Edit RAW-format photos

A RAW photo file contains the complete set of data collected by the camera’s sensor. If your camera has a RAW setting, you can take high-quality photos that include every bit of photographic detail within the photo file. iPhoto imports RAW-format photos in the same way it imports any other photos, organizes them next to your other shots, and lets you edit them using advanced editing tools designed for RAW photos.

When you edit a RAW-format photo, iPhoto saves the edited photo as a JPEG file (by default) or a TIFF file (if you select that option in Advanced preferences); the original RAW file remains unchanged. You can also send unedited RAW files to an external editor.

Some applications can’t directly import RAW files, and you can’t print directly from a RAW file.

To see whether a photo is in RAW format, look for a RAW label at the top of the Info pane (select the photo and click the Info button).

Note:  If you have RAW-format photos originally imported into iPhoto 6 or earlier, you can take advantage of the improved support—clearer detail, more accurate color, and improved highlights—available in iPhoto ’09 and later. Select one or more RAW-format photos, and then choose Photos > Reprocess RAW. This overwrites all previous edits.

To change options for RAW-format photos:

Choose iPhoto > Preferences, click Advanced, and then select either or both of the following in the RAW Photos section:

  • Use RAW when using external editor: If you choose to open a different application when you click the Edit button (by choosing the application in the Edit Photos pop-up menu), select this option to open the RAW version of a photo, instead of the JPEG or TIFF copy iPhoto made when it imported the photo.

    If you want to work extensively with RAW files and use more advanced editing tools, Apple recommends you upgrade to Aperture.

  • Save edits as 16-bit TIFF files: This option saves edited RAW files as TIFF files (lossless) instead of JPEG files.

To show highlight detail in a RAW photo:

Many RAW image files have additional highlight detail that isn’t displayed by default. You can see this detail by using the Recovery slider.

Digital image sensors differ among camera models, so the extra highlight detail varies as well. In some cases, you can recover significant detail from areas where extreme highlights make the details difficult to see. In others, little extra detail is available to be recovered.

  1. Open the photo in edit view.

  2. Click the Adjust tab at the top of the Edit pane.

  3. Press the Option key to make the Recovery slider appear in place of the Exposure slider.

    This doesn’t affect any exposure adjustments you plan to make or have already made.

  4. Hold down the Option key as you drag the Recovery slider to show additional detail in your image.

    Your changes are saved automatically, unless you click Undo or “Revert to Previous.”

To see a list of digital cameras with RAW-format support that are compatible with iPhoto, visit this Aperture webpage (any camera compatible with Aperture, Apple’s advanced photo editing and management program, is compatible with iPhoto as well):

Compatible RAW-format cameras