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Using Adobe Camera Raw

To open your image in Adobe Camera Raw from the Organizer, select the image’s thumbnail in the Media Browser and then click the Fix tab. Click Edit Photos. Elements will open the Editor and then open your image in Adobe Camera Raw. If you are already in the Editor, choose File > Open and then double-click the raw file you want to use.

The Camera Raw adjustment tools

There are three tabs on the right side of the Adobe Camera Raw interface. Each one contains a variety of controls that enable you to make specific adjustments to your image. You will probably do most of your work in the Basic tab (Figure 4.1).

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1. The Basic tab is where you will spend most of your time in Camera Raw.

The Basic tab

A raw image file contains no adjustments when it comes out of your camera. It does, however, contain the metadata that stores the camera settings used to create the image. This includes things like aperture, ISO, and shutter speed settings. It also has the camera’s white balance information, which is what shows up in the White Balance control.

Getting Those Colors Right

The default White Balance setting is As Shot, but you can change that to several different presets, just as you would on your camera. Included in the list of presets are Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Flash, and Custom (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2. Click the White Balance drop-down to find a better white balance or change the look of your photo.

Selecting one of these presets will change the Temperature and Tint settings of the image to a preset value. If you do this manually by using one of the sliders below the White Balance presets, the White Balance setting will be set to Custom. If you have something in your image that is neutral in color, you can click on it with the White Balance tool and automatically adjust the white balance. This is also helpful if you have included a white balance card in one of your images.

If you have not included a white balance card in your image, start with a preset that closely matches the light that your photo was taken in. If it still needs a little adjusting, fine-tune it with the Temperature slider until it looks right. The goal of this adjustment is to remove any color cast in your image and make the colors look like they should.

Making tonal corrections with the Exposure slider

Once you have adjusted the image’s white balance, it’s time to start correcting the overall brightness and darkness. A good reference for what to adjust can be found in the histogram in the upper-right corner of your screen. A histogram is a graphical representation of the tones in your photo, with the darkest areas on the left and the brightest parts on the right. If your image is overexposed or has areas that are so bright that they will appear as white and have no visual information, the histogram will have a spike on the right side. If there is a lot of black in the photo, the histogram will have a large spike on the left side. The key is to make sure that you have good tones throughout the image and that the blacks and whites are as accurate as possible. The easiest way to do this is by adjusting the Exposure sider.

If you need to make overall adjustments to the image brightness, you can do this by moving the Exposure slider, which has a default setting of zero. The adjustments are related to stops in exposure value. You can make the image four stops brighter by moving the slider to the right, or four stops darker by moving it to the left.

Saving Your Highlights With The Recovery Tool

The Recovery slider is an amazing tool for fixing those areas in your photo that are too bright without having to make the rest of the image darker. As you move the Recovery slider to the right, the brightest parts of the photo will get darker and darker. The best way to use this tool is to watch the highlight clipping warning in the histogram. You can continue moving the Recovery slider to the right until the warning disappears. An easier way to do this is to click the highlight warning triangle and then move the Recovery slider to the right until the red overlay on the image disappears.

Seeing In The Shadows With The Fill Light Slider

If you have the opposite problem of too many dark areas with no detail, you can try using the Fill Light slider. Moving this slider to the right will lighten the darkest parts of your image without affecting the highlights. The slider can be adjusted to a setting of 100, but it usually isn’t necessary to go more than 20 points to fix most problems.

Better-Looking Blacks

As indicated earlier, raw images have no adjustments coming out of the camera, but they all need some corrections to make them look better. That’s why the Blacks slider has a default setting of 5. This setting does a couple of things. First, it adds a little contrast to the image by raising the blackest part of the image. Second, it adds some saturation to colors. When you increase the black level, you are setting a new point for which tones will appear black in the image. The higher the number, the darker your shadows will appear. The Blacks slider does not have much effect on the middle or brightest tones in the image.

Fine-Tuning Your Tonal Brightness

The Brightness slider is a lot like the Exposure slider in that it can make the image look darker or brighter. The difference is that the Exposure slider can clip the highlights or shadows, but when you move the Brightness slider to the right, it compresses the tones in the brightest parts while expanding the shadows.

The best way to use this slider is to first make your other tonal adjustments (Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, and Blacks) and then adjust the Brightness slider as needed. It might be necessary to go back and make some minor adjustments to the other tonal sliders after adjusting the Brightness slider.

Adjusting Image Contrast

The Contrast slider is set to 25 by default, and moving it to the right will increase contrast in your image. A contrast increase means that you will have an increase in the middle tones of the image, making them either darker or lighter. By lowering the adjustment (moving the slider to the left), you increase the middle tones by making dark areas lighter and light areas darker.

