The power of a RAW file (and Lightroom)

Here’s a ‘before and after’ comparison of the same file. It was taken at a zoo, behind very thick glass (thank goodness). There was a bit of glare, very heavy fingerprint smudges, and I couldn’t shoot straight on. Do you get the idea that these were ‘less than ideal’ conditions?

Nonetheless, I wanted a photo of this lion, so I persevered. I sat down for a low angle, and I waited while he closed his eyes, opened them, nodded off again, and finally woke up and looked somewhere in my direction.

I didn’t realize how poor the shooting conditions and exposure were until I saw the original photo in Lightroom. But since I shot in RAW file format, it contains a TON of color, tone, and other data in the digital file, so I decided to see how far I could push the post-processing.

I was actually surprised that I was able to salvage an acceptable photo based on what I was working with. So to you new photographers out there, if you shoot in RAW, it’ll be alot more forgiving to you in post-processing, and you’ll be amazed at the results you can get!

Tip: Overexpose for low-light shooting

I often shoot sports in low light, whether it’s a Friday night high school football game or a dark high school gym. Because of this, I’m very sensitive to high ISO and noise. One of the main techniques I use is to overexpose the photo slightly and then bring things back down in Lightroom post-processing. Underexposed photos tend to show a lot of noise, which is often hard to fix well in Lightroom. But, if you intentionally overexpose the photo, the shadows/dark areas will look better in post-processing, and you can then bring down the highlights and often increase the exposure for nice results.

Here’s how things look on my camera

I shoot in Manual mode for sports. For most sports, I set the shutter speed around 1/800-1/1,000 sec. and the aperture at f2.8 and use Auto ISO (with a max. cap at 6400). I then set the Exposure Compensation somewhere around +2/3 to +1 of a stop. So, the camera determines the correct exposure based on these settings, and then overexposes it by that amount. I’m then able to do the adjustments in Lightroom as mentioned above.

Note: In order to do this, you have to use Auto ISO, and not all cameras support using this with the Exposure Compensation feature together.

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