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Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4: Local Corrections in Camera Raw

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Camera Raw 5 now has the same set of local adjustments that Lightroom 2.0 unleashed. Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe show you how to use them.
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Yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus (and he lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan). One of the biggest bits of news for Lightroom 2.0 was the Adjustment Brush because not only did it usher in a new expanded scope of raw image editing, but it’s doing so as a nondestructive parametric edit. Well, Camera Raw 5 now has the same set of local adjustments that Lightroom 2.0 unleashed. Figure 4-55 shows the various parameters available in the Adjustment Brush.

Using the Adjustment Brush in Camera Raw shares some passing similarities with Photoshop, but there are some fundamental differences. First and foremost, when painting with the brush, you aren’t painting adjusted pixels into the image but instead are modifying a mask through which the adjustments will be processed. In this regard, it shares a closer resemblance to painting in an Adjustment Layer mask. You can paint and then erase the mask. It’s common for us to paint large, soft paint strokes and then zoom into the image to erase the mask with a smaller and more precise brush. You should also understand that while you may start by setting a single adjustment parameter, you can go back and add additional adjustments and continue to tweak the original adjustments. In point of fact, it’s optimal to adjust as many parameters with a single mask or “pin” as possible because adding many, many new single parameter adjustment masks will slow things down.

When you do add additional masks, pins are put on the image. The pins are considered a single discrete mask made up of multiple dabs or strokes and indicated by the pin shape. Clicking on a pin activates the mask and parameters for editing either. All of the mask particulars such as opacity and stroke coordinates are stored along with the adjustments as metadata in the file or file’s sidecar.

While the Adjustment Brush is a really cool new tool for the nondestructive adjustment of raw files, you should not anticipate the Adjustment Brush as providing a complete replacement for Photoshop. There will be many tasks more suited to Photoshop’s strengths. While possibly doable in Camera Raw, some tasks might not make good workflow sense when doing final high-quality digital imaging. That caveat presented, what you can do with the Adjustment Brush and its related tool the Graduated Filter can greatly improve a raw processing workflow and substantially reduce the amount of time spent in Photoshop.

Control Channels

When making a local adjustment by brush or gradient (the Graduated Filter has the same controls), you select one of the seven control channels offering adjustments. These channels are not a one-to-one match with the similarly named controls offered elsewhere in Camera Raw. The results will be similar, to be sure, but the control channels are tuned for use locally rather than their global cousins.

In Figure 4-56, the tool options for the controls are shown. When starting, you’ll begin by either clicking one of the quick set buttons (the + and - circles at either end of the sliders) or grabbing a slider to make the adjustment. After you’ve applied a brush stroke, the options change from New to Add. This allows additional channels or the original to be adjusted. When you hold down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key, the additive brush turns into an Erase brush, allowing you to delete portions of the painted mask. Once you’ve made an adjustment, you can click one of the quick set buttons to pick a new primary adjustment and start a new brush stroke.

Control Channel Presets

If you find that you’re constantly making the same sort of adjustment with the same settings on multiple channels, you should consider making a Control Channel Preset. Why fight the sliders if you already have a preset saved? Figure 4-57 shows one preset already saved named “Skin smoother,” which is a combination of + 17 Brightness, -12 Contrast, -30 Clarity, and -42 Sharpness. This preset will gently lighten and decrease contrast in skin while adding negative Clarity and negative Sharpness. This is useful for smoothing skin tones.

To make a new preset, make the adjustments you want to have in the preset (including the color) and select the New Local Correction Setting option in the flyout menu. When you select it, you’ll be prompted to name and save the preset (also shown in Figure 4-57).

When you save a preset in the Adjustment Brush, the exact same preset will also be available in the Graduated Filter menu, which is a duplicate of this flyout menu. So, what you create in one tool option is available in both.

The Paint Brush Sizing

Camera Raw’s brushes are not a fixed pixel size; they are a relative size based on the pixel dimensions of your image. Thus, a size setting of 100 will be the maximum allowed size based on your image. Setting the size to 50 will be 50% of the maximum and so forth until you get to the smallest size. Figure 4-58 shows the relative sizing based on the maximum and minimum for this image.

Brush Feather

Not unlike Photoshop’s brushes, you can change the softness and hardness of a brush. Remember that what you are painting is the mask not the adjustment. The brush cursor indicates the current softness by showing an inner more solid line (where the dab will be applied at the full amount of the Flow/Density setting) and an outer circle where the dab drops off to nothing. Figure 4-59 shows different amounts of feather.

