Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Photoshop

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Using Camera Raw

The Camera Raw support in Photoshop is enabled by a plug-in (essentially an application that runs inside Photoshop). With Camera Raw you can import and develop raw files, and then pass them on to Adobe Photoshop. Camera Raw is designed to work with the native files recorded by many cameras.

A Camera Raw file contains unprocessed and uncompressed data, as captured by the digital camera’s image sensor. These native files contain much more color and exposure information than a JPEG or TIFF file. The camera also includes metadata, such as white balance, exposure, and more, specifying how that information should be treated.

Opening a Raw File

To process a raw file, you’ll need to open it with Photoshop Camera Raw. Essentially, you need to develop the file, deciding during the editing stages which information to include. The Camera Raw software interprets the metadata and raw file information to generate a new image.

The good news is that adjustments you make to a raw file are all stored as metadata. The adjustments essentially reprocess the raw file data. The Camera Raw plug-in writes to a sidecar file, which contains instructions on how to treat the raw data. In fact, you can have multiple sidecar settings for each raw image.

Let’s try opening a file.

  1. Close any open files, and then choose File > Open.
  2. Navigate to the Chapter 10 folder and select Ch10_Mountain.NEF. Do not open the file yet.

    You can choose more than one file at a time to process with the Camera Raw dialog box.

  3. Hold down the Command (Ctrl) key and select the Ch10_Recover_Raw.NEF file.
  4. Click the Open button to open both images into the Camera Raw window.

    Now that you have something to look at, let’s take a quick look at the dialog box and its controls.

An Overview of the Camera Raw Dialog Box

At first glance, the Camera Raw dialog box can be a little overwhelming. It’s okay to feel this way, because there truly are a lot of sliders and tabs. What you’ll find, however, is that the controls are fairly intuitive and very powerful. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find:

  1. Filmstrip. If you select more than a single image to open, the images will display here. It is possible to apply star rankings to images in the Filmstrip. You can also synchronize the settings between multiple clips. Just adjust one image, select similar images, and then click the Synchronize button.
  2. Toggle Filmstrip. If you don’t want to see the Filmstrip, just double-click the bar. You can also drag to resize the preview thumbnails.
  3. Camera name or file format. The camera name and model appears at the top of the window so you know more about the file.
  4. Toggle full-screen mode. It is possible to maximize the Camera Raw window to see more details and a larger interface. Click to toggle between the larger and default view.
  5. Image adjustment tabs. There are ten tabs in total for controlling the development of Camera Raw files. More on these in the next section.
  6. Histogram. The Histogram displays the tonal range of the developing image. The left edge shows the shadows, whereas the right shows the highlights.
  7. Camera Raw Settings menu. Click this submenu to access controls for saving and loading custom settings.
  8. Zoom levels. You can adjust the magnification level of the image. The most accurate view is 100%, but you’ll likely choose to zoom out to see the entire image in full.
  9. Workflow options. You can specify how images should be saved from Camera Raw and how they should be opened in Photoshop. Clicking the blue hyperlinked text lets you choose a color mode, bit depth, file size, and resolution.
  10. Navigation arrows. Let you switch between multiple images. These work well if the Filmstrip is hidden.
  11. Adjustment sliders. For each adjustment tab, you’ll find a set of sliders. These controls are essential for developing the image.

Image Adjustments Tabs

The Camera Raw dialog box offers ten tabs to process your raw files. The tabs are organized by task. Normally, you’ll use only some of the tabs to adjust each image. For learning purposes, let’s take a quick look at each.


The Basic tab lets you make primary adjustments to white balance, color saturation, and tonality. These are the most important controls and the ones you’re most likely to change.

  1. Click the White Balance list and choose Auto to have Camera Raw attempt to automatically adjust white balance.
  2. Let’s set a different white balance. Select the White Balance tool and click on one of the clouds in the sky.
  3. In the Basic controls, click Auto to have Camera Raw analyze the image and make adjustments.
  4. Drag the Exposure slide to +0.35 to brighten the image.

    The image is now brighter, but some of the highlights are too bright.

  5. Drag the Highlights slider to –25 to recover detail in the brightest areas.

    Let’s put a little more color into the image.

  6. Boost the Saturation to +45 to increase the overall color in the shot.
  7. Let’s bring the color in the sky out a bit more. Increase the Vibrance slider to +30 to richen the sky without oversaturating the reds in the photo.

