you may want to increase this slider. To make a black and white picture, you need to decrease the two sliders and make some adjustments. 

Go to the Detail Tab

At the top row of the software, you will see a series of icons. Select Basic and choose the Image button. You will see the Detail tab where you can either sharpen or smoothen an image. You will see two options under the Detail tab:

  • Sharpening 
  • Luminance
Woman reviewing her images on her camera

The sharpening dial allows you to add 25 pictures at once. It can correct slight motion blur. The Luminance option helps reduce noise. It makes the image less distorted especially if your ISO is too high. When you increase the slider, it reduces the noise in your picture and it makes it look smoother and it gives the subject a soft glow. The Luminance slider must not go above 40 because it will make the image look too cartoonish and strange. 

ISO is also vital in editing RAW files. When taking pictures in the dark, usually you need to hold the sensor open for a longer time to allow it to get enough light. However, if the DSLR camera moves, the image will become blurry and distorted. To minimize this effect, the camera’s ISO needs to be increased so that the sensor will be sensitive to light. The sensor will be open for a short time so the chances of the camera capturing any blur are reduced. 

Use the Histogram

Once you are done with adjusting the color of the image and smoothing it out, you need to check the histogram to make sure that no section is too bright. Histogram shows you the detail of the photo so you can adjust the workflow. 

As soon as you've opened the histogram, some areas of the photo will turn red. The red parts show where the highlights are unbalanced, these are the areas where it is too bright that the detail can’t be seen properly. Use the Adjustment Brush so you can make the necessary changes. This tool can make changes on certain areas of the image. 

To use the Adjustment Brush, choose an icon at the top menu that looks like a paintbrush. You will see a list that has the similar changes that you had earlier, yet this time it will say Adjustment Brush. 

To adjust the exposure, you can dial it to -1 because too much negative will make it look unnatural and it will make the image too dark in certain areas. Once you’ve painted the red areas, it should disappear. To see the areas that you’ve adjusted, you can hover over the magnifying glass of the brush. 

Bring It All Together

Once you are done and you've edited a RAW image file, you can save your work. You can add more images inside the editing software if you want to. To make your photo look more artistic, duplicate the background layer inside the editing software. This can be done by moving the background layer straight to the software’s paper icon. 

Once the background is copied, go straight to the menu and choose Filter. Select Blur and click on Gaussian Blur.

Enter 30 pixels on the software's slider and select OK. The blending mode of the two layers must be adjusted so you can get the best results. On the drop down menu, select the Normal option and in the section option choose Dissolve. 

Woman editing her RAW photos in her laptop

Using the scroll wheel, scroll through the software’s menu so you can adjust the blending mode. You can go through the several options until you see the one that you want to use. If you want to add an artistic feel to your image, choose Hard Light. If it seems too strong for your image, you can lower the opacity to 75% to decrease the effect. Make sure your image is saved as a .psd file and if you want to save it, you can save it as a JPEG image. 

How Is a RAW Photo Superior to JPEG?

The issue with JPEG files is that you need to make a decision during the compression thus ultimately affecting the image in an adverse way. This is part of the reason why what you see in the camera's viewfinder or screen is not always the same one that you see on your computer. 

RAW photos, on the other hand, lets you get all of the information from the camera and you have control of the settings. If something was too dark, the detail will be lost in the JPEG while in the RAW file, it can be easily covered. RAW files have the disadvantage of not being able to be ready as soon as you take the image as you need to go through an editing process to improve the overall result. 

Light temperatures on images are easier to examine on RAW files compared to JPEG files. Images usually come out with a blue, orange, and yellow tint even though it is not visible to the naked eye. The image has strange tints because of the different lights around the subject during the photoshoot, and different lights have different temperatures. With RAW files, since they go through a post-editing process, you can see them on the software and correct them. 


Once you are done with the steps written above, you have officially edited a RAW photo. You can now shoot in RAW and process them on your computer. 

Of course, there are still a lot of things that you can do to your image, it just takes a lot of practice if you are new to real estate photography and you will need a good eye to know what looks best. Just like what is mentioned above, when it comes to editing RAW images, the outcome depends on your taste and what you find aesthetically pleasing so adjust the settings based on what you want and what you think your clients would want.