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Processing an Image Using Camera Raw

With our image-editing workflow in mind, we’re ready to start. To get the most out of these editing examples, open a raw image of your own and follow along with the descriptions of each control. Getting a feel for the controls is an important part of learning which parameters are good for which types of adjustment.

Before getting to work adjusting the color and contrast of your image, though, we’ll start with our geometric adjustments.

Geometric adjustments

As outlined earlier, your image-editing workflow should begin with any geometric adjustments that you need to make. These are any edits that might result in a cropping of your image. The idea is simply that you want to know the final crop of your image before you start performing careful edits on the image, so that you don’t waste time editing areas that won’t be in the final image.

Cropping

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Just like the Crop tool in Photoshop, Camera Raw’s Crop tool lets you crop your image simply by dragging out a rectangle to select the area you want to keep (Figure 4.10). After defining an initial rectangle, you can adjust the crop by dragging the control handles on the crop rectangle. When the crop is configured the way you like, double-click inside the crop rectangle or press Return to accept the crop. The Camera Raw window will fill with your cropped image.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10 To crop in Camera Raw, select the Crop tool and then drag out an area around the part of the image that you want to keep.

The Crop tool also provides a pop-up menu that lets you constrain the crop to particular aspect ratios, making it easy to crop for paper with particular dimensions. If you decide that you don’t like your current crop, you can choose Clear Crop from the Crop tool menu to return your image to its original, uncropped state (Figure 4.11).

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 If you click and hold the Crop tool, Camera Raw opens a menu that allows you to constrain your crop to a particular aspect ratio or to clear your current crop setting.

Rotating

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These days, most cameras automatically detect whether an image was shot in portrait or landscape mode (vertically or horizontally). Cameras with such a mechanism will automatically tag your image as either portrait or landscape, storing this information in the image metadata. Camera Raw can read this tag and automatically rotate your image accordingly. If your camera doesn’t detect rotation, or if it has detected it incorrectly, you may need to rotate your picture manually. Simply click the Rotate buttons—located above the preview area—to rotate your image in 90-degree increments (Figure 4.12).

Figure 4.12

Figure 4.12 Camera Raw’s Rotate buttons let you rotate your image in 90-degree increments.

Straightening

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Camera Raw’s Straighten tool provides a capability that even Photoshop itself doesn’t have: a two-click solution that straightens and crops.

To use the Straighten tool:

  1. Select it from the tool palette at the top of the Camera Raw window or press A (Figure 4.13).

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13 The Straighten tool gives you a simple solution for straightening your images.

  2. Click at one end of a line in your image that should be straight; then click at the other end (Figure 4.14). Camera Raw automatically rotates your image so that the indicated line is now horizontal. What’s more, Camera Raw automatically calculates a crop that selects the largest usable area of the now-rotated image.

    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14 Camera Raw’s Straighten tool not only straightens images with just two clicks, but it also automatically crops the resulting image, saving you the trouble of a separate cropping step.

  3. Press Return to accept the crop.

As you can see, straightening usually results in a little bit of cropping. That’s why we’re including it alongside cropping, early in the workflow.

Saving your edits

Before we go any further, let’s take a look at how Camera Raw saves the edits and adjustments that you make.

In Chapter 2, you learned that raw files are never altered by any edits or adjustments that you make. If you’ve been following along with the previous section, then you should have cropped and/or rotated or straightened an image. Let’s assume for the moment that that’s all you want to do with your image.

When you’re finished editing in Camera Raw, you have four options:

The Open button. If you click the Open button at the bottom of the Camera Raw window, then Camera Raw will process your image according to the specified settings. As you learned earlier, Camera Raw opens all images with a default set of conversion parameters.

Raw conversion can take a while, depending on the size of your raw files and the speed of your computer. There’s a lot of calculation involved in turning raw image data into a finished picture. When it’s done converting, the image is opened up in Photoshop as a normal document (if you’re working in Elements, the image is opened in the Elements Editor).

Note that the filename shown in the title bar is the same as your original raw filename. However, if you choose to save (by selecting File > Save or by pressing Control/Command-S), then Photoshop will present you with a standard Save dialog, where you can specify a filename, location to save, and file format. In other words, Photoshop doesn’t save over your original raw file.

However, in addition to processing your document, when you click the Open button, Camera Raw also saves all of the edits and adjustments that you specified in the Camera Raw window. So, in this case, the cropping, rotating, or straightening that you defined gets socked away in Camera Raw’s internal database. The next time you open that raw file, those same settings will already be there. What’s more, you can alter them before processing the file again. So, if you want to try a different crop, you can.

The Done button. If you click the Done button, Camera Raw does not process your image. Instead, it simply stores the settings you’ve defined. As you’ve seen, the actual processing of the raw file can take time. By clicking Done, you can save your parameters for the image and then move on to the next one. Later, after defining settings for all of the images that you want, you can tell Camera Raw to process them all at once, while you do something else. We’ll look at this, and other batch-processing operations, in Chapter 6.

