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Enhancing Pictures in Adobe Photoshop CC with the Camera Raw Filter

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One of the most important new features in Photoshop CC is the Camera Raw Filter. This provides the ability to use Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) in a non-destructive workflow, directly from the Filter menu! Photoshop and Lightroom educator Dan Moughamian shows you how easy it is to benefit from the Camera Raw Filter’s powerful tools, using any raster image format that supports Smart Object layers, all right inside Photoshop!

For a long time, Photoshop users have benefitted from the power of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and its image processing algorithms. Whether by reducing noise in high ISO shots with minimal loss of detail, or by precisely shifting a particular range of hues, ACR is the Photoshop user’s best tool for setting a strong foundation with his or her pictures. However, it didn’t take long for people to realize that some of the tools in ACR were (frankly) better than their equivalents in Photoshop’s Image Adjustment arsenal. Example: It can be much easier to apply a precise color edit with Hue, Saturation, and Luminance (HSL) than with the Hue & Saturation adjustment.

The difference is substantial—enough so that many photographers edit their JPEGs or TIFFs in ACR, hoping to reduce the reliance on older Photoshop tools later in the retouching workflow. With the release of Photoshop CC, Adobe has provided a great solution for people who want more precise tonal and color editing, inside the Photoshop workflow. The main difference with the Camera Raw Filter (versus ACR’s raw workflow) is the absence of the Crop & Straighten tools, no Snapshots, and no output options.

Isolating Your Subject

One of the most useful ways to leverage the power of the Camera Raw Filter is to take advantage of the fact that each Smart Filter layer can impact very precise regions in the photo, based on selections or masks that you create. So even if you start in ACR and then move your image into Photoshop CC, only later realizing that you should have added a few more changes at the raw stage, this new filter option has you covered.

For the shot shown in Figure 1, basic White Balance, tone mapping, and Lens Corrections were applied in ACR, along with some noise reduction and modest sharpening. This is an often standard procedure for well-exposed shots that are focused and composed correctly. However, sometimes flaws in an image are noticed after the fact (or maybe the purpose of the image changes, and so certain qualities in the photo must also change).

Figure 1 A shot already processed in ACR can reveal additional changes (later on) that need to be made. The Camera Raw Filter makes that a more precise process now.

Here I noticed a few details that could be improved by using the new Camera Raw Filter:

  • The flower in the foreground could benefit from changes that make it “pop” or stand out from the rest of the plant life more, both in terms of color and lighting.
  • The color in the floating leaves could benefit from some color shifting.

It would be easy enough to shift the color in the flowers by creating a Camera Raw Filter layer and using the HSL panel to work on the reds and orange tones that appear throughout the photo, but this is not ideal. Because the viewer should focus on the foreground flower, it’s better to isolate that area before opening the filter. First I used the Color Range command (Select > Color Range) to isolate the large flower and its reflection (Figure 2).

Figure 2 To isolate your Camera Raw Filter changes, you can either create the Smart Filter layer first and generate a layer mask, or you can start with a good selection.

Next, I duplicated my Background layer and gave the duplicate a new name so that later on, it’s easy to know which area of the photo is being impacted by a particular Camera Raw Filter layer. Once the new layer is ready to go, you’ll need to generate a layer mask from your active selection. With the new layer highlighted, I click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel (third button from the left).

From here you can go to the Filter menu and choose Convert for Smart Filters. This will apply the layer mask to the pixels in the layer, making all unselected pixels transparent. When you open the Camera Raw Filter via the Filter menu (top level) or shortcut (Cmd+Shift+A for Mac, Ctrl+Shift+A for Windows), you will see the transparent pixels in the main preview (see Figure 33).

Figure 3 It can be useful to isolate your pixels ahead of time so that when you open the filter layer in ACR, you only see the pixels that will be affected.

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