Interpreting Raw Images
In this chapter, we'll look at the Camera Raw controls in detail. Camera Raw starts working as soon as you point the file browser at a folder full of raw images, creating thumbnails and previews, but its real power is in the degree of control and flexibility it offers in converting raw images to RGB.
Bear in mind as you go through this fairly lengthy chapter that, while Camera Raw allows you to make painstaking edits on every image, it doesn't force you to do so! Unless you're being paid by the hour, you'll want to take advantage of Camera Raw's ability to let you save custom settings and subsets of settings, and the File Browser's ability to let you apply those saved settings to multiple images without actually opening them in Camera Raw.
But before you can run, you have to learn to walk, and before you can batch-process images with Camera Raw, you need to learn to deal with them one at a time. If raw files are digital negatives, Camera Raw is the digital darkroom that offers all the tools you need to put your own unique interpretation on those digital negatives.
Like negatives, raw files are simply a starting point. The tools in Camera Raw offer much more control over the interpretation of the raw file than any wet darkroom. At first, the sheer number of options may seem overwhelming, but they're presented in a logical order, and you can master them in a fraction of the time it takes to learn traditional darkroom skills.
Camera Raw Anatomy
Camera Raw opens automatically whenever you open a raw image. In addition to the static elements—the Tool palette, the histogram, the RGB readout, the rotate controls—it offers two sets of controls; one static workflow set that is "sticky" (the settings remain unchanged unless and until you change them) and another dynamic image-specific set that changes depending on which tab is currently selected (see Figure 3-1).
Figure 3-1 Camera Raw controls
The static elements include the Tool palette, the Zoom menu, the Preview toggle, the main OK and Cancel buttons, the Basic and Advanced radio buttons that let you toggle between Basic and Advanced modes, a live histogram that shows the conversion that the current settings will produce, and a Settings menu that lets you load and save settings. See Figure 3-2.
Figure 3-2 Camera Raw static elements
The workflow controls govern the kind of output Camera Raw will produce—they let you choose the color space, bit depth, size, and resolution of converted images. See Figure 3-3.
Figure 3-3 Camera Raw workflow controls
The image controls, which apply to individual images, appear immediately below the Settings menu. In Basic mode, Camera Raw offers two separate panels, Adjust and Detail, each with its own set of controls. In Advanced mode, two additional panels, Lens and Calibrate, become available, with more controls. See Figure 3-4.
Figure 3-4 Camera Raw image controls