The Save button. The Save button does almost the same thing as the Open button. It processes your file, and it saves your conversion parameters, but instead of opening the resulting image, it saves it to a file. When you click the Save button, you’ll be presented with the Save Options dialog, which lets you specify all of the essential save information, such as location, name, and format (Figure 4.15).

Figure 4.15

Figure 4.15 The Camera Raw Save Options dialog lets you choose a location, naming scheme, and format for saving your image. The image is saved without being opened in Photoshop.

The Cancel button. Finally, if you decide you don’t like the adjustments you’ve made and want to start over, if you realize that you don’t like this image, or if you simply have something else you need to do, you can click the Cancel button. The file will be closed, no parameters will be saved, and the Camera Raw window will go away.

Nondestructive editing

Consider what happens when you edit a non-raw image, like a JPEG, TIFF, or Photoshop. As you edit, you change the color values of the individual pixels in the image, and when you save, those new color values are written back into the original file that you opened (unless you choose Save As to save as a different file). This type of editing is called destructive editing, because you’re changing the values of the data in your image (Figure 4.16).

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 In a destructive editing process, when you make an edit (such as the brightening edit shown here), the pixels in your image are changed. When you output to a screen, printer, or file, those new, changed pixels are sent to the relevant device.

Photoshop Camera Raw is a nondestructive editing system. The edits you make in Camera Raw (like the crops and straightens you’ve already made) are not written back to the original raw file. In fact, they can’t be written back to the original raw file, because the raw file doesn’t contain normal pixel data. Instead, these edits are kept in a separate document. This document is a simple text file that contains a list of all of the parameters that you want to use for your raw conversion. When Camera Raw needs to display your image onscreen, print it, or save it, Camera Raw reads the list of parameters, applies them to the raw data, and processes your image (Figure 4.17).

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17 In a nondestructive editing process, any edit you make is simply added to a list of edits to be applied to the original image data. When you output to a screen, printer, or file, those edits are applied in real time as the image data is sent to the relevant device.

What’s great about this scheme is that you can go back at any time and change any of those edits. Because your original data has been unaltered, you can easily get a very different result. Thanks to Camera Raw’s nondestructive editing, it’s easy to create different versions of an image, and to undo and alter edits later, at any time.

In the next chapter, we’ll learn some additional nondestructive editing techniques provided by Camera Raw.

Edited raw files in Bridge

Any time you save edits from Camera Raw (which happens any time you click the Done, Open, or Save button), Bridge updates the thumbnail for that image to indicate that the image has been edited (Figure 4.18).

Figure 4.18

Figure 4.18 When an image has been edited in raw, its icon in Bridge displays additional badges. Here, you can see a badge indicating that the image has been cropped, and another badge indicating that it has been edited.

In addition to showing the image with any cropping that you might have applied, the thumbnail now displays a small badge indicating that you’ve altered parameters in Camera Raw. The next time you open the image, those parameters will be used for the conversion.

Edited raw files in Organizer

When you open a raw file in the Photoshop Elements Editor, the icon that appears in Organizer will have a comment superimposed over it to indicate that that image is currently being edited (Figure 4.19).

Figure 4.19

Figure 4.19 When you edit an image in the Windows version of Elements Editor, its icon is updated in the Organizer to show that it is currently being edited.

After you open the image in the editor, if you choose to save it, Elements will present you with a standard Save dialog. Some important additional options are included (Figure 4.20).

Figure 4.20

Figure 4.20 In Elements for Windows, when you save a document out of the Editor, you will be presented with some important organizational options.

Include in the Organizer. If you check this box, the saved image will automatically be imported into Organizer.

Save in Version Set with Original. Version sets are logical groupings of documents that allow you to keep related images together. They have no effect on the locations of the original files. A version set appears in Organizer as a series of images surrounded by a gray box (Figure 4.21).

Figure 4.21

Figure 4.21 You can recognize a version set by the icon in the upper right corner. Click the arrow on the right side of the window to open and close the version set.

If you click the arrow on the right side of the box, it will open to reveal the contents of the version set. Each entry in a version set is a separate document. Version sets are simply a way to keep a group of related images—in this case a raw file and its processed, edited companion—together.

You can close the version set by clicking the button on the right side of the version set box.

If you choose to save directly from the Camera Raw window, you won’t have the option to create version set. Furthermore, the only option you’ll have for saving your image is as a DNG. We’ll discuss DNG in more detail in Chapter 6.

When to save

I’ve inserted this save discussion after we’ve cropped and straightened, but that’s only because I wanted to be sure you understood the nondestructive editing concept as early as possible. I’m not actually suggesting that you perform any kind of save at this point, though if your work is interrupted, you might have to.

If you ever start working on a raw file in Camera Raw and don’t have time to finish (as may happen as you work through this somewhat lengthy chapter), just click Done. Your parameters will be saved, no processed image file will be created, and you can return to your work later.

Obviously, it’s fine to save your work as much as you want, but you’ll typically not worry about saving until you’re done with your edits.