Adding Some Visual Punch With The Clarity Slider

Of all the sliders in the Camera Raw interface, the one that I always use is Clarity. This adjustment adds contrast to the midtones in a way that can punch up a dull image or soften one that looks too crisp. The default setting for this adjustment is zero, and moving it to the right will increase midtone contrast and make things look more crisp and snappy. Moving the slider into the negative numbers will decrease the midtone contrast and give things a softer look. This is a great way to improve the skin tones in a portrait. The best way to make the adjustments is to zoom your image to a 100% view so that you can better judge the effects of the slider.

Brightening Dull Colors

The Vibrance slider is there to let you make adjustments to the less colorful parts of your image. By moving the slider to the right, the saturation of less colorful areas is increased without affecting the already saturated areas. The algorithm that controls the adjustment was written so that skin tones are not as affected by the increase of saturation. You can also get a more subtle palette of colors by reducing the vibrance of the image.

From Black And White To Crazy Colors

If you want to give a boost to all the colors in your image, use the Saturation slider. Moving it to the right will increase the saturation of all colors in the image. Moving it to the left will decrease saturation all the way to the point of looking like a black and white image.

The Detail Tab

The Detail tab contains two sections for improving your image. Every raw image needs some level of image sharpening and even noise reduction. Even if you are going to do additional work in the Elements Editor, it’s still a good idea to spend a little time in this tab to make sure you are getting the best possible details in your photo (Figure 4.4).

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4. Be sure to zoom in to 100% whenever you sharpen or reduce noise.

All Raw Files Need Sharpening

When you click the Detail tab, you will see that some base sharpening has already been applied to your photo. That’s because raw images do not have sharpening added by the camera, like JPEGs do, so Camera Raw adds a little bit to get you started. I prefer to sharpen my images twice during my workflow: the first time in Camera Raw and then once again in the Editor.

The first thing you should do is zoom in to a 100% view so that you can see the precise results of your sharpening efforts. Then, raise the Amount slider to a level that provides good detail to sharp edges in the image. The goal of sharpening is to make the edges look better without affecting the things that shouldn’t be sharp, like the sky or skin or a flat surface. Typically, you will get the best results with the Amount slider somewhere between 50 and 100.

The Radius slider controls how much the sharpening extends out from the edges. The default setting is 1, and I leave it set there most of the time. If you have an image that looks sort of fuzzy, you can try raising this a little bit, but be careful not to go overboard.

The Details slider is set to 25 by default, and that is generally where I leave it. It can be raised if you want to increase small details, like intricate lines. When using this slider, be mindful of avoiding halos. Go too high on the Details slider and you will get contrast lines around your edges that can look like glowing halos. If you start seeing them, lower the Details slider until they go away.

The final slider in the Sharpening section is called Masking, and it is one of my favorites. It allows you to mask out or restrict the sharpening to only the edge areas of the image, while avoiding surfaces. Using the slider is as simple as moving it to the right, but it can be difficult to see the results, which is why I prefer to use a visual helper. Hold down the Alt (Option) key while dragging the slider, and a black and white mask will appear on the image in the preview window. At first, the window will appear completely white, but as you move the slider to the right you will see portions of the image turn black (Figure 4.5). Keep moving the slider until just the edges that you want sharpened are white and everything else is black.

If you aren’t sure where to start with your Sharpening settings, try these: Amount 70, Radius 1.0, Detail 30, and Masking 70. Now move the sliders and fine-tune for your image. The important thing here is that you don’t over-sharpen your photos. A sharp image with good details is great, but one that is over-sharpened will stick out like a sore thumb.

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5. Hold down the Alt (Option) key when adjusting the sharpen mask to see only the areas you are masking.

Taming The Noise

Sometimes it’s necessary to shoot with a high ISO even though you know it will add digital noise to your image. When this happens, you can turn to the Noise Reduction sliders to help eliminate the problem. There are just two sliders in this section, Luminance and Color. Most noise you will encounter can be handled by adjusting the Luminance slider. All that’s required is to move the slider to the right until the noise in your image is gone. Too much noise reduction can make your picture look soft, though, so don’t overdo it. You might find that you need to readjust your Sharpening settings after applying noise reduction, but you can also add some sharpness back into the image once it is in the Editor.

The Color slider is set to a default of 25 and rarely needs to be adjusted. If you are still seeing small multicolored specks in your image, move the Color slider to the right until they are gone.

The Camera Calibration Tab

Have you ever looked at the image on your camera’s LCD screen and thought, “Wow, this looks great!” and then when you get it in your computer it’s a little disappointing? You have probably experienced this if you shoot raw, because the image you see on your camera is a JPEG that has been corrected and enhanced by the camera. But since you are working with a raw file, all of that is stripped away once you open it in the computer. A quick way to add back some of that pizzazz is to select a new camera profile from the Camera Calibration tab.

