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Setting Your Resolution, Image Size, Color Space, and Bit Depth

Since you’re processing your own images, it only makes sense that you get to choose what resolution, what size, which color space, and how many bits per channel your photo will be, right? These are workflow decisions, which is why you make them in the Workflow Options dialog. Here are my recommendations on what to choose, and why:

Step One

Once you’ve made all your edits, and the photo is generally looking the way you want it to, it’s time to choose your resolution, size, etc. Directly below the Camera Raw Preview area (where you see your photo), you’ll see your current workflow settings—they are underlined in blue like a website link. Click on that link to bring up the Workflow Options dialog (which is seen in the next step).

Step Two

We’ll start at the top by choosing your photo’s color space. By default, it shows the color space specified in your digital camera, but if you’re editing a RAW photo, you can ignore that and choose the color space you want the photo processed with. I recommend choosing the same color space that you have chosen as Photoshop’s color space. For photographers, at this point in time, I still recommend that you choose Adobe RGB (1998) for Photoshop’s color space, and if you’ve done that, then you would choose Adobe RGB (1998) here, from the Space pop-up menu. See my color management and printing chapter (Chapter 13) for more on why you should use Adobe RGB (1998).

Step Three

When it comes to choosing your photo’s bit depth, I have a simple rule I go by: I always work in 8 Bits/Channel (Photoshop’s default), unless I have a photo that is so messed up that after Camera Raw, I know I’m still going to have to do some major Curves adjustments in Photoshop just to make it look right. The advantage of 16-bit is those major Curves adjustments wouldn’t damage the photo as much (you’d get less banding or posterization) because of the greater depth of 16-bit. The reasons I don’t use 16-bit more often are: (1) many of Photoshop’s tools and features aren’t available in 16-bit, (2) your file size is approximately double, which makes Photoshop run a lot slower, and (3) 16-bit photos take up twice as much room on your computer. Still, some photographers insist on only working in 16-bit and that doesn’t bother me one bit. (Get it? One bit? Aw, come on, that wasn’t that bad.)

Step Four

The next option down is Size. By default, the size displayed in the Size pop-up menu is the original size dictated by your digital camera’s megapixel capacity (in this case, it’s 4288 by 2848 pixels—the size generated by a 12.2-megapixel camera). If you click-and-hold on the Size pop-up menu, you’ll see a list of image sizes Camera Raw can generate from your RAW original (the number in parentheses shows the equivalent megapixels that size represents). The sizes with a + (plus sign) by them indicate that you’re scaling the image up in size from the original. The − (minus sign) means you’re shrinking the size from the original, which quality-wise isn’t a problem. Usually, it’s fairly safe to increase the size to the next largest choice, but anything above that and you risk having the photo look soft and/or pixelated.

Step Five

The last Workflow Options choice is what you want the resolution of your processed file to be. The topic of resolution is something entire training DVDs are dedicated to, so we won’t go in-depth about it here, but I’ll give you some quick guidelines. If your photo will wind up on a printing press, use 300 ppi (you don’t really need that much, but many print shops still think you do, so just play it safe at 300 ppi). When printing to an inkjet printer at larger than 8×10″ size, I use 240 ppi (although some argue that the sweet spot for Epson printers is 360 ppi, so you might try printing the same image at both resolutions and compare). For prints smaller than 8×10″ (which are viewed at a very close distance), try 300 ppi. If your photos are only going to be viewed on the Web, you can use 72 ppi. (By the way, the proper resolution is debated daily in Photoshop discussion forums around the world, and everybody has their own reason why their number is right. So, if ever you’re bored one night....)

Step Six

When you click OK and then click Open Image in the Camera Raw dialog, your photo is processed using those settings and opened in Photoshop (here’s the processed photo in Photoshop with the Image Size dialog open, so you can see the settings). These workflow settings now become your defaults, so you don’t have to mess with them again, unless: (a) you want to choose a different size, (b) you need to work in 16-bit, or (c) you need to change the resolution. Personally, I work at the original size taken by my camera, in 8-bit mode, and at a resolution of 240 ppi, so I don’t have to change these workflow options very often.

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