Spotting and cleanup

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With your image cropped, straightened, and rotated, you’re ready to move on to your next chore, which is to remove any sensor dust or other spotty artifacts that might be marring your picture.

Camera Raw can’t touch the depth of Photoshop’s retouching tools, but it does provide an excellent Spot Removal brush that can be used for eliminating sensor dust and other localized elements from an image (Figure 4.22).

Figure 4.22

Figure 4.22 Camera Raw’s Spot Removal brush can be used to take care of sensor dust, lens flares, and other spot retouching chores.

To use the Spot Removal brush:

  1. Select the Spot Removal brush from the Camera Raw toolbar.
  2. When you hold the brush over your image, a circle will appear to indicate the size of the brush. Position the brush over the spot you want to remove, and make sure it’s big enough to cover the area. You can adjust the brush size using the Radius slider in the settings area on the right. (In CS3 the Radius slider will appear in an options bar that will appear directly beneath the toolbar when you select the Spot Removal brush. There is no opacity control in CS3. A better option is to use Photoshop’s standard Brush size keys, ] for bigger and [ for smaller.
  3. Click on the spot you want to remove. Camera Raw will place a white and red circle to mark the spot you clicked on. It will think for a moment, and then place a white and green circle next to the first, and your spot should disappear (Figure 4.23).

    Figure 4.23

    Figure 4.23 To use the Spot Removal brush, click on the spot you want to remove. Camera Raw will automatically define a second circle. The contents of the second circle are copied into the first, to create a patch that covers the original spot.

    The content from the second circle, the green and white one, is automatically copied into the red and white circle, and then blurred and adjusted to make a clean composite.

  4. If the edited area doesn’t look quite right, drag the second circle around to select a different source to copy into the area you clicked on. You can also change the size of the circles using the Radius controls.

The Spot Removal brush’s default behavior is Heal, as indicated in the Type menu in the Spot Removal parameters. In this mode, the brush works just like the Healing Brush in Photoshop. You can change the type to Clone, which will also copy data from the second circle into the first, but won’t perform any additional smoothing or compositing. In most instances, Heal will do a better job than Clone.

Because the Spot Removal brush is a spot-based tool, rather than a brush that you can use to paint over a large area, it’s best for simple healings. If you want to perform more complex retouching, you’ll be better served using the retouching brushes in Photoshop.

If the second circle is placed incorrectly, then you might end up with bad image data being copied over your spot. For example, in Figure 4.24 a little bit of cloud is being copied into the area we’re trying to correct. To fix this problem, simply click the second circle and drag it to a new location.

Figure 4.24

Figure 4.24 Our second circle contains image data that makes a bad patch—a bit of cloud is copied over the spot we’re trying to correct.

Red-Eye Removal

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Camera Raw’s Red Eye Removal tool makes short work of red-eye troubles.

To use the Red Eye Removal tool:

  1. Select it from the Camera Raw toolbar.
  2. Click on a red eye in your image.
  3. Adjust the Pupil Size and Darken sliders to eliminate the red-eye.

If you’re shooting raw, you’re most likely using a digital SLR, and because SLRs have flash units that are positioned a good distance from the lens, you will probably rarely, if ever, encounter red-eye.

Tonal corrections

As defined earlier in our image-editing workflow, the next step will be tonal corrections. Correcting tone simply means to get black, and white—and therefore contrast—correctly adjusted in the image. Your eye is far more sensitive to contrast than it is to color, so getting the tone in your image correct is often the most effective and speediest way to make an image look better.

Because colors also have a tone, it’s best to adjust tone first, as tonal corrections will often solve a lot of color issues. Before you can correct a tonal problem, though, you have to be able to identify it. Ignoring deeper philosophical issues, from a photographic standpoint, “black” and “white” are very objective values. It can take a while to begin to learn how to recognize whether an image has true black or white in it, and until you learn how to spot these values, your images might suffer from contrast troubles.

Fortunately, Camera Raw (as well as Photoshop and, most likely, your camera itself) has an exceptional tool for analyzing and understanding contrast. In the digital age, the histogram is an essential piece of photographic equipment.

Histogram 101

If you’re not already familiar with an image-editing histogram, then read this section very closely. Though it may seem to veer dangerously close to something mathlike, understanding a histogram is actually very simple.

Most image editors provide a histogram display of some kind. Photoshop and Photoshop Elements provide a Histogram palette, and as you’ve already seen, the Camera Raw window has a nice big histogram display in the upper right corner.

A histogram is nothing more than a bar chart that graphs the distribution of tones in an image, with black at the left edge and white at the right, and one vertical bar for every tone in between. In other words, for every gray value in the image, from 0 gray at the left to 255 gray at the right, the histogram shows a bar representing the number of pixels with that value. For a very simple image like the one in Figure 4.25, the histogram contains only four lines: one at the extreme left edge, representing the black swatch, two in the middle for the two gray swatches, and one at the extreme right edge for the white swatch.

Figure 4.25

Figure 4.25 This simple four-tone image (top) yields a histogram (bottom) with four bars: one for each tone.