    Now that color is correct, let’s enhance Contrast. The Clarity slider is best for this. To accurately judge clarity, you’ll need to change your view.

  8. Double-click the Zoom tool to switch to 100% magnification.
  9. Drag the Clarity slider to the right slowly. Stop when you start to notice halos near the edge of details.

    Around +45 you should notice a blooming effect; at this point you have too much clarity.

  10. Drag the Clarity slider back to the left until the halos disappear. A value of 30 for this image seems to work well.
  11. Click the Zoom Levels presets list and choose Fit In View.
  12. Toggle the check box for Preview (near the top of the window) to see the before and after states.
  13. Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Tone Curve tab.

Tone Curve

With the Tone Curve, you can fine-tune tonality in an image with controls similar to Photoshop’s Curves adjustment. You can choose to use either a Parametric curve or a Point curve.

  1. In the Tone Curve controls, click the Point tab.
  2. From the Curve presets list, choose Strong Contrast.

    You can also click the curve and make adjustments like the Curves adjustment layer that you learned earlier.

  3. Toggle the check box for Preview (near the top of the window) to see the before and after states.
  4. Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Detail tab.


The Detail tab offers precise control over both sharpening an image as well as reducing noise. All raw images will need some sharpening. Noise, on the other hand, may not appear unless the image was shot with a high ISO setting or under low light.

  1. Double-click the Zoom tool to switch to 100% magnification.

    It’s easiest to accurately judge both sharpening and noise at a 100% view.

  2. In the Detail tab, you can adjust sharpening to bring out fine image details:
    • Amount. Increases definition at the edges of an image. Use a lower amount for a cleaner image. When you open the file, the Camera Raw plug-in calculates the settings to use based on camera model, ISO, and exposure compensation. For this image, enter 35.
    • Radius. Use a low number for fine detail and a higher number if the photo lacks much detail. For this image use a lower number like 1.2 to preserve detail in the rocks.
    • Detail. Controls how much high-frequency information is sharpened in the image and how the edges are emphasized. For this image, try a value of 50 to bring out lots of detail.
    • Masking. Controls the edge of the mask. Using a value of zero means that everything receives the same amount of sharpening. A higher number limits the sharpening to those areas near the strongest edges.

    An easy way to tell how much masking to use is to hold down the Option (Alt) key while dragging. White areas will be sharpened; black areas are ignored (masked). Try this out: Hold down the Option (Alt) key and drag slowly to the right. A value of 50 seems to be the right balance for this image.

  3. Noise reduction controls let you remove extra grain from the image:
    • Luminance. Reduces luminance noise. Set this to 10 for this image (it’s not very noisy).
    • Luminance Detail. Sets a threshold for the noise reduction. Higher values preserve detail but can produce noisier results. Lower values tend to produce cleaner results but likely remove some detail. Use a value of 80 to preserve more details.
    • Luminance Contrast. Works best for very noisy photos. A value of 80 works well for this image.
    • Color. Reduces color noise. The default is fine for this image.
    • Color Detail. Use a higher value to protect detailed edges. A lower value preserves more color but can result in color bleeding. The default is fine for this image.
  4. Toggle the check box for Preview to see the before and after states. This image is very subtly changed.
  5. Click the Zoom Levels presets list and choose Fit In View.
  6. Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the HSL/Grayscale tab.


The HSL/Grayscale tab offers fine-tuning controls for Hue, Saturation, and Luminance adjustments. The most typical use of this tab is to target a particular color or tone that needs emphasis.

  1. Select the Saturation tab.


  2. Drag the Red slider to the left to deemphasize the Red tones.

    Try a value of –10 for this image.

  3. Drag the Blue slider to the right to boost the sky further.

    Try a value of +25 for this image.



    The image on the top is prior to adjustments. On the bottom, the increased saturation comes through.

  4. Switch to the Luminance tab to change the brightness of a color range.
  5. Enter a value of +15 for both the Red and Orange sliders to lighten the rocky areas of the mountain.
  6. Toggle the check box for Preview to see the before and after states.
  7. Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Split Toning tab.

Split Toning

The Split Toning controls are used when you want to color a grayscale image. It only works if you select the Convert To Grayscale in the HSL/Grayscale tab or work with a grayscale image.

Click the Lens Corrections tab.