Brush Flow

The Brush Flow modifies how strong the mask will be applied and the resulting buildup of strokes. A low Flow allows you to sneak up on the strength of the resulting effect. So, you can adjust the control parameters to be stronger and then gently apply the effect by using a lower Flow setting and more strokes. Figure 4-60 shows the subtlety of various Flow settings.

Density vs. Flow

While both Density and Flow will modify the opacity of the resulting painted mask, they do so in a different manner. Flow modifies the gentle buildup of strokes; Density sets a maximum threshold of opacity for those strokes. Figure 4-61 shows the difference.

As you can see, a reduced Flow at full Density will result in a buildup in those areas where the strokes overlap. With a Density setting of 50, the maximum density of the resulting strokes will be limited to 50. So, in use, when you’re trying to build up an effect, and you do want the overlap to build up, you would use a higher Density with a lower Flow. Where you want to paint in an area that needs a specific mask opacity, the Flow matters less than the threshold set in Density.

Brush stroke and Mask relationship

When you paint a stroke, a pin is added and you’ll see the results of the current control parameters. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where you have and haven’t painted, so you can use the Show Mask toggle or hover the brush cursor over the pin; either will make the mask visible. Figure 4-62 shows a stroke and the stroke’s mask.

There are options to adjust the color and how the mask is previewed. Clicking on the mask color options brings up a Color Picker that allows you to choose the color that the mask will be shown in and whether the preview will be of the Affected or Unaffected areas. Figure 4-63 shows the mask color options.

Erasing the Mask

After the mask has been painted in, you can go back into the mask and, while holding the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key, “unpaint” or erase the mask. Figure 4-64 shows erasing a smaller part of the center of the existing paint stroke.

Auto Mask

When you use the Auto Mask option while painting, the mask is generated based on the color and tone of the image area under the center of the cursor when painting is started. This allows you to paint in an area and automatically have the mask set to the shape of the object you paint into. Figure 4-65 shows an example of an area with an Auto Mask.

The trick is to make sure the center of the brush cursor remains inside the area where you want the mask to be painted. Note that the Auto Mask option works when erasing a mask, so if you go over an area a bit, you can use it to help erase the over paint.

The Graduated Filter

Using the same set of control channels as the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter allows you to draw out a gradation over which the adjustments are applied. Figure 4-66 shows a diagram of the parts.

The diagram shows you some elements that would not be visible at the same time. For demonstration purposes, we’ve included the cursor icons for rotate, move and adjust all in one figure. Normally, you would only see a single cursor.

As you do with the Adjustment Brush, you choose single or multiple controls to adjust and then drag out a gradation over which the adjustments will be applied. Rather than the pins of the Adjustment Brush, a Graduated Filter displays lines where green always indicates the starting point and red indicates the ending point. While it’s tempting to place many different adjustment filters, doing so will slow down Camera Raw. Each Graduated Filter along with the parameters are stored as metadata in the file or sidecar file. So this is also a nondestructive edit. Ideally, if you need multiple adjustments, deploy as many adjustments in a single filter as you can.

The example in Figure 4-67 shows how to use the Graduated Filter and the Adjustment Brush combined to optimize an image’s tone and color. Figure 4-67 shows the image before and after the adjustments.

As you can see, Camera Raw 5 with local adjustments can be used to substantially improve your image. Figures 4-68a through 4-68d show step by step how the Graduated Filter and Adjustment Brush tools were combined to do the adjustments.

When combining the Adjustment Brush and Graduated Filter, there is no function that currently allows you to use the brush tool on a gradient. So, if a Graduated Filter darkens an object too much, you’ll need to use an Adjustment Brush to bring back the color or tonality that the filter over-corrected. This was done to the clouds in the sky (Figures 4-68a and 4-68b) that were darkened too much when the Graduated Filter darkened the sky. You should also be prepared to go back to various adjustment panels to make global corrections where needed. To give you an idea of the time it took to do this series of adjustments, it took about 10 minutes after the global adjustments were made.

Some people may wonder why the local adjustments can’t be used to create templates. At this point in time, you can move a Graduated Filter to fine-tune for image-by-image variation, but the Adjustment Brushes can’t. Thus, the usefulness of applying local adjustments can’t really be easily applied to multiple images. You can, however, use the local adjustments when syncing multiple images. Figure 4-69 shows the steps to sync local adjustments.

The selected image had an Adjustment Brush with the settings of -100 Saturation to completely desaturate the background and another to increase the saturation of the eye. After selecting all five images, the Synchronize button was clicked to bring up the Synchronize dialog box with Local Adjustments selected. This synced all the images with the local adjustments, which worked well because the image was shot using a tripod with no movement between shots.

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