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Working in Camera Raw

This chapter is from the book

Using the Basic tab

As its name implies, the Basic tab contains the most essential correction features of Camera Raw — and it displays first, by default, when you open the dialog. We have divided the use of this tab into several tasks, beginning with setting the White Balance, on this page, then proceeding through exposure, contrast, and saturation adjustments, on pages 62–65.

To apply white balance adjustments via the Basic tab:

  1. With a photo open in Camera Raw, click the Basic tab. basic_button.jpg A If the whole photo isn’t visible in the preview, double-click the Hand tool hand_tool_icon.jpg in the toolbox.


    A When a photo is opened for the first time into Camera Raw, the White Balance menu in the Basic tab is set to As Shot. This photo has a high Temperature value and looks too warm (yellowish).

  2. Do either of the following:

    From the White Balance menu, choose a preset that best describes the lighting conditions in which the photo was taken, such as Daylight or Shade. (Choose As Shot, if needed, to restore the original camera settings. Note that only As Shot and Custom are available for JPEG and TIFF files.)

    Lower the Temperature value to add blue and make the image look cooler, B or raise it to add yellow and make the image look warmer.C To fine-tune the temperature correction, move the Tint slider slightly to the left to add a bit of green or to the right to add magenta. (The White Balance menu setting changes to Custom, to indicate that you have chosen manual settings.)


    Click to view larger image

    B We lowered the Temperature value too much. Now the photo looks too cool (has a bluish cast).


    Click to view larger image

    C A Temperature value of 5500 strikes a good balance between warm and cool.

On the histogram in the Camera Raw dialog, the red, green, and blue areas represent the three color channels in a photo, and the white areas represent the areas where those three colors overlap. Clipping, the shifting of tonal values to absolute black or white in a photo, occurs if the tonal range of a scene is wider than the range that can be captured by the camera. You can tell that pixels are clipped in a photo if the vertical bars are primarily clustered in taller peaks at one or both ends of the histogram (shadow pixels on the left, highlight pixels on the right). You can also drag in the histogram to apply tonal adjustments.

As you make slider adjustments in Camera Raw, your goal is to bring the pixels into the range of your chosen RGB color space and minimize clipping. When tonal values are redistributed, the histogram updates accordingly. Note: Remember, we recommended that you choose Adobe RGB as the color space both for your camera (see page 5) and for photos that you open into Camera Raw (see page 56).

To turn on the histogram clipping warnings for the preview:

  • In the top-left corner of the histogram, click the Shadow Clipping Warning button (U);A clipped shadows display in the preview as blue. In the top-right corner, click the Highlight Clipping Warning button (O); clipped highlights display in the preview as red. (When a button is activated, it has a white border.)


    A When we rolled over an area of the histogram, a drag zone appeared, and the corresponding Basic slider name and setting appeared in the info area.

In the two tasks that follow this one, we show you how to use a number of sliders in the Basic tab. Once you learn the function of the sliders, remember that you can also make adjustments by dragging in the histogram, as described here.

To make tonal edits via the histogram:

  1. In Camera Raw, display the Basic tab, basic_button.jpg then roll over the histogram.A As you move the pointer, one of five vertical gray drag zones will appear. The drag zone, as well as the data in the info area below the histogram, corresponds to one of these five sliders: Blacks, Shadows, Exposure, Highlights, or Whites.
  2. Drag horizontally in a drag zone to adjust that tonal range; the corresponding slider will shift accordingly.B


    B When we positioned our pointer within the drag zone for the Shadows range in the histogram, then dragged horizontally, the corresponding Shadows slider in the Basic tab shifted accordingly.

Use the middle batch of sliders in the Basic tab to apply tonal corrections to your photo, preferably in the order listed in the dialog (there’s a logic to their sequence). At first, all the sliders are set to 0 and the underlined word “Default” is dimmed.

To apply exposure and contrast adjustments via the Basic tab:

  1. Turn on the Clipping Warning buttons.
  2. Use the Exposure slider to lighten or darken the entire photo, as needed.
  3. Use the Contrast slider to increase or reduce the color intensity and tonal contrast (A–B, next page).


    Click to view larger image

    A This original photo was underexposed (too dark), causing the colors to look dull. The blue warning color in the preview indicates the shadow areas in the photo that are clipped.


    Click to view larger image

    B Our first goal is to lighten the overall photo and recover details in the midtones and shadows without washing out the highlights. In the Basic tab, we increased the Exposure value,* then increased the Contrast value to intensify the highlights, shadows, and color saturation. We’re not concerned that the photo is still too dark, as it can be lightened with further adjustments.

  4. If you increased the contrast, the highlights and shadows probably now need to be adjusted:

    To restore details in the highlights, move the Highlights slider to the left until only a smidgen remains of the red highlight warning color.

    To restore details in the shadows, move the Shadows slider to the right until only a smidgen remains of the blue shadow warning color.A Or if you need to darken the shadows, move this slider to the left.


    Click to view larger image

    A We reduced the Highlights value to recover details in the sky and increased the Shadows value to recover details in the shadows and lower midtones. The colors and detail in the midtones, and the overall balance of lights and darks, are improved. However, reducing the Highlights value caused the white areas to look dull.

  5. Now that details have been restored to the midtones and highlights, you’re ready to adjust the whites and blacks:

    Increase the Whites value to brighten the white areas in the photo. This slider also has the effect of lightening the upper midtones and brightening the colors.

    Use the Blacks slider to lighten or darken the black areas (A, next page). This slider may also affect the color brightness.


    Click to view larger image

    A We increased the Whites value to lighten the upper midtones and brighten the whites, and increased the Blacks value to recover more details in the shadows. Overall, the brightness, as well as the colors, are much improved.

    • If the colors are now washed out as a result of your increasing the Whites or Blacks value, you could try increasing the Contrast value.
  • To further adjust the tonal values in the midtones, see pages 66–67.
  • To have Camera Raw set the Whites or Blacks value automatically, hold down Shift while double-clicking one of those sliders.

To apply edge contrast and color saturation adjustments using the Basic tab:

  1. To add depth by intensifying the edge contrast in the midtones, increase the Clarity value; or for a deliberate soft-focus effect (such as in a portrait or landscape), reduce the Clarity value.
  2. Change the Vibrance value to adjust the color saturation.B


    Click to view larger image

    B Finally, we increased the Clarity value slightly to sharpen the details and increased the Vibrance value slightly to boost the color saturation (note the change on the car body). Our cumulative adjustments to this photo improved the contrast, clarified the details, and produced richer color. Vroom, vroom!

  3. Turn off both clipping warnings by pressing U, then O.

  • We recommend using the Vibrance slider instead of the Saturation slider to adjust color saturation because the former is less likely to cause oversaturation (and it protects skin tones), whereas the latter is more likely to cause oversaturation and highlight clipping. To view the effect of this, drag the Saturation slider to the far right.

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