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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

RawTherapee is a great free alternative to Photoshop.

This article will help you get started with this great piece of software.

You may see similarities, not only with Photoshop but with Lightroom too. It makes sense – all three are great photographic editing software.

A girl sitting on a bedroom floor editing photos with rawtherapee

How to Open Images in RawTherapee

The first time you start RawTherapee, you will see the File Browser tab. and it might be empty. RT will pick up on your pictures folder as standard, so for anything else, you’ll need to add them yourself.

You need to point RawTherapee to where your RAW photos are stored. Use the directory tree browser on the left of the File Browser tab to navigate to your images. Double-click on the folder to open it, and double-click on an to start editing it.

Like Adobe Lightroom, you can open RAW images immediately without any other windows. For Photoshop, you need to go through Camera RAW before you can open them in the interface.

A screenshot of editing images on rawtherapee

How to Edit Your First Image on RawTherapee

When you open your first image, it might not look the same as when you shot it. Don’t panic, there are a few reasons for this. It’s nothing personal. The image may look worse, darker, duller and softer and even lack contrast.

It may look even worse than when you open the same file with Adobe software. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. Nothing Is Real – Your camera doesn’t show you the real RAW data when you snap something. Each camera processes the RAW image before giving you the preview and histogram.
  2. Turn Down the Noise – Many camera manufacturers add noise reduction in-camera to the jpgs behind your back.
  3. An Image Within an Image – Every DSLR RAW file contains a processed JPEG image. Using other software will show you the processed jpg, and not the real RAW.
  4. Apply Pressure – Most raw development programs apply some processing. This makes it impossible for users to see the real, untouched contents of their RAW photos.

A screenshot of editing images on rawtherapee

All editing happens in the Image Editor tab. You’ll notice many tabs within tabs, and here you will find the Toolbox. You probably have the first tab open and, if you hover your mouse over it, you’ll see it’s called the Exposure tab.

Below the choice of tabs, you’ll find the tools it contains. These are: Exposure, Shadows/Highlights, Tone Mapping etc.

If you click on one of them it will expand so that you can see its contents. Click again and it will collapse.

Right-click on one and that one will expand while all others will collapse. This is a great time-saving shortcut. To the left of each tool’s label is a power button, which lets you turn it on or off. In some cases instead of a power button, there is a triangular expander.

Some Things You Should Know

  • Control Freak – We all know that Ctrl+Z will undo the previous change. Unlike Photoshop, keep pressing this to go backwards. Photoshop will let you do this once. Another keyboard shortcut lets you go beyond that one mistake.
  • Non-Destructive – Like Lightroom, RawThrerapee uses non-destructive editing. This means the RAW file will never actually change as all the changes are stored in sidecar files. Photoshop is destructive if not used correctly. But there is an option for non-destructive editing.
  • History Is Cool, Kids – There is the History panel under the image-editor. Here, you’ll see a stack of every change you have made to your image. To go back, click on any previous line.
  • Snapshots – Once you find your feet, you’ll start using snapshots. This is a great way to compare tweaks as you continue down the path to that perfect, finished image.

A triptych of the same architectural photo edited by rawtherapee

Adjusting the White Balance

Start by clicking on the Color tab and expanding the White Balance tool by right-clicking on it. RawTherapee starts with the white balance used by your camera.

Most white balance adjustments involve moving the Temperature and Tint sliders. Or you can use the Spot White-Balance Picker on a neutral grey area. Season to taste.

Fixing the Exposure

Fix the exposure by going to the Exposure tab. Expand the Exposure tool and adjust as you wish.

To being with, use the Exposure Compensation and Saturation sliders.

Getting Rid of Digital Noise

If your image is noisy, switch to the Detail tab. Zoom in to 100% by either using the 1:1 button or using the “z” keyboard shortcut key. You need to do this as the effects of the tools in this tab are only visible in the zoomed-to-100% preview.

Enable the Noise Reduction tool by clicking on the power button. Leave the settings at their default values. RawTherapee automatically removes colour noise. You have to reduce Luminance noise manually.

We would recommend you to leave it for now as luminance noise generally lends a pleasing, grainy, film-like look. As a general rule, when using noise reduction don’t use sharpening. Zoom back out to see the whole image by using the “f” keyboard shortcut key.

A screenshot of editing images on rawtherapee

Changing the Geometry/Composition of Your Photo

Next, you may want to change the geometry and composition of your photo. First, you should make the horizon level, or correct the things that should be straight,  if they need it. To do this, press the “s” key on your keyboard or press the Straighten.png button.

Click-and-drag a line along the horizon or straight edge of a building over the preview. Your image will rotate and you will be taken into the Transform tab.

For cropping press the “c” shortcut key on your keyboard or use the Crop.pngbutton.  Click-and-drag a crop over the preview. You’ll notice that the Crop tool is already enabled.

You don’t apply a crop, it takes effect the moment you draw it. You may want to set the Crop “Guide type” to “none” if you find it a problem.

Resizing is important for reducing the size of our file from 25 MB to something more web friendly. Enable the Resize tool and leave it at the default settings. Notice that the resizing effect is only applied to the saved image, not to the preview.

A close up of a laptop used for editing with Rawtherapee


You’re all set. Save the image straight away by clicking the Gtk-save-large.png Save Current Image button, or use Ctrl+s. Save it as a JPG file, quality at “92”, subsampling at “balanced”. These are good all-round settings.

Choose a folder where you want it saved to, and after a few seconds your file will be ready in that folder. If you close RawTherapee, the settings you used will be stored in the RAW files’ PP3 sidecar file next to it. This allows you to re-open the RAW photo in the future and keep the tool settings you used.

Now you went through basic photo adjustment and are familiar with the steps. Go over them again and again to find your feet. Once you’re more familiar with the program, you can use the same tools in more advanced ways. You’ll be a RawTherapee whizzkid in no time.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at and Instagram/craighullphoto