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How to use iPhoto with RAW files

Many SLR cameras offer the option to shoot photo’s in RAW. This option records the raw data for the images, rather than compressing it into a format such as a JPG. Shooting in RAW ensures that you get the best quality imagery our of your SLR, it’s a known fact if you let your camera compress the image for you the final image quality is much lower than that of a much more powerful computer doing the same job.

I’m not saying that “the more powerful your computer the better your photos will be”, but that computers, being more powerful than a camera, has access to more advanced post-processing technologies that means a computer will render a higher quality images than a camera would.

By default iPhoto does not play nicely with RAW photos, but after changing a quick few settings you’ll soon find that iPhoto is happy to play along with RAWs just like other photo managers such as Adobe Bridge.


Launch iPhoto while holding down the ⌥ key, and when prompted create a new library, save where-ever you like. This has to be done as these settings are library specific.

iPhoto Library Chooser

Once you have iPhoto open press ⌘ + , in order to open the preference, or just go to iPhoto > Preferences. In order to edit images in RAW mode, providing yourself with the most flexibility you must first set iPhoto to open images for editing in a program with some advanced RAW support, such as Adobe Photoshop.

Go ahead and select your program of choice from the “Edit Photo:” drop-down.

Setting Photoshop as your default photo editor allows you to take advantage of it's advanced RAW feature when editing photo's from your iPhoto library.

Finally, you need to go to the “Advanced” tab and under the “RAW Photos:” section check the “Use RAW when using external editor” checkbox, this ensures your files alway open for editing as a RAW, as opposed to a computer generated JPEG.

Set iPhoto to open files in the RAW format


iPhoto, when set-up to work correctly with RAW photos, can make a good photo-manager that is easier to use than more advanced software like Adobe Bridge. It is ideally placed for amateur photographers who may not necessarily want to pay out for more advanced software but want a good way to manage the many thousands of photos they may take.

In time, though, you will find yourself out-growing the capabilities of iPhoto, and may want to start thinking about software such as Apple’s very own Aperture.