In 2018, Adobe released a series of major updates to its RAW editors: Lightroom, Lightroom CC, and Photoshop ACR. The most significant update, from my perspective, concerned how Lightroom and ACR handle RAW Profiles.
The concept of RAW Profiles has been around since Lightroom version 3 but it was buried deep inside the program’s interfaces. Very few Lightroom users were aware of the profiles’ existence and their importance. Then, the latest updates made the RAW Profiles a centerpiece of the photo editing process.
The goal of this article is to unravel the mystery of Lightroom’s RAW Profiles and show you how to integrate them into your creative process.
What are Lightroom’s RAW Profiles?
To demonstrate how RAW Profiles work, we must first understand how digital sensors work, what the RAW format is, and how it is created.
The digital sensor consists of tiny units known as pixels. My Fujifilm camera has a 26 Mpix sensor, which means it consists of 26 million pixels. Contrary to common belief, the function of the pixels is not to capture light but to measure its intensity.
When the shutter is pressed and light reaches the camera’s sensor, every pixel counts the number of photons that reach each unit. The charge of the photons changes the voltage value in every pixel. The camera records the voltage values by writing them into a RAW file.
This means that the RAW file is nothing more than the voltage data collected from every single pixel.
To convert or rasterize pure numerical data to an image requires a series of instructions, also known as a Profile.
When we set a camera to shoot in JPEG format, the camera takes the RAW data and runs it through its image processor. This is when Profiles come into play. The image processor interprets the RAW data based on the Camera Profile’s instructions.
First, based on the Camera Profile, the processor tries to estimate the color values (red, green, blue) for each pixel. Next, it applies the contrast, saturation, sharpening, and so forth. Finally, it saves the image as a JPEG image.
When we shoot RAW, the RAW to image conversion happens inside RAW editors like Lightroom. And, similar to a camera processor, it requires a series of instructions known as RAW Profiles.
The RAW to image conversion is not possible without a RAW Profile.
Types of Lightroom Profiles
There are three types of profiles you can find in Lightroom or ACR: Adobe RAW Profiles, Adobe Camera Matching Raw Profiles, and Creative Profiles.
Adobe RAW Profiles
For a long time, the RAW Profiles were hidden under the Calibration Panel of Lightroom and Adobe Standard was the only profile available.
This does not mean that the Adobe Standard profile was identical for all RAW images. Adobe created a unique version of the Standard Profile for each camera model trying to mimic the look each in-camera RAW to JPEG conversion produced.
With the latest update, Adobe introduced six new Camera Raw profiles that you can change manually from the drop-down menu.
Adobe also changed the default profile from Adobe Standard to Adobe Color. Plus, they moved the profiles from the Calibration Panel to the Basic Panel and introduced the new Profile Browser.
Adobe RAW Profiles are not designed to create distinctive looks; instead, they produce relatively neutral images with low contrast and low saturation. They are designed to be a starting point or a baseline for your editing.
Adobe Camera Matching Raw Profiles
On top of the default in-camera RAW to JPEG conversion, every camera manufacturer ships its cameras with built-in “creative presets.” By selecting different presets from the camera’s menu, you can affect the RAW to JPEG conversion in more creative ways. For example, you can produce Black and White or Sepia images with a retro look.
Each camera manufacturer has a different name for these presets.
Nikon – Picture Control
Canon – Picture Style
Sony – Creative Style
Olympus – Picture Mode
Fujifilm – Film Simulations
The limitation of in-camera conversions is that camera presets can only be applied to JPEG images; the RAW data cannot be affected by the presets.
To overcome this limitation, Adobe created Camera Matching RAW Profiles to simulate the JPEG effects for each camera model. With the Camera Matching RAW Profiles, you can shoot in RAW and apply matching profiles during editing and enjoy a nondestructive RAW workflow.
This workflow is very common among Fujifilm photographers. It allows them to apply popular Film Simulations such as ACROS and Velvia to produce the distinctive looks of old film in RAW images.
The Camera Matching RAW Profiles available for any particular RAW image will vary depending on which camera was used to capture the photo.
When you select the Fujifilm RAW image in Lightroom, you can find the following Profiles under the Camera Matching section of the Profile Browser:
If you load a Sony RAW image, the selection of Camera Matching RAW Profiles will change to the Sony Creative Styles found in every Sony camera:
If a Canon RAW file is uploaded, the selection of Camera Matching RAW Profiles changes to correspond with Canon’s Picture Styles:
I consider the Creative Profiles as the most significant addition to Lightroom in recent years. If Adobe RAW Profiles and Camera Matching Profiles are designed to match in-camera RAW conversions and are constrained by a limited number of camera profiles, then Creative Profiles allow photographers to explore artistic expression to its full extent. The most important feature of the Creative Profiles is that we can create custom profiles without limitations or boundaries.
Here are the advantages of Creative Profiles:
- Not only can you apply the Creative Profiles to RAW images, but you can also apply them to JPEG, Tiff, and PSD files.
- You can adjust the strength of the effect by using the Amount slider, which has a range from 0% to 200%.
- Creative Profiles do not override Lightroom’s editing sliders and can be applied at any time during the editing process.
- Creative Profiles can have settings and effects that do not exist in Lightroom. For example, Creative Profiles can include LUTs (lookup tables).
To fully understand how Creative Profiles work, I created the Introductory Profile Set, which you can download absolutely free and take for a test drive.
If you need help with installation, you can find the installation guide at the end of the article.
How to Create Your Own Custom Profiles
At this point, there is no way of creating your own Creative Profiles in Lightroom. You absolutely need Photoshop Adobe Camera Raw. I suspect that, in the future, Adobe will implement a profile creation feature into Lightroom.
You can find in-depth instructions on how to create custom Creative Profiles produced by Adobe.
How to Install Profiles in Lightroom Classic CC
To take advantage of Profiles in Lightroom Classic, you must have version 7.3 or later.
1 In Lightroom, go to the Development Module.
2. On the right side, open the Basic Menu editing panel.
3. Click the Profiles icon in the top right corner of the Basic Menu to access the Profile Browser panel.
4. Click the + icon on the left side of the Profile Browser panel and select the Import Presets option.
5. Navigate to the zipped archive that contains the Profile files and click the Import button.
You are done. Lightroom locates the profiles in the .XMP format, installs them, and ignores the rest of the files.