That’s really all there is to a histogram. As an image becomes more complex and contains more tones, the histogram fills with more bars. Figure 4.26 shows a simple grayscale ramp and its corresponding histogram.

Figure 4.26

Figure 4.26 A histogram is simply a graph of the distribution of tones in an image. The histogram for this gray ramp shows a smooth distribution from black on the left of the histogram to white on the right.

Now consider some real-world examples. Figure 4.27 shows a well-exposed image and its histogram. (The gray ramp beneath the histogram in Photoshop is provided to help you see that the histogram charts black to white.) The histogram shows that this image has a fairly complete range of tones from black to white. The shape of the histogram is irrelevant—there’s no “correct” shape that we’re trying to achieve. Every image has a differently shaped histogram because every image has different amounts of different colors. One thing we can learn from the histogram, though, is that this image has a good range of contrast from complete black to complete white. Because there is data at the black and white ends of the histogram, we know our image has true black and white.

Figure 4.27

Figure 4.27 This image is well exposed and so has a histogram that contains a lot of data ranging from black to white. However, neither end of the histogram is clipped at the edge. Instead, both the shadows and highlights make smooth transitions to complete black and white.

Figure 4.28 shows an overexposed image. On the left side of the histogram, the data tapers off, dwindling to nothing before it reaches the left edge. On the other side, though, the image data slams into the right edge of the histogram, indicating overexposure, a situation referred to as highlight clipping. Remember: Where there’s pure white, there is no contrast and no information—no image data—and therefore no detail. Because the histogram shows a preponderance of pure white, it’s safe to say that the image is overexposed and, therefore, has lost detail. You can see this loss of detail in the clouds and on the side of the white fire truck. These areas are pure, detail-less white.

Figure 4.28

Figure 4.28 This image is plainly overexposed. Its histogram lacks data in the shadows and midtones, and the highlights are heavily clipped.

Figure 4.29 shows an underexposed image, and as you would expect, the results are pretty much the opposite of Figure 4.28. The histogram’s data is clipped on the left side of the graph, indicating an undue number of pixels that have been reduced to featureless blobs of black. Although this image may not look so bad underexposed, there’s no way to pull any detail back out of those solid-black shadow areas if you want to. Ideally, it’s better to have a well-exposed image that you can darken later than to have a dark image (or an overly exposed bright image) with less editing flexibility.

Figure 4.29

Figure 4.29 This underexposed image sports a histogram with the majority of its data crammed against the left, black side. Because the blacks are clipped, the shadows in this image are solid black, making it impossible to pull out any usable detail.

In addition to helping you spot over- and underexposure, your histogram can help you analyze other image troubles.

Contrasty histograms

The human eye is much more sensitive to changes in luminance, or brightness, than it is to changes in color. Because of this, images that have more contrast are often more appealing (Figure 4.30).

Figure 4.30

Figure 4.30 In general, images with greater contrast, such as the right image here, are more pleasing to the eye.

Because an image with greater contrast usually has more tones and gradations, it delivers better detail and subtlety. I say “usually” because an image can have great contrast between its darkest and lightest tones without having a lot of other tones in between (consider a black-and-white checkerboard). The histogram makes it simple to determine how much contrast your image has and how much data there is between your lightest and darkest tones.

If we look at the histogram for the low-contrast image in Figure 4.30, we see that the image data extends neither all the way down to black nor all the way up to white—it’s collected in the middle. In other words, there’s not a lot of contrast between the darkest and lightest tones (Figure 4.31).

Figure 4.31

Figure 4.31 Photoshop’s histogram of the left image in Figure 4.30 shows that the image has no black or white tones. The distance from the darkest to the lightest tone is very short—showing low contrast.

By contrast (sorry!), Figure 4.32 shows a well-exposed image. Its histogram shows data that extends all the way to both ends, yielding an image with a good range of detail from black to white.

Figure 4.32

Figure 4.32 This image was well exposed and has a good range of contrast. The histogram shows that the tonal range goes from black to white, without clipping on either end.

Another way of thinking about the histogram is to say that it shows how much information we’ve captured. The histogram in Figure 4.27 shows an image with a tremendous range of information (that is, gray levels), while the histogram in Figure 4.31 shows a much smaller quantity.

The Camera Raw histogram

The Camera Raw histogram looks a little bit different than the histograms you’ve seen in the previous examples. In the Camera Raw histogram, there is a bunch of different colors.

In Chapter 2, we discussed how color images created by a camera are composed of three color channels: one red, one green, and one blue. These are the primary colors of light, and when they’re combined, all other colors can be created. The Camera Raw histogram display shows a separate histogram for each of the three color channels. You read the histogram just as you’ve learned: Black is on the left and white is on the right (Figure 4.33).

Figure 4.33

Figure 4.33 The Camera Raw histogram shows separate histograms for each of the three color channels in your image. Beneath the histogram, Camera Raw shows the EXIF metadata for the raw file.

As you’ll see later, Camera Raw’s three-channel histogram can make it easier to correct certain color troubles. It also lets you know if you’ve overexposed individual color channels, which can come in handy when you start using the Exposure control.