Improving Your Image With Camera Profiles

Camera profiles are settings that attempt to match the camera manufacturer’s colors in different shooting scenarios. The Adobe Standard profile is the default setting for all raw files. It is fairly generic and treats all raw files the same way no matter which camera produced them. It is simply a base enhancement to improve color rendering in the yellows, reds, and oranges of your image.

The camera profiles are specific to your camera and often contain choices such as Camera Standard, Landscape, Vivid, Portrait, and Neutral, but they might be slightly different for your camera make and model (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6. Camera profiles can dramatically change the look of your image.

Using the profiles is as easy as selecting a new profile from the drop-down menu. You will get an instant preview in the main preview window. Press the P key to toggle between before and after views.

There’s no way of knowing which profile will look best, so it’s best to try them all. I find I get the best results with the Landscape and Vivid profiles. They can be a little contrasty, though, so I don’t necessarily use them all the time. It depends on the subject.

A Few Handy Tools

We have covered most of the image adjustment features in ACR, but there are some tools you should know about that will help make your editing easier. There is a toolbar at the top left of the ACR window. It contains the Zoom, Hand, Eyedropper, Crop, Straighten, Red Eye Removal, Preferences, and Rotate Image tools. Let’s take a quick look at each of these tools and their specific functions (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7. The Camera Raw toolbar is in the upper-left corner of the workspace.

Zoom, Zoom

The Zoom tool’s icon looks like a magnifying glass. Click it to select it, and then click on your image to zoom in. You can also click and drag to zoom in to a specific location. Holding down the Alt (Option) key while clicking will zoom back out of the image. If you double-click the Zoom tool icon, the magnification will be set to 100%.

The Helping Hand

The Hand tool allows you to move around the image when it is zoomed in. This can be handy when you are working at 100% and want to check your processing on different parts of the image. If you double-click the Hand tool icon, the image will zoom out to fit in the screen.

Better Color In A Click

To get an accurate white balance in your image, especially if you have included a white balance card in your shot, you will want to use the Eyedropper tool (Figure 4.8). Its purpose is to set whatever color it is clicked on to neutral, which should then correct all the other colors in the image. It works better on medium to dark gray areas, so clicking something that is white or black may not render the desired results. For the most accurate white balance, you should take a photo of a neutral white balance card during your shoot to use as reference. In a pinch, you can grab a shot of some warm asphalt to use as a gray point for balancing your other photos.

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8. The White Balance option can quickly correct colors when used with a white balance card.

Crop The Unwanted

The Crop tool functions very much like the Crop tool that we covered in Chapter 3. Just select the tool, and then click and drag a new crop. Adjust the crop window by dragging the corners. If you want to size the crop to a predetermined aspect ratio, click and hold the Crop tool icon in the toolbar. A drop-down menu will appear with several aspect ratios to choose from, as well as an option to clear the crop altogether. There’s also an option to turn on the crop overlay, which will put rule-of-thirds guide marks on top of your crop window to help with the composition.

Draw A Line To Straighten Things Up

If your image contains vertical or horizontal lines, such as those in a building or the horizon, that you want to use as a guide for straightening, you can click the Straighten tool. Then simply click one edge of the straight line, drag across to the other end of your straight object, and let go (Figure 4.9). The image will automatically be straightened to the line you drew, as well as cropped to keep it squared up. Once you use it, you will instantly see what I am talking about.

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9. If you have straight lines that are supposed to be 90 or 180 degrees, you can use the Straighten tool to correct the angle.

Get The Red Out

The Red Eye Removal tool is another easy fix for an annoying problem. Just as you did with the Red Eye Removal tool in Chapter 3, select the tool, draw a box over the red eye, and watch it disappear. Everything should be so easy.

What’s Your Preference?

There aren’t too many preferences that you need to worry about in Adobe Camera Raw, but one thing you might consider is the Default Image Settings section. It contains three check boxes that let you apply some defaults when images are opened in the program (Figure 4.10). The “Apply auto tone adjustments” check box will automatically apply tone adjustments to every image that is opened. The other two check boxes relate to the defaults that are set in the Defaults menu. You can assign default settings to a specific camera serial number so that every time a raw file is opened from a particular camera, a set of default adjustments is applied. You can also do this for a specific ISO setting. This would be handy for setting default noise reduction for any image that was captured with an ISO of 1600, for example.

Figure 4.10

Figure 4.10. The Camera Raw Preferences dialog.

Rotate (Left And Right)

Many of today’s cameras have the ability to auto-rotate an image file depending on the orientation of the camera at the time the photo was taken. This rotation data is embedded in the metadata and then read by the software so that the image can be rotated to its appropriate orientation during viewing and editing. If, however, this is not the case with your camera, and your vertical images are displaying in a landscape orientation, you can click one of the Rotate Image tools to rotate 90 degrees to the left or right. It’s not a necessity to do this, but I certainly find it easier to work on my images when they are facing the right way.

