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Synchronizing Edits in Adobe Camera Raw

A great time-saver in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and Lightroom is the ability to take the adjustments made to one photo and apply them to similar shots with a few clicks. Dan Moughamian, contributor to Adobe Digital Imaging How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques for Photoshop CS5, Lightroom 3, and Camera Raw 6, shows you how to quickly apply a series of edits to multiple shots. This and related tips are also covered in the book (Tips: 23, 24, and 38).
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To start, the first thing we need is two or more images with similar lighting and colors so we can synchronize the settings and give them a consistent look. If you want to synchronize edits at a specific set of image coordinates (for example, removing recurring dust or water spots with the Spot Removal tool), make sure you’re using shots with the same initial resolution, crop, and orientation as well.

Using Bridge CS5, decide on the photos you’d like to edit together, select their thumbnails in the Content panel, and right-click to view the context menu. Choose Open in Camera Raw; this will open all of the images into ACR at the same time. Those images will appear along the left edge of the ACR Window, as seen in Figure 1. Here, because one of the shots uses a portrait orientation, Spot Removals and Adjustment Brush edits will not be synchronized.

Figure 1 You can open multiple images at the same time in ACR by selecting a series of thumbnails in Bridge CS5, right-clicking, and choosing Open in Camera Raw.

Next, click the thumbnail of the photo that will serve as the basis for your synchronized edits, and enlarge the main preview as needed. From this point, you can work in ACR as you normally do, applying changes from the following panels until you achieve the look you want: Basic, Tone Curve, Detail, HSL/Grayscale, Split Toning, and Effects. You can also synchronize edits from the Lens Correction and Camera Calibration panels, but be aware that if you used a different camera or lens for any of the shots you chose, you may get different results.

Typically I apply cropping, straightening, spot removals, brushed adjustments, and lens corrections image by image, to ensure that the finished result is as accurate as possible. The same was done with the three images used in this article, with the exception of the Lens Profile Correction, because I used the same lens and camera combo for all three shots. I will also handle the Noise Reduction and Sharpening edits in the Detail panel separately, if I know the ISO values are different.

Once your edits are complete, you should have one image that looks much better than the other thumbnails. Click the Select All button in the ACR window (top left) to highlight the remaining thumbnails, then click the Synchronize button. This opens the Synchronize dialog (Figure 2).

Figure 2 Once your edits are complete, you can select all of your images in the ACR session and open the Synchronize dialog.

From this point, make sure that any of the edits you want synchronized are checked, and that any you wish to handle individually are unchecked. If you know you want to use only one panel’s edit values, use the pop-up menu at the top of the Synchronize dialog and select that panel option. When you’re finished, your Synchronize dialog should look something like the one shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 Customize the Synchronize dialog to include only the edits you wish to apply to all of the images in a series.

When finished, click OK; all of the edits will be applied to the images you opened in ACR. Note that the appearance of the thumbnails changes to let you know when your edits have been applied, as shown in Figure 4. If needed, you can click each thumbnail to see a larger preview and verify that the applied edits work equally well with the synchronized images.

Sometimes this can help you to identify small areas that need additional adjustment such as Clarity detail or Vibrance. Note that once you’ve applied the changes, when you switch back to Bridge CS5 the previews and thumbnails in those applications will be updated as well.

Figure 4 Once the edits have been synchronized, in many cases (especially when exposure and/or color has been modified) you should see the difference right away in the thumbnails.

The beauty of this feature is that you can maintain the quality of your edits as well as save yourself a lot of time. This is especially true when you have dozens of select portraits or other subjects that were shot under the same controlled lighting conditions, and you need to spruce all of them up so your client or other interested parties can help you choose the best ones. Give it a shot!

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