Edit Raw Files with Affinity Photo
YOU’LL NEED THIS AFFINITY PHOTO PUBLIC BETA Download the software from http://affinity.serif.com.
A RAW IMAGE FILE Your smartphone might oblige.
IF YOU HAVE A DIGITAL SLR CAMERA or advanced compact, you might have wondered what the “raw” image quality setting is about. Or you may know all about it, and are squinting your eyes at this patronizing opening paragraph. A raw capture is a simple dump of the information gathered by your camera sensor, with no processing applied, other than that needed to turn it into a PC-readable file. No noise reduction, no additional sharpening, and no compression. This can be a big advantage.
Shooting in raw shifts the burden of processing your images from your camera to your PC, where you can manually affect the process with software such as Adobe Lightroom. For this tutorial, however, we’re going to use the free beta version of Serif’s Affinity Photo, which is currently available as the software prepares for a Windows release. It’s been available in the land of Apple for a while, so should be relatively bug-free as it transfers across. Famous last words. 1 GRAB THE SOFTWARE AND AN IMAGE The Affinity Photo Windows beta can be downloaded from http://affinity. serif.com— the testing version is free at the moment, but you have to supply an email address to get it. Once you’ve got the application installed on your computer, you need to find a raw image file that you want to process. These have file extensions such as .CR2, .NEF, and .DNG, and if you’ve got one of the better smartphones, you may even be able to coax one out of the onboard camera. A list of supported cameras can be found at http://bit.ly/Affinity-raw, and includes everything from 4K Black Magic Production cameras to Canon DSLRs and LG Android smartphones. 2 OPEN THE IMAGE If you were to open your raw file in an Adobe application, such as Photoshop, you would be taken to Adobe Capture Raw. Naturally, Affinity Photo doesn’t use this, but has its own raw processing system, which opens as a full-screen app, rather than the small window Adobe prefers. 3 THE DEVELOP PERSONA Once you’ve got your file open, the interface looks a little different from the usual Affinity Photo one [ Image A]. This is Develop, one of Affinity Photo’s “personas”—the term Serif uses to differentiate between the application’s various modules. To the left, you’ll find a selection of tools for manipulating the view of your photo, removing red-eye and blemishes, and cropping the image; and to the right are the tools and sliders you use to alter your photo before opening it in Affinity proper. A raw file is never directly edited—instead, you build up a list of edits that are only applied once you click the blue “Develop” button at the topleft, and enter the Photo persona [ Image B]. Affinity then generates a new file, which you save as a JPEG or TIFF, leaving your original raw file wherever you saved it, rather like a digital negative. 4 EXPOSURE The most commonly applied adjustments are grouped in the “Basic” tab. These are things such as exposure, which you can push up or down to brighten or darken the overall picture. A raw file captures the full bit-depth of the sensor, which is often 14-bit, rather than discarding information the way an 8-bit JPEG would. This means there is more potential detail to be recovered from the highlights and shadows of an image, so you can push the exposure the way film was once pushed in a darkroom, as though it were a higher sensitivity than marked. Be aware, though, that the more you increase exposure, the more noise you’re likely to reveal, particularly in shadows, thanks to the way camera sensors record less information in darker areas. 5 NOISE REDUCTION If you just want to brighten the dark areas of your image (or darken the highlights), look further down on the right, and you’ll find “Shadows and Highlights.” Check this box, and two sliders appear that allow you to make finer adjustments to the brightness of your image. If the noise levels—either pixels that are the wrong color for their area of the image, or a grain-like pattern where
they’re the wrong brightness—get out of hand, you can move over to the “Details” tab, where you’ll find “Noise Reduction” [ Image C]. This is split into two parts—for color noise and luminance noise—and comes with a rather awesome button marked “Extreme,” for those times when you really want to go to town. It’s worth noting, though, that noise reduction isn’t perfect, and can remove detail from your image. 6 SHARPEN YOUR IMAGE The “Detail Refinement” section above “Noise Reduction” is Affinity’s term for sharpening. All JPEG images shot on a digital camera are sharpened as part of the processing applied by default, so you may find your raw files a little soft by comparison. Bringing out the extra detail hidden in the feathers of our crane is a matter of bringing up the “Amount” slider to around halfway, then gradually upping the “Radius” slider until we’re happy with the result. If your image is noisy, sharpening can enhance this instead of the underlying detail, so it pays to keep an eye on what’s happening across your image. 7 REMOVE DISTORTION The “Lens” tab is home to tools that can remove distortion, especially useful if you’ve been tilting your camera up at a tall building, or had a wide-angle lens too close to the face of someone with a prominent nose. More handy, and able to be applied with a single click, is the “Chromatic Aberration Reduction” box beneath—this removes the fringing you sometimes get in high-contrast images, which comes from a lens focusing different wavelengths of light on to different parts of the sensor. 8 KEEP EXPERIMENTING Because none of these adjustments are permanent until you hit the “Develop” button, you can toy with the sliders to your heart’s content. Any change you make can be undone by pushing the slider in the opposite direction, and Affinity makes it easy to see what you’re doing with its Mirror view [ Image D], which puts altered and unaltered versions of your image side by side.