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Attitude Adjustment: Camera Raw's Adjustment Tools

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Scott Kelby talks about Camera Raw's adjustment tools, including adjusting individual areas of your photo, retouching portraits, using the graduated filter and special effects, and Photoshop killer tips.
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Photo by Scott Kelby

Exposure: 1/160 sec | Focal Length: 165mm | Aperture Value: f/11

When I went searching for songs with the word “adjustment” in them, I quickly found Aerosmith’s “Attitude Adjustment,” which would make this an easy choice for me as an Aerosmith fan, but there’s no real way for you to know if the title I’m referencing up there is actually the one by Aerosmith, or if I secretly went with another song with the exact same title by hip hop artists Trick Trick and Jazze Pha. In iTunes, this song was marked with the Explicit label, so I thought I’d better listen to the free 30-second preview first, because I wanted to make sure I didn’t pick a song whose free preview was too explicit, but while listening to that preview, something very unexpected happened to me that I haven’t gotten over to this very day. The sad truth is that I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I even played it back a couple of times, and I was waiting for naughty words to jump out at me, but I could barely make out anything they said. It just sounded like a bunch of noise. This can only mean one thing—I’m old. I remember playing songs for my parents when I was younger, and I remember my mom saying, “I can’t understand a word they’re saying” and she had that irritated look that only old people who can’t understand a word they’re hearing can get. But this time it was me. Me—that young, cool guy (stop giggling) experiencing my first “old people” moment. I was sad. I just sat there for a moment in stunned silence, and then I said “F&*$ S#!& A@# M*%$#%” and in no time flat, my wife stuck her head in the room and said, “Are you writing rap lyrics again?” At that moment, I felt young again. I jumped up out of my chair, but then I grabbed my back, and yelled “F*%$#% R%^$!” My wife then said, “I can’t understand a word you’re saying.” Peace out!

Dodging, Burning, and Adjusting Individual Areas of Your Photo

One of my favorite features in Camera Raw is the ability to make non-destructive adjustments to individual areas of your photos (Adobe calls this “localized corrections”). The way they’ve added this feature is pretty darn clever, and while it’s different than using a brush in Photoshop, there are some aspects of it that I’ll bet you’ll like better. We’ll start with dodging and burning, but we’ll add more options in as we go.

Step One: First, do all your regular edits to your photo (exposure, recovery, blacks, etc.). Next, click on the Adjustment Brush tool in the toolbar at the top of the Camera Raw window (as shown here) or just press the letter K on your keyboard. When you do this, an Adjustment Brush panel appears on the right side of the window with all the controls for using the Adjustment Brush (seen here). In the example shown here, we want to balance the overall light by darkening (burning) parts of the station (which are getting direct sun), and then brightening (dodging) the entire left side of the station that’s in the shadows. With the Adjustment Brush, you can choose what kind of adjustment you want first, and then you start painting. But the way it works is that you kind of just guess how much of an adjustment you think you’ll want. Then, if after you painted over the area, you think it needs more (or less) of the adjustment, you can just drag the slider (kind of like editing after the fact).

Step Two: We’ll start by lightening the left side of the station. Click on the + (plus sign) button to the right of the Brightness slider, which sets all the other sliders to 0 and increases the amount of Brightness to +25 (clicking the – [minus sign] button to its left zeros everything out, but sets the Brightness to –25). Go ahead and click that + button three more times to increase it to +100, then start painting over the left side of the station (as shown here). As you paint, it brightens the mid-tone areas where you’re painting. Again, you don’t have to know exactly how much lighter you want your exposure, because you can change it after the fact by just moving the Brightness slider (more on this in a moment).

Step Three: Now we want to brighten the front of the train, but we want to control the brightness separately from the left side of the station. The way to do that is to click the New radio button (circled here in red), drag the Brightness slider to 82, then start painting over the left front of the train (shown here). Now, take a look back at the roof where you painted in the previous step. See that white pin on the ceiling? That represents your first adjustment—painting on the ceiling. The green pin on top of the train represents what you’re editing right now—the train. So, if you move the Brightness slider now, it only affects the brightness of the area you painted on the train. If you want to adjust the roof, then you’d click on that white pin, and it will turn green, letting you know that it’s now the area you’re adjusting, and when you move the Brightness slider, it will just affect the roof.

