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Nowadays, many digital cameras, not just high-end cameras, can output RAW files, which are the unprocessed image data collected by the camera's sensor. Elements Editor can't display that data as a photo until it's been processed in what's called a RAW converter plug-in like Camera Raw, which comes with Elements. So when I try to open a RAW file into Elements Editor, it will automatically open first into the Camera RAW workspace. Here in my Organizer, you can see a RAW file. RAW files from your camera may have a different file extension than this one, because each camera brand produces its own flavor of RAW files.
RAW files shot with a Nikon camera have a .nef extension; RAW files shot with a Canon camera have a .crw, or .cr2 extension, and so on. DNG is Adobe's open-source flavor of RAW. I can open a RAW file into the Camera RAW workspace either by going to the Editor, and choosing File > Open, or by selecting the photo thumbnail here in the Organizer, and then, as usual, going to the column on the right, clicking the arrow to the right of the Fix tab, and choosing Full Photo Edit.
In just a moment, a new workspace will open; the Camera RAW workspace. It may take a moment to launch because RAW files are big, high resolution files. In this chapter, we'll explore this Camera RAW workspace in detail. As we do, there're a few things I'd like you to keep in mind about RAW files, and RAW processing. First, when you shoot JPEGs, your camera does the initial image processing for you. It tries to fix color, and sharpness, and more. When you shoot RAW files instead of JPEGs, your camera doesn't do that. It leaves the processing to you to do later in a RAW converter like Camera Raw.
So don't be too quick to judge the appearance of your RAW files by the way that they look at first in your Organizer, or when you first open them here in Camera RAW, because a photo that ends up looking like this with just a little work in Camera RAW may have started off looking something like this. Second, the processing that you do in Camera RAW affects the entire photo. If you want to adjust local areas of the photo, you can take the photo from Camera RAW directly into Elements' Full Photo Edit workspace for further adjusting as we'll see.
A third thing to keep in mind is that a RAW file is a lot like a film negative. By that I mean that the settings you choose here in Camera RAW don't directly or permanently change the RAW file. The settings here are just instructions about how to process an actual photo from the raw data. Like a negative, the RAW file itself remains unchanged, and you can go back to it repeatedly to create more photos, each a little different, depending on the processing settings that you choose here for each photo. So today, you might make a color photo from this RAW file; next week you might reopen it in Camera RAW, and make a black and white photo, and that's all from the same unchanged raw data, as it was originally captured by your camera's sensor.
The fact that processing here in Camera RAW doesn't impact the original RAW file directly means that you can feel free to experiment with the settings here. Finally, a RAW file contains more image data than a JPEG, which theoretically gives you more latitude for photo corrections. Now, there's nothing wrong with shooting JPEGs, particularly if most of your photos are casual snapshots. But if you're a real photo enthusiast, or someone who likes to have a lot of say over the photo processing of your images, consider setting your digital camera to capture RAW files, and then processing those yourself in Camera RAW, as I'll show you how to do in the rest of this chapter.
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