The Defaults Menu

In the Camera Raw interface, just to the right of the tabs title bar, is a small icon that lets you access the Defaults menu. When you click this icon, a pop-up menu appears with options that allow you to revert to the Camera Raw default settings, to the previous conversion settings, or even to custom settings. You can also create a new Camera Raw default for use with future images.

Creating A Camera Raw Default

  1. Open an image in Adobe Camera Raw.
  2. Make all the adjustments that you want to apply as defaults to future images.
  3. Click the Defaults menu icon, and select Save New Camera Raw Defaults from the pop-up menu (Figure 4.11).
Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11. You can set your current adjustments as new defaults in the Defaults menu.

The next time you open an image in ACR, your new defaults will be applied as a starting point for your processing.

Sometimes it’s nice to set a default that you want to use for a large batch of images but not necessarily for all images for the rest of time. In this instance, you can set a new default and then once you are done with it, go to the Defaults menu and click the Reset Camera Raw Defaults option. This will set everything back to the Adobe defaults.

Working With Multiple Images

Camera Raw is great for working with one image at a time, but you can also open a large group to speed up your workflow. This will allow you to apply adjustments to all of your images at once instead of opening each one individually. I use this feature all the time when I have taken the time to shoot a white balance card and want to apply the same white balance adjustment to all the photos from that shooting session.

Opening Multiple Images In Acr

  1. Go to the Organizer and find the files that you want to use.
  2. Select the images by Control/Command-clicking them or by clicking the first image and then Shift-clicking the last image in the group (Figure 4.12).

    Figure 4.12

    Figure 4.12. To open a group of images in Camera Raw, select them in the Organizer and then click the Edit Photos option.

  3. Go to the Fix tab and click Edit Photos to open the Editor and send the selected images to Camera Raw.
  4. When ACR opens, the images will appear in a filmstrip along the left side of the program. Click one to work on just that image.
  5. To apply the same adjustment to all of the images simultaneously, click one thumbnail to make it the focused image.
  6. Click the Select All button at the top of the filmstrip to activate changes to all of the images in the strip (Figure 4.13).

    Figure 4.13

    Figure 4.13. To make synchronized changes to all your images, click the Select All button at the top of the thumbnail section.

  7. Once you are finished making synchronized adjustments to all the images, click a different thumbnail or use the Control-D (Command-D) keyboard shortcut to deselect the group.

Once you are done with your edits, you have a couple of choices. You can click the Select All button and then click the Open Images button at the lower-right corner of the screen to move all of the images from ACR to the Project Bin in the Editor. If you only want to take some of the images into the Editor, Control/Command-click the thumbnails to select them and then click the Open Images button. If you have only one image selected in ACR, you will notice that the Open Images button reads Open Image (singular), and only the selected image will be opened in the Editor.

Of course, you may have only wanted to work on the images in ACR without actually going to the Editor. If that is the case, click the Done button (in the lower-right corner of the screen), and ACR will save your raw edits and take you back to the Organizer. Notice that the image thumbnails in the Organizer have been updated to reflect the adjustments that you made in ACR.

Opening JPEGs In Camera Raw

You may find that after working with ACR you really enjoy the power and quickness of the edits and want to edit all of your images with it, including JPEGs. Well, you most certainly can do that, but you have to go about it a little differently than you would with raw files.

The default editor for raw images is ACR, so it opens by default when you go to the Editor. This isn’t the case for JPEGs, so you will need to open them differently.

Opening A JPEG In Acr

  1. Open the Editor without opening an image.
  2. Choose File > Open As (Figure 4.14).

    Figure 4.14

    Figure 4.14. To open a JPEG in Camera Raw, go to the File menu in the Editor and select Open As.

  3. Locate the folder that contains the image that you want to open, and then select the file.
  4. Select Camera Raw from the Open As drop-down menu (Figure 4.15).

    Figure 4.15

    Figure 4.15. Be sure to select Camera Raw from the Open As drop-down menu.

  5. Click the Open button.

You will now have access to most of the features in ACR for editing your image. A few things will be different, because of the differences between JPEGs and raw image files.

First, there are no custom camera profiles. Instead, ACR will use the embedded profile in the file. You will also find that there is no longer a large group of white balance options to choose from. When you click the White Balance drop-down menu, you will only see As Shot, Auto, and Custom. You can, however, use the White Balance tool to click-balance your images using a neutral color in the photo, and you can make adjustments using the Temperature and Tint sliders.

Remember that even though you can open a JPEG in ACR, you will have limited results compared to a raw file. JPEGs have much less exposure information and dynamic range than raw files.

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