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RAW editing with Affinity Photo

Watch video: Affinity Photo's Develop Persona

Sometimes a scene might seem disappointing, only to reveal hidden delights in post. I headed to this beach in South Wales with high hopes, only to be met with flat light, grey skies and relentless drizzle. I didn’t hold out much hope for the Raws after viewing them on the back of the camera. But after opening them into Affinity Photo, I realized I may be wrong.

Read more: Affinity Photo 1.8 review (opens in new tab)

This is often the case with Raw files – they hold more detail than you think. The trick is knowing how to tease out the details. Affinity Photo offers all the tools we need to perform some much needed edits. We can enhance tones, convert to mono and apply sharpening. There’s also powerful Overlay Paint and Gradient tools to carry out selective adjustments.

Click to download the project files (opens in new tab) (Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

The Affinity Raw workflow: Develop Persona

The Raw editor in Affinity Photo is called the Develop Persona. When we open a Raw file it switches to this, but if you want to edit a JPEG, or any pixel layer in your document, you’re also able to open the Develop Persona and use the Raw tools within.

If you’re making the switch from Photoshop to Affinity Photo then the Raw workflow is slightly different. In Photoshop, you make Raw adjustments in Camera Raw before opening the image into Photoshop. The Raw edits are saved as XMP ‘sidecar’ files alongside the original files. 

In Affinity Photo the Develop Persona is integrated into the main editor; there’s no Raw plugin. Once Raws are edited, you click ‘Develop’ to ‘bake in’ the adjustments. Unlike Photoshop there’s no Raw sidecar data. It makes it trickier to copy edits from one photo to another, although you can create presets for each of the Develop Persona’s panels.

Here's how to enhance scenes with the Develop Persona…

01 Crop and darken

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Grab the Crop tool, set Mode: Original Ratio in the tool options, then drag to crop the photo. Next go to the Basic panel. Lower the exposure to darken the image, revealing detail in the sky, then check Shadows/Highlights and lift the Shadows. Increase the Clarity to enhance the textures.

02 Lift the cliffs

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Grab the Overlay Paint tool and check ‘Edge Aware’ in the tool options at the top, then paint over the cliffs. If the brush messes up, switch to the Overlay Erase tool to remove areas. Go to the Basic panel and set Exposure 1, Blackpoint 3%, Brightness 24%, Contrast 30%.

03 Lighten the gap

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Go to the Overlays panel on the right and click the new Paint Overlay icon at the bottom. Use the Overlay Paint tool to paint over the gap in the cliffs, then go to the Basic panel and lift Exposure and Shadows to lighten the area, creating greater contrast with the cliffs in front.

04 Boost the sea

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Use the Overlay Gradient tool, set Mode: Linear in the tool options, then drag down from the top of the frame to add a gradient to the sky. Then go to the Basic panel and lower the Exposure to darken. Next add a new Overlay Paint adjustment, then paint over the sea and lighten the area.

05 Apply color toning

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Go to the Overlays panel and click on ‘Master’ then go to the Tones panel. Check ‘Curve’ and plot an S-shape curve line as shown to boost the contrast. Next check Black and White and Split Toning, then choose colors for the highlights and shadows as shown.

06 Reduce noise

(Image credit: James Paterson / Digital Camera World)

Go to the Details panel, check Detail Refinement and use the sliders to apply sharpening. Increase the Noise Reduction Luminance slider to remove noise. A before/after split view can be helpful (click the circle icon at the top). Once done, click the Develop button at top left.

About N-Photo magazine

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The lead technique writer on Digital Camera Magazine (opens in new tab)PhotoPlus: The Canon Magazine (opens in new tab) and N-Photo: The Nikon Magazine (opens in new tab), James is a fantastic general practice photographer with an enviable array of skills across every genre of photography. 

Whether it's flash photography techniques like stroboscopic portraits, astrophotography projects like photographing the Northern Lights, or turning sound into art by making paint dance on a set of speakers, James' tutorials and projects are as creative as they are enjoyable. 

As the editor of Practical Photoshop magazine, he's also a wizard at the dark arts of Photoshop, Lightroom and Affinity, and is capable of some genuine black magic in the digital darkroom, making him one of the leading authorities on photo editing software and techniques.