How to Process Your RAW File for Maximum Tonal Range

It's easy to overlook just how powerful the RAW processing engine can be. It's also pretty easy just throw an image into Photoshop and deal with it there, but RAW is where all the information is - and a dynamic RAW file is the most important aspect of developing your image. You will never have more information to work with than what is in your RAW, so it is important to draw every bit of tone out of it that you can - especially when it comes to maximizing the tonal range in the shadows and the highlights.

Traditional contrast stretches out the tonal range evenly over the entire image - usually resulting in a little dynamic range in the shadows and highlights.

Working in black and white, this becomes solely an exercise in tonality. We start with pulling our absolute white and absolute black parts of the image to their respective places using the white and black sliders. Then we bring down the highlights and bring up the shadows sliders to recover detail we may not have. Exposure, contrast and clarity are tweaked. Then finally, the black and white mix for any last adjustments.

Keep in mind that this is only ONE way to process an image, but it is a great way to pull as much information from your RAW as possible.

Chris Knight's picture

Residing in New York City, Chris is an internationally published photographer whose work has appeared in Vogue, People, MSNBC, ABC, Ocean Drive, GQ and others. He is an instructor of Photography and Imaging at Pratt Institute and the New York Film Academy.

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yawn.... honestly show me someone who has NOT see this TIPP or whatever you wanna call it a thousand times?

and this is worth a headline on a frontpage?

4 minutes wasted for everyone who is not a complete RAW noob.

I haven't seen it. Remember that the new generation of photographers or guys like me who doesn't get so deep into the software processing (as I prefer to get deeper into lighting), may be interested in seeing such tips.

And yes, I shoot RAW, but never have I edited an image using the B/W conversion.

Peter. Stop being an elitist bore! Yawn!

You ever stop help some one learn something new? It's far more rewarding than you think. Good luck growing up.

Peter, does it take work to be this snarky and condescending or are you so practiced at it through daily exercise that its just your normal nature.

IMHO, starting with LR4 and the reengineered tonality/exposure controls, this is an interesting and viable global tonal adjustment methodology that is not necessarily available in LR pre LR4 or in tonal controls in other apps, except in current ACR. Just because its been discussed previously, doesn't mean its not good subject to be discussed and demonstrated again (and again).

I suggest a review of this article on LR4 tonal controls, which involves some empirical testing and explanation of LR4 (and obviously LR5 too) tonal controls based on testing with gradient strips.

Nicely done. Can't wait to give it a try. The potential in a RAW file always amazes me.

Seems liked he yanks the sliders a little too far. (The highlights slider can do weird stuff to the highlights past -40/50), but this is a good start. If you really want to maximize tonality in LR, learn to use the adjustment brush (at various settings) on different regions of your image.

so what i'm gonna do is i'm gonna go ahead and gonna

Why are you just asking to be spanked Peter?

I've followed FS for a little while and this would be my first comment, but I can see that you have folks [Peter Kli] here that seem to know everything about, I will not make a comment and say something that Peter Kli might not like and Peter you certainly wouldn't like what I would have to say..!!

Useful comment for the community. Thank you!

Hi Sugando,

I don't know if my comment was useful or not, but there are ways to give useful negative feedback other than being rude and insulting. Take the comment by swearengen, he gives a comment about the tutorial by offering his view on the use of the sliders and another tip on using the adjustment brush. But in the end, he says it's a good start. This was giving positive feedback from his point-of-view. If I was either Chris Knight or another viewer of the tutorial, I would not be insulted by his comments, they were helpful and he was not being rude.

This is the type of member you want to be in a forum..!! In my view, a forum like this is for folks who want to learn from others. I have been shooting with film since the mid 60's and still use my original camera from that era along with my Nikon's and Mamiya RB67 Pro S. I just moved into Digital this year and it's a new world and any and all information I can gather is helpful.

I'm also new to this post processing stuff, so again anything I can pick-up is useful. Like this tutorial on B&W.

I found Peter Kli's comment to be an affront to me personally and it should have to everyone else, especially those who monitor this forum.