Step Four: Now let’s darken the platform on the right. Click the New button again, then click the – (minus sign) button to the left of Brightness twice, so it zeros all the sliders out, and sets the Brightness to –50. Then, start painting over the right side of the station and, as you do, it starts darkening (burning in) those areas. I just painted over the floor, the tracks on the right side, and the right front and side of the train itself.

Step Five: The –50 amount for the right side of the train station looks a little too dark, so drag the Brightness slider back until it reads –40. This is what I mean about adjusting the amount after the fact. You can do this for any section you painted over—just click on the pin that represents that area, it will turn green to let you know it’s active, then the sliders are automatically set to where you originally set them for that area, so you can make changes.

Step Six: So, how do you know if you’ve really painted over the entire area you wanted to adjust? How do you know whether you’ve missed a spot? Well, if you turn on the Show Mask checkbox near the bottom of the panel, it puts a red tint over the area you painted (as seen here), so you can see if you missed anything (you can change the color of the mask overlay by clicking on the color swatch to the right of the checkbox). If you don’t want this on all the time, you can just hover your cursor over any pin and it will temporarily show the masked area for that pin. Now that you know where you painted, you can go back and paint over any areas you missed.

Step Seven: Now, let’s unlock a little more of the power of the Adjustment Brush. The sky behind the train looks pretty much white (rather than blue), so click the New button, then click the – (minus sign) button to the left of Exposure four times to darken the highlights a lot. Also, make sure the Auto Mask check-box is turned on (at the bottom of the panel). Now you won’t have to worry too much about accidentally painting over the train, because it senses where the edges of what you’re painting over are (based on color), and it helps to keep you from spilling paint outside the area you’re trying to affect. The key is to make sure the little crosshair in the center of the brush doesn’t touch any areas you don’t want it to paint, so paint over just the sky with the Exposure set to –2, and as long as you don’t let that crosshair touch anything but sky, it’ll paint over just the sky.

Step Eight: Let’s go ahead and paint over the rest of the sky (but I would probably shrink the brush size a little bit to get into those tighter areas). Remember, it’s okay if the edges of the brush extend onto the roof and the train, and so on—just don’t let that center crosshair touch any of those areas. Besides just brightening and darkening areas (dodging and burning), I think one of the slickest things about the Adjustment Brush is that you can add other adjustments, like Clarity or Sharpness, over just the areas you want them. For example, drag the Brightness slider to –13 to darken up the sky a bit more, then drag the Saturation slider to the right to around +27 to add more blue to the sky (as seen here. For multiple adjustments, you have to drag the sliders, not click the + or - buttons). These are added to your original Exposure adjustment.

Step Nine: If you want to change the color of the sky (your currently active area), then click directly on the Color swatch (just below the Sharpness slider) and a Color Picker appears (seen here). Just click your cursor on the color you want (I clicked on a sky-blue color), and it adds this tint to your selected area, which in this case adds more blue into the sky. You can adjust the color’s intensity with the Saturation slider at the bottom of the Color Picker.

Step 10: Now that we have a few pins in place, let’s switch to a different pin and tweak that area. Click on the pin on the roof on the left side of the station. Now raise the Clarity amount to +75, and increase the Sharpness amount to +36.

Step 11: If you make a mistake (like a spillover), and accidentally paint over an area you didn’t mean to paint over, you can erase the spillover by either clicking on the Erase radio button at the top of the panel and then painting over those areas, or just pressing-and-holding the Option (PC: Alt) key, which temporarily switches the brush to Erase mode. For example, I moved my cursor over the pin on the train to check how my painting went, and when the red mask appeared, I could see that I accidentally painted over the top of the train a bit, so I clicked on that pin, then held the Option key and painted over that area (as shown here) until the spillover was gone.

Step 12: Here are a couple of other things about the Adjustment Brush you’ll want to know: The Feather slider controls how soft the brush edges are—the higher the number, the softer the brush (I paint with a soft brush about 90% of the time). For a hard-edged brush, set the Feather slider to 0. The Flow slider controls the amount of paint that comes out of the brush (I leave the Flow set at 50 most of the time).

Below is a before/after, which shows how useful dodging and burning with the Adjustment Brush can be.

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