Just below the histogram is some other useful information. The RGB readout shows you the red, green, and blue values for the pixel that the mouse is over, while to the immediate right you’ll find the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and lens that were used to shoot the image (assuming your camera recorded all of this information in its EXIF metadata).

So tell me something I didn’t know

So far you may be thinking, “What do I need a histogram for? I can see everything we’re talking about just by looking at the image.”

While it may be obvious that an image is overexposed, the histogram gives you a little more information, which can be useful in your raw conversion.

Also, most cameras these days let you view a histogram of any image that you’ve shot. As you’ll see in Chapter 7, you can use your camera’s histogram display to great advantage while shooting.

Perhaps the most useful application of the histogram, though, is in combination with other editing tools provided by your image editor, as you’ll see in a moment.

Camera Raw’s tone controls

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You’ll perform the bulk of your tone and color corrections in Camera Raw using the basic sliders. In both CS4 and Elements, these sliders appear in the Basic tab. If the Basic tab isn’t visible, select it now. If you were using the Spot Removal brush or Red Eye tool, select the Zoom or Pan tool, and the Basic tab should reappear. (In CS3, the sliders for retouch and red-eye appear in an options bar just below the toolbar, so the tabs don’t change when you select them.)

Camera Raw presents its Basic sliders in an order that’s roughly how you’ll want to use them. However, we’re going to explore them slightly out of order, as this will make things a little easier to learn. We’re first going to look at what the tools do. Later in this chapter, we’ll discuss an overall strategy for how to use them.

Exposure. Adjusting the Exposure slider achieves the same effect that you would see if you had used the exposure compensation control on your camera. As you drag the Exposure slider to the right, the overall exposure in your image increases, and the image brightens (Figure 4.34).

Figure 4.34

Figure 4.34 Here you can see the effects of moving the Exposure slider. Just as if you had changed exposure compensation within your camera, the image gets brighter or darker as we increase or decrease exposure.

Notice that as you drag the Exposure slider to the right to brighten the image, the tones in the histogram stretch into the right edge of the histogram display. As you slide to the left, they stretch to the left-hand, shadow areas.

For making broad changes to the brightness of an image, the Exposure slider is a good tool, but you need to be careful, as you can easily push bright highlights into overexposure or dark shadows into underexposure. The Exposure slider has an additional function, which we’ll explore later.

Blacks. The Blacks slider darkens the darkest tones in your image. If you’ve ever used Photoshop’s Levels adjustment, you’ll find that the Blacks slider works like the Black Point slider in the Levels dialog. As you drag the slider to the right, the blacks in your image get darker (Figure 4.35).

Figure 4.35

Figure 4.35 With the Blacks slider, you can control how black the blackest parts of your image are, without affecting the brighter tones in your image. In the right image, the Blacks setting is higher, so the blacks in the image are more pronounced.

Look at the histograms in the example above and you’ll see that the darkest tones, which were quite a ways to the right, slid down to complete black as the Blacks slider was moved to the right. (In fact, for the sake of example, I’ve overdone the adjustment, rendering the blacks extremely underexposed.) Camera Raw adjusts the darkest quartertones in your image, making them all darker, while leaving the midtones and highlights untouched. So, with the Blacks slider, you can darken your blacks without also darkening your whites!

Brightness. The Brightness slider brightens or darkens the middle tones in your image, while leaving the white and black points untouched (Figure 4.36).

Figure 4.36

Figure 4.36 The Brightness slider lets us brighten or darken the middle tones in our image without worrying about affecting the brightest and darkest tones.

With the Brightness slider, you can brighten or darken the majority of the tones in your image—the ones that contain the bulk of your image data—without worrying about over- or underexposing your highlights or shadows. Well, without worrying too much. It is possible to push the white point to overexposure when using the Brightness slider, so pay attention to the histogram while you move it.

Contrast. The Contrast slider allows you to increase or decrease the contrast in your image. Slide right to increase, left to decrease (Figure 4.37).

Figure 4.37

Figure 4.37 The Contrast slider adjusts both the white and black points, to increase contrast in your image.

The Contrast slider is really just moving the white and black points simultaneously, while intelligently redistributing the intermediate values to maintain their original relationships. As with the Brightness slider, it is possible to introduce over- or under-exposure when using the Contrast slider, so keep an eye on the histogram.

Fill Light. The Fill Light slider lets you brighten dark areas in your image. Through a bunch of gnarly calculations, when you drag the Fill Light slider to the right, Camera Raw automatically searches for what it thinks are the shadow areas of your image. These areas are then brightened. This brightening is ramped off in the intermediate tones between the shadow and midtones, so the brightening looks realistic (Figure 4.38).

Figure 4.38

Figure 4.38 With the Fill Light slider, we can brighten up the shadowy areas of the image without weakening the blacks in the brighter areas. Note that the black lines and features in the bright areas of the image aren’t washed out, but the shadowy porch still gets brightened.