Lens Corrections

The Lens Corrections tab attempts to compensate for defects in lens technology. The first tab lets you automatically compensate for any physical distortion based on a lens profile.

  1. Click the option for the Enable Lens Profile Corrections.

    Photoshop automatically removes some of the wide-angle distortion from the image. You can refine the adjustment using the third tab (Manual).

  2. At the bottom, you can adjust for lens vignetting. This lets you compensate for shadows caused by the lens or hood.
  3. Click the second tab (Color) to adjust for common problems like chromatic aberration.

    This particular image suffers from neither issue. Chromatic aberration shows as fringing in the color, particularly at the edges of the image. It is easiest to see aberration at 100% magnification.

  4. Click the Effects tab.


The Effects tab can be used to stylize the image. It is used to add photographic imperfections that were more typical with film-based cameras. You can choose to simulate film grain or apply a post crop vignette to the edges.

  1. Double-click the Zoom tool to switch to 100% magnification.

    It’s easiest to accurately judge grain at a 100% view.

  2. Set grain to a value of 15 and a size of 35 to create a filmic type noise in the image.
  3. Click the Zoom Levels presets list and choose Fit In View.
  4. You can use a post crop vignette to stylize the images edges:
    • Style. You’ll find three different options for how the vignette shades the image. The default, Highlight variety, works best for this image.
    • Amount. Use a negative value to darken the edges or a positive to brighten them. For this image, enter –25.
    • Midpoint. Controls how close the vignette appears to the corner of the image. Enter 60 to push out the edges.
    • Roundness. A positive value creates a circular effect, whereas a negative value takes on an oval shape. The default is fine for this image.
    • Feather. Can create a gentler transition between the affected areas. The default is fine for this image.
    • Highlights. If you’re using a very dark vignette, the Highlights slider can be used to protect the brightest tones in your image.
  5. Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Camera Calibration tab.

Camera Calibration

The Camera Calibration tab is used to apply specific profiles to raw images. Typically, you’ll use it to correct for color cast (unwanted spill) in an image. It can also compensate for unwanted behaviors by a camera’s image sensor.

  • Process. The process list lets you choose a decode technique. The newer 2010 process is a significant improvement that ships with Photoshop CS6. If you’re working with raw files you’ve processed with an older decoder, be sure to switch and update the file for greater control and quality.
  • Camera Profile. You’ll find three types of camera profiles. The ACR options are compatible with older versions of Camera Raw. The Adobe Standard option works best for Photoshop CS6. You’ll also find profiles that attempt to match the manufacturer’s presets for shooting modes like neutral, standard, and vivid. In most cases (including this one) Adobe Standard is best.

    Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Presets tab.


If you like a setting you’ve created, you can save it as a preset, which makes it easier to reload in the future. Remember that custom presets can serve as a great starting point (especially if you have several images from the same shoot). To make a preset, just click the pad-shaped button at the bottom of the window.

Make sure the Preview check box is selected, and then click the Snapshots tab.


Another way to store a version of your image is to create a snapshot. Each snapshot is essentially a recording of the image’s current state. You can in fact create multiple snapshots for a raw file and easily switch between them.

Finish the Process

When you are satisfied with the settings you’ve entered into the Adjustment sliders, you can decide what to do with the file. Before you open (or close) the file, you should check a few things.

  1. Click the Workflow Options text at the bottom of the image.
  2. Set the Depth to 16 Bits/Channel for the maximum tonal fidelity.
  3. Set the resolution to 300 pixels per inch.
  4. Select the Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects check box to ensure future ease in readjusting the raw processing.
  5. Click OK to store the settings.
  6. Select the Straighten tool (A).
  7. Drag across the horizon line at the base of the mountain to straighten the image.

    When you release, you’ll see a new crop box drawn on the image. If you need to reset the crop, click the Crop tool in the Tools panel and choose Clear Crop.

  8. You now must choose what to do with the file. Clicking the Done button stores the Camera Raw settings in a sidecar file (or database) without opening the image in Photoshop. For this image, click Open Object to develop the raw file and send it to Photoshop.

A new file opens in Photoshop with the raw file added as a Smart Object.

You can now use any of the adjustment techniques you’ve learned in this chapter. Be sure to save the file as a layered Photoshop or TIFF file. If you need to reprocess the raw file, just double-click its thumbnail in the Layers panel to reopen the image into Camera Raw.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account