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Working in Camera Raw

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In this excerpt from Photoshop CC: Visual QuickStart Guide (2015 release), learn how to use the powerful and wide-ranging controls in the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in to apply corrections to your photos before opening them into Photoshop.
This chapter is from the book

Using the powerful and wide-ranging controls in the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in, you can apply corrections to your photos before opening them into Photoshop. In this comprehensive chapter, you’ll learn about the Camera Raw tools and tabs; choose workflow options for Camera Raw; apply cropping and straightening; and correct photos for defects, such as poor contrast, under-or overexposure, color casts, blurriness, geometric distortion, and noise. You will also learn how to enhance your photos with special effects, such as a vignette, grain texture, or tint; retouch blemishes; access Camera Raw controls from Photoshop; save and synchronize Camera Raw settings among related photos; then finally, open your corrected photos into Photoshop.

Note: The Camera Raw plug-in, which we refer to simply as “Camera Raw,” is included with Photoshop. Some users also refer to the plug-in as “ACR,” short for Adobe Camera Raw.

Why use Camera Raw?

Amateur-level digital cameras store images in the JPEG or TIFF format, whereas advanced amateur and pro models offer the option to save images as raw data files, which offers substantial advantages. Cameras apply internal processing to photos that are captured as JPEG or TIFF, such as sharpening, automatic color adjustments, and a white balance setting. With raw files, you get only the original raw information that the lens captured onto the camera’s digital sensor, leaving you with full control over subsequent image processing and correction.

These are some basic facts about Camera Raw:

  • Camera Raw can process raw, TIFF, and JPEG photos from most digital camera models.
  • Camera Raw offers powerful controls for correcting problems in your photos, such as over- and underexposure and color casts, and for applying enhancements, such as a vignette or a grain texture.
  • Camera Raw saves edits to TIFF and JPEG files in the file itself, whereas edits to raw files are saved as instructions (in a separate “sidecar” file or in the Camera Raw database). When you open a photo from Camera Raw into Photoshop, the instructions are applied to a copy of the file, and the original raw file is preserved.
  • To any image layer in Photoshop, you can apply some Camera Raw features via the Filter > Camera Raw Filter command.

More reasons to use Camera Raw

In case you’re not fully sold on the benefits of correcting your digital photos in Camera Raw before opening them into Photoshop, consider these points:

Ability to preview raw files: The only way to preview a raw photo is in Camera Raw (or other software that converts raw files). Note: The photo that you view on the LCD screen of your digital camera is merely a JPEG preview of the raw capture, not the “actual” raw capture.

Great correction features: Camera Raw offers many unique adjustment controls that you simply won’t find in Photoshop.

Less destructive edits: When applying corrections to a photo, the goal is to preserve as much of the image quality as possible. Adjustments that you make to a photo in Camera Raw (and that are applied automatically when the photo is opened in Photoshop) cause less data loss than similar adjustment commands in Photoshop.

Preserves 16 bits per channel: To preserve more of the original pixel data in a raw photo, Camera Raw keeps the bit depth as 16 bits per channel. This helps offset the data loss from subsequent image edits in Photoshop, and results in a better-quality photo.

Tonal redistribution: The sensor in a digital camera captures and records the existing range of tonal values in a scene as is, in a linear fashion, without skewing the data toward a particular tonal range.A That sounds fine on paper, but the reality is that the human eye is more sensitive to lower light levels than to higher light levels. In other words, we’re more likely to notice if shadow areas lack detail and less likely to notice extra details in highlight areas. The result is that digital photos typically contain more data than necessary for the highlight values in a scene and insufficient data for the lower midtone and shadow values. In a Camera Raw conversion, data is shifted more into the midtone and shadow ranges of your photo. This not only helps compensate for the peculiarities of human vision, but also helps prepare your photos for subsequent image edits in Photoshop.B If you apply tonal adjustments in Photoshop to a photo that contains insufficient shadow data, the result is posterization and a noticeable loss of detail; if you apply the same edits to a good-quality photo that has been converted in Camera Raw, the destructive edits will be far less noticeable.

Superior noise reduction and sharpening: Not to knock Photoshop, but the noise reduction and sharpening features in Camera Raw cause less data loss than similar features in Photoshop.

Learning the Camera Raw features will give you a head start: The tonal and color controls in Camera Raw are similar to many of the adjustment controls in Photoshop (e.g., Levels, Curves, and Hue/Saturation) that are discussed in later chapters. As you proceed through the lessons in this book, you will apply and build on the skills you have mastered in this chapter.

Raw, JPEG, or TIFF?

Unfortunately, Camera Raw can’t correct deficiencies in digital JPEG and TIFF photos as fully as it can in raw photos, for several reasons. First, cameras reduce digital JPEG and TIFF photos to a bit depth of 8 bits per channel, and in so doing discard some of the captured pixels. Cameras save raw photos at a bit depth of 16 bits per channel, and preserve all the captured pixels.

Second, cameras apply color and tonal corrections to JPEGs and TIFFs (called “in-camera” processing). Camera Raw must reinterpret this processed data, with less successful results than when it has access to the raw, unprocessed data.

All of the above notwithstanding, if your camera doesn’t shoot raw photos or you acquire JPEG or TIFF photos from other sources, you can still use practically all of the outstanding correction and adjustment features in Camera Raw to process them.

Note: In this chapter, we focus only on processing raw and JPEG files in Camera Raw — not TIFF files. The JPEG format is mentioned only when a particular feature treats a JPEG differently than a raw file.

  • Factoid: Each digital camera manufacturer creates its own version of a raw file and attaches a different extension to the names of its raw files, such as .nef for Nikon and .crw or .cr2 for Canon.
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