In practical terms, sliding the Fill Light slider is kind of like firing a huge fill flash into your scene. As good as it is, though, the Fill Light slider will sometimes brighten areas that you don’t want affected, so pay close attention to your whole image when using it. The Fill Light slider is best used sparingly.

Recovery. One of the big differences between digital and film photography is that in film, if you overexpose a highlight, you usually don’t end up with a big garish white spot where your highlight used to be. Highlights in film are “rolled off” to make a more natural-looking highlight, while highlights in digital photography are simply clipped to complete white.

One of the best reasons to use raw, though, is that Camera Raw can often recover clipped highlights, restoring the detail to areas that would otherwise look completely white. Here’s how it works.

Sometimes when an area is overexposed, it’s not overexposed in all three color channels. In other words, the blue channel might be overexposed, while the red and green channels are OK. In these instances, where at least one channel still has good highlight data in it, Camera Raw can use that remaining channel to rebuild the information that was clipped out of the overexposed channel.

When you move the Recovery slider to the right, Camera Raw will darken the brightest tones in the image, performing highlight recovery on overexposed values if recovery is possible. The result is that areas that have been overexposed to complete white can often have full detail restored (Figure 4.39).

Figure 4.39

Figure 4.39 In the first image, the histogram shows a lot of highlight overexposure, or clipping. In the image, you can see that the overexposure is occurring in the highlight areas of the right silo. Those areas have gone to complete white. By dragging the Recovery slider to the right, we can recover the detail in those lost highlights. The silo now has texture, and the histogram is no longer showing overexposure.

If this seems too good to believe, don’t worry—it really works. The Recovery slider can’t recover an extremely overexposed highlight, but it can very often put detail into highlights that have lost a little bit of texture because they’ve been overexposed.

Exposure revisited. Sometimes, the Recovery slider is not aggressive enough to adequately recover your clipped highlights. Fortunately, the Exposure slider also provides the ability to recover overexposed areas.

If you drag the Exposure slider to the left, your entire image will darken, and, when possible, overexposed highlights will be restored. Obviously, if you have to move the Exposure slider a long way to the left to recover your highlights, your image will become much darker, but you can always brighten it back up with the other tonal correction tools.

Sometimes a highlight simply can’t be recovered because it’s overexposed in all three channels. In these cases, it doesn’t matter how much recovery or underexposure you apply, the spike on the right side of the histogram—the one that indicates overexposure—will remain (Figure 4.40).

Figure 4.40

Figure 4.40 This image is so overexposed that no amount of highlight recovery can help. Notice that the spike on the right side of the histogram won’t go away, and the one pure white area in the clouds won’t recover detail.

Note that in all of these edits, the tones in the histogram are being pushed back and forth, stretched or squished as you brighten or darken the various parts of the tonal range. When you watch the histogram, you should get a sense of your image data as being kind of like a big piece of Silly Putty. You can stretch it or squish it while maintaining its overall shape.

Real-World Tonal Control

You won’t always use all of the tonal controls that Camera Raw provides. Sometimes, an image will simply need an exposure adjustment or a little more contrast. If you do use more than one adjustment, you’ll almost always use it in concert with other controls. Because every tonal adjustment is different, it’s best not to try to learn a particular formula. Instead, keep an eye on the histogram and adjust the relevant slider as needed to improve your image.

For a real-world example, take a look at Figure 4.41, an image that’s slightly overexposed and lacks contrast.

Figure 4.41

Figure 4.41 This image has some overexposure problems and is weak in contrast. We’re going to correct it using the tonal controls in Camera Raw.

Any time there’s overexposure (which is clearly visible in the image and shown in the histogram), your first adjustment should be to use the Recovery or Exposure slider to restore the overexposed areas (Figure 4.42).

Figure 4.42

Figure 4.42 We start by using the Recovery and Exposure sliders to address the overexposure problem.

In this case, the Recovery slider couldn’t quite get them all, so I also had to move the Exposure slider to the left. I watched both the histogram and the image, until the skin texture on the overexposed part of the man’s forehead looked right.

The image looks a little flat, so my next adjustment is to increase the contrast by moving the Contrast slider to the right (Figure 4.43).

Figure 4.43

Figure 4.43 Next we correct the contrast using the Contrast slider. Now the image has a little more punch.

Again, the benchmark for adjustments is simply how the image looks. However, I’m also keeping an eye on the histogram to make sure that my adjustment doesn’t push highlights back into overexposure. I’m not worried about pushing shadows into underexposure because dark shadows simply look shadowy.

While the contrast is improved, the image is a little dark. The histogram shows that the majority of the tones are piled toward the left side of the screen. I plan on printing this image, and since printing usually darkens an image, I want more of the midtones in the center, or closer to the right, so I’ll move the Brightness slider to the right to brighten the image (Figure 4.44).

Figure 4.44

Figure 4.44 While the contrast is nice, the image is a little dark, so I’ll brighten it with the Brightness slider. I can’t use the Exposure slider to brighten, because I’m using it to recover highlights.

