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How to develop RAW files non-destructively

In Affinity Photo 2, you can now use the Develop Persona in a non-destructive RAW workflow as your ideas emerge. Read on to find out more about this new and highly anticipated feature.

Non-destructive RAW editing is finally here, and now in Affinity Photo 2 for both iPad and desktop, you are able to return to and redevelop your image at any time.

To get started and to be able to jump back into your RAW image development in the Develop Persona, we need to look into some settings available on the context toolbar. You’ll notice that upon opening your RAW file, the process defaults to the Pixel Layer. Expand the list and you’ll notice two other options, which will allow you to return to the Develop Persona and re-edit your image. These are:

RAW Layer (Embedded)—which will embed the original RAW data with the document. This results in a larger file size depending on the number of adjustments and subsequent layers added.

RAW Layer (Linked)—which references the RAW data to the file in its location. This results in a smaller file size as file data is linked externally.

Sample workflow

Let’s have a look at how this new feature can come in handy.

First, when loading the file in the app, I am greeted by the Develop Persona. I’ll make my initial adjustments here. Before I do, however, I’ll select the RAW Layer (Embedded) option on the context toolbar, as this will allow me to redevelop the image should I wish to do so at a later time.

Selecting RAW Layer (Embedded) setting.

This is my starting image below. I’ll clean it up by applying the following adjustments:

  • Crop and Straighten
  • White Balance
  • Exposure
  • Shadows and Highlights
RAW file in the Develop Persona.

When ready, it’s time to take the image into the main Photo Persona, where additional adjustments will be performed. To do so, I click Develop in the top-left corner.

Initial adjustment in the Develop Persona.

I may want to convert this image to black and white and work on the tones to decide on the final look of the scene. I’d like to render the photograph so that the building structure on the rocks stands out against the sky, which I need to darken. To do so, I’ll increase the Red and Yellow colour channel sliders while reducing the values for Cyan and Blue. This makes for a much more dramatic output.

Black and White adjustments in the main Photo Persona.

I’m generally happy with the outcome at this stage, however to my eye, there are three issues:

  1. The fine detail in the building is now over-exposed.
  2. The temperature of the image could be further manipulated to add more drama to the sky.
  3. The vertical alignment of the building isn’t correct.

This is where I can return to the Develop Persona and further fine-tune my initial adjustments.

Whilst back in the Develop Persona (on the Basic panel) I adjust the Temperature and Highlights, which instantly creates the effect I was after. Next, to adjust the vertical alignment and allow for the building to be correctly positioned, I need to navigate to the Lens panel and modify the Vertical slider’s value. When ready, I click Develop once more and continue working.

To finish this edit, I’d like to apply a Motion Blur filter to the sky and the sea, as well as sharpen just the building and the rock structures. And, of course, if at any point I’d like to re-edit the output of the tonal range of colours that create the atmosphere in the image, I can do so by navigating back to the Develop Persona from the Background layer.

And here’s my final image after the aforementioned final two steps.

My final image.

To be able to jump back to the original RAW file is both liberating and extremely satisfying. As I manipulate the photograph further, I’m never worried that several of my previous changes might be fully committed and it isn’t possible to change my direction, should I want to. This allows me to create as I go along and adjust to the ideas that are constantly emerging.