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Using the Basic tab

When you first open a JPEG photo into Camera Raw, all the sliders in the Basic tab are reset to zero automatically, whereas when you open a raw file into Camera Raw, the sliders are set to the default settings for your camera model. The first step is to use the Basic tab to make any needed corrections to the white balance (see the sidebar at right), exposure, contrast, and saturation. For this first round of adjustments, we recommend using the sliders in the order in which they’re listed. The good news is that they cause far less destruction than the adjustment controls in Photoshop do.

As you perform adjustments in the Basic tab, keep your eye on the histogram (in the dialog) so you can monitor how tonal values are being redistributed in the photo. B Red, green, and blue pixels are superimposed upon one another at each tonal level in the graph, with shadow pixels on the left and highlight pixels on the right. The white areas indicate where the three colors overlap.

To apply white balance adjustments using the Basic tab

  1. Click the Basic tab, basic.gif AB and double-click the Hand tool hand_tool.jpg to fit the photo in the preview.
  2. The white balance (color temperature) should be adjusted first, because this setting affects the overall photo. Do either of the following:

    From the White Balance menu, choose a preset that best describes the lighting conditions in which the photo was taken (this is for a raw file only). Choose As Shot at any time to restore the original camera settings.

    To correct the color temperature manually, lower the Temperature value to add blue and make the image cooler, C or raise it to add yellow and make the image warmer. D To fine-tune the temperature correction, move the Tint slider slightly to the left to add green or to the right to add magenta. The listing on the White Balance menu will change to Custom.

To apply tonal adjustments using the Basic tab

  1. When the Camera Raw dialog opens, the tonal sliders in the Basic tab — Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, and Contrast — are set to their default values, and the word “Default” is dimmed. For the heck of it, click Auto to see which settings Camera Raw deems appropriate for your photo. Next, for better results, click Default to restore the default values, and follow the remaining steps.
  2. The histogram reflects the current Camera Raw settings and redraws as you change them. Study the graph to see if any highlight or shadow pixels are being pushed to the edge (are being clipped). Clipping occurs if the tonal range of a scene is wider than the range the camera can capture. Your goal will be to bring the pixels into the range of your chosen RGB color space, in order to minimize clipping. (In our setup, we have chosen the Adobe RGB color space for our camera; we have also chosen it for Camera Raw via the Workflow Options dialog.)
  3. To minimize the clipping of highlight and shadow pixels, do the following:

    In the top left corner of the histogram, click the Shadow Clipping Warning button (U) to display a representation of shadow clipping as blue in the preview. In the top right corner, click the Highlight Clipping Warning button (O) to display highlight clipping as red A (and A, next page). Monitor this display of clipping as you apply corrections to your photo.

    To bring out details in the highlights, use the Exposure and Recovery sliders as a duo. For an overexposed photo, move the Exposure slider to the left and the Recovery slider far to the right until only a trace remains of the red highlight warning color (you can use either the sliders or the scrubby sliders) (B, next page).

    To bring out shadow details, use the Blacks and Fill Light sliders as a duo. For an underexposed photo, move the Fill Light slider slightly to the right. For a raw photo, also move the Blacks slider to the left until only a trace remains of the blue shadow warning color (C, next page).

    To minimize clipping another way, Alt-drag/Option-drag the Exposure and/or Recovery sliders and release the mouse when small amounts of white (representing all three color channels) display in the black preview. Alt-drag/Option-drag the Blacks slider and release the mouse when small amounts of color or black display in the white preview. The color areas represent clipping in those channels.

  4. Optional: Adjust the Brightness to enhance details in the midtones, and the Contrast to increase or decrease contrast (D, next page). Note: For an even better way to adjust the midtones in a photo, see page 72.

Finally, you can use the Clarity slider in the Basic tab to adjust the edge contrast and the Vibrance slider to adjust the color saturation. Note: Although both the Vibrance and Saturation sliders affect color saturation, the latter can cause oversaturation and highlight clipping, whereas the former is much less likely to (move the Saturation slider to the far right, and you’ll see what we mean). Even at a moderately high setting, Vibrance doesn’t cause oversaturation of skin tones.

To adjust edge contrast and color saturation using the Basic tab

  1. To add depth by adjusting the edge contrast in the midtones, increase the Clarity value, or reduce this value if you want to deliberately soften a photo, such as a portrait or landscape.
  2. Adjust the Vibrance value to increase or reduce the color saturation (E, next page).
  3. Turn off the Clipping Warnings by pressing U, then O.
  • To adjust the saturation of specific colors, see pages 74–75.

Correcting An Underexposed Photo


B We raised the Exposure value in the Basic tab to lighten and recover details in the highlights and midtones.

* We also raised the Recovery value to recover some details in the bright, metallic highlights, but left some clipping because we want some of those highlights to remain pure white, with no details.

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