In doing this, I’ve pushed some highlights back into overexposure, so I’ll lower the Exposure adjustment some more to bring the highlights back under control (Figure 4.45).

Figure 4.45

Figure 4.45 Because the Brightness adjustment wrecked our highlights, I’ll pull Exposure down a little more to put them back where they should be.

As you can see, adjustment is often a balancing act. While Camera Raw provides several ways of brightening and darkening (Exposure, Brightness, Fill Light), they all have trade-offs. In general, you’ll be trying to balance brightening with loss of contrast and overexposure.

Color correction

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With your tonal corrections finished, you’re now ready to move on to color adjustments. Hopefully, correcting the tone in your image will have helped with some color problems. Saturation, especially, often benefits from tonal corrections. However, many images will need additional color adjustments after your tonal corrections. The best place to start for color correction is by adjusting the white balance of your image.

Adjusting white balance

As discussed in Chapter 2, white balancing is the process of calibrating your camera so that it renders colors correctly for the type of light in which you are shooting. If you’re using an auto white balance mechanism, your camera takes a guess as to what the correct white balance setting should be; if you’re using a preset or manual white balance, then you have effectively told the camera the color temperature. No matter what white balance setting you’re using, the camera stores this information with the raw file.

When your camera processes a file, it uses this white balance setting to adjust the color information in your image to compensate for the type of light in your scene. These days, most cameras do a very good job of white balancing, so unless you inadvertently chose an incorrect manual white balance, your image will probably look pretty good. However, if you do end up with a shot with bad white balance, whether it’s due to a bad setting or simply a difficult lighting situation, Camera Raw will let you correct it with ease.

When you first open a raw file, Camera Raw attempts to read the white balance tag that your camera embedded in the file, and then it sets the white balance slider accordingly. If your white balance was set incorrectly, or if the camera’s auto white balance mechanism is particularly lousy, you may see an image that looks really terrible (for instance, like Figure 2.5 in Chapter 2).

Camera Raw’s White Balance pop-up menu defaults to As Shot, meaning that the white balance is set to whatever value the camera was set for at the time of shooting. You can see what value this is by looking at the Temperature slider directly below the White Balance pop-up menu (Figure 4.48).

Figure 4.48

Figure 4.48 Camera Raw provides three options for changing the white balance of your raw image. The pop-up menu contains predefined white balance settings, and the Temperature and Tint sliders give you full manual white balance control.

The White Balance pop-up menu offers a list of standard white balance options: Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash (Figure 4.49). If the color in your image looks wrong, try picking the white balance option that matches the type of light you were shooting in.

Figure 4.49

Figure 4.49 You can use Camera Raw’s White Balance menu to choose a standard white balance setting for your image.

If you were shooting in a mixed-lighting situation and your color is off, then the preset white balance options may not help you. For these instances, you’ll need to take manual control and adjust the Temperature slider to correct the white balance.

You can try simply moving the slider by hand until you get color you like, and this is often the best way to proceed with correcting a bad white balance. But the Elements, CS3, and CS4 versions of Camera Raw provide an additional excellent white balance correction tool: the White Balance Eyedropper (Figure 4.50).

Figure 4.50

Figure 4.50 The White Balance Eyedropper lets you set the white balance for your image by clicking an area of your image that should be a neutral tone.

To use the eyedropper, select it and then click a part of your image that should be neutral—not white, and not colored, but a medium-tone gray. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell what, in your scene, was originally gray, but if you know for sure, then you can use the White Balance Eyedropper to perform a very accurate white balance correction with a single click (Figure 4.51).

Figure 4.51

Figure 4.51 Just before taking this picture, I had been indoors shooting with my camera set to tungsten white balance. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to switch it back to daylight when I stepped outside. Consequently, the white balance in the left image is dead wrong. Clicking with the White Balance Eyedropper on an area in the image that is supposed to be a neutral gray restored the image to more accurate color.

If you’re not sure what might be gray in your image, try clicking tones that look close to gray or that are likely to be neutral; then choose the one that looks best. If you still can’t find a tone that yields a good result, click something white. This will get you pretty close to correct white balance, though your image may still look a little strange. After using the eyedropper, you can fine-tune the white balance using the Temperature and Tint sliders (we’ll discuss tint in the next section).

If you’ve ever tried to correct a white balance problem using Photoshop’s normal color-correction tools, you already know that it can be extremely difficult to restore correct color to an image that has bad white balance. The color shifts that occur with improper white balance extend all the way from the shadows to the highlights, making it impossible to find a single operation that can restore the entire scene. What’s more, by the time you’ve performed this correction, you will have pushed your image data so far that you’ll have very little latitude left for additional edits (a concept we’ll cover in more detail in the next chapter).

Adjusting tint

Just below the White Balance slider is the Tint slider. The White Balance and Tint sliders work in concert to produce an accurate white balance. When you select a white balance preset from the White Balance pop-up menu or click your image with the White Balance Eyedropper, Camera Raw automatically adjusts both sliders.

In the simplest terms, the two sliders represent two different axes of color. The White Balance slider shifts from blue on the left to yellow on the right, while the Tint slider lets you move from green to magenta.

When you move the White Balance slider manually, you may find that, although your color improves, it also picks up a green or magenta cast. You can correct this cast using the Tint slider.

It’s not essential to set your white balance before performing other adjustments, but if the white balance in your image is blatantly wrong, then you’ll have an easier time understanding what tonal corrections to make if you correct white balance first. If you make a very large adjustment with the Exposure slider, you may need to go back and tweak your white balance.

Adjusting Saturation

The tonal adjustments and white balance controls that we’ve looked at will get you a long way through your color adjustments. But while the tonal controls will let you determine how bright or dark your colors are, and while white balance will let you adjust their hue, neither will let you make a color more rich or saturated. Fortunately, the Saturation slider can take care of that.

The Saturation slider lets you alter the saturation of the colors in your image, either boosting the saturation to make colors richer or draining saturation to make colors appear more pastel. Using the Saturation slider is very simple: Move it to the right to increase saturation and to the left to decrease saturation (Figure 4.52).

Figure 4.52

Figure 4.52 You can increase the saturation of an image in Camera Raw by moving the Saturation slider to the right. Don’t go too far, though. Oversaturation can lead to posterizing, as you can see in the third flower. Moving the Saturation slider to the left desaturates an image, ultimately yielding a grayscale picture.

Note that the Saturation tool can cause clipping in either the highlights or shadows, so you’ll need to keep a close eye on your histogram when making saturation adjustments.

Also, be very careful with skin tones when adjusting saturation. Too much saturation boost can make skin look mottled and ugly. Fortunately, Camera Raw provides an additional saturation adjustment.

Adjusting Vibrance

Vibrance works just like Saturation, but it protects certain tones, especially flesh tones. A straight Saturation adjustment can be hard on flesh tones, as you can see in Figure 4.53.

Figure 4.53

Figure 4.53 Using the Saturation slider on this image improves the background but is hard on the skin tones.

While the background has a nice saturation improvement, the skin has become far too red and slightly mottled. Moving the Vibrance slider to the right will also increase saturation but will leave the flesh tones mostly untouched (Figure 4.54).

Figure 4.54

Figure 4.54 The Vibrance slider improves the saturation of the background but leaves the skin tones in good shape.

Similarly, you can use the Vibrance slider to desaturate an image without affecting flesh tones.

Adjusting Clarity

The Clarity slider adds a subtle form of sharpening that can make fine details in your image a little more pronounced (Figure 4.55). Clarity won’t reduce softness in an image, but it will improve the sense of detail and, well, clarity in your images.

Figure 4.55

Figure 4.55 By using the Clarity slider, you can improve the fine details in your image to reveal more texture and contrast.

To increase clarity, move the Clarity slider to the right.

Auto and Default

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Just above the Exposure slider are two small buttons, Auto and Default. If you click Auto, Camera Raw will analyze your image and automatically adjust the tone and color sliders, but not the white balance, Clarity, Vibrance, or Saturation controls. (If you’re familiar with the Auto Levels command in Photoshop, you’ll find that the Auto button in Camera Raw delivers similar results.)

The Auto function often does a good job, and is sometimes a good starting point for additional edits. If you don’t like its results, click the Default button to return to the initial, default settings.

Opening and Saving

At this point, your image should be looking almost—if not completely—finished. You’ve cropped or straightened as need be, you’ve performed any necessary spotty cleanup, you’ve made tonal adjustments and color adjustments. Camera Raw provides additional editing functions, but these are the workhorse functions that you’ll use most of the time, and often exclusively. Now let’s take another look at opening and saving (we’ll get to the rest of the editing tools in the next chapter).

Earlier, you learned about the nondestructive nature of Camera Raw, and how it saves all of your Camera Raw parameters anytime you click Save, Open, or Done. Let’s take a look at these features again, and take your edited image to the end of your Capture Raw workflow.

Raw processing

When you click Open or Save, Camera Raw processes your raw data according to the parameters you’ve defined. As you learned in Chapter 2, there are a lot of steps to this process. It must demosaic your image, perform its colorimetric adjustment calculations, map the image into a color space, adjust white balance, apply your tone and color corrections, and apply any additional corrections you’ve specified. Depending on the speed of your computer, it can take a bit to produce a finished image.

If you click Open, then the results of all of this processing are opened in Photoshop (or the Editor portion of Photoshop Elements if you’re using Elements for Windows). No document has been saved, so you’ll need to choose File > Save to save out a final document, regardless of whether you perform any additional edits.

You’ll need to pick a format when you save using Photoshop’s standard Save dialog. If you’re outputting for the Web or e-mail, then you’ll probably want to save as a JPEG. If you’re outputting for print or intend to make further edits, save as a Photoshop or TIFF file, as neither of these formats applies compression.

If you click Save, then Camera Raw does the same processing of your image that it performs when you click Open, but instead of the results being opened in Photoshop, the resulting image is immediately saved into a file. In Chapter 6, you’ll see why this can be useful.

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