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Raw System Overview: Camera Raw, Bridge, and Photoshop

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Looking for a 30,000-foot overview of the whole digital raw system? You've found it. Author Bruce Fraser takes you through the basics of the raw workflow in this excellent introduction to Camera Raw, Bridge, and Photoshop.
This chapter is from the book

This chapter provides a 30,000-foot overview of the whole digital raw system. I'll discuss the individual components in much more detail in subsequent chapters, but before delving into the minutiae (and there are a lot of details), it's helpful to have some idea of what the components do, and how they interrelate.

Camera Raw is an amazing piece of technology, but it's only one component of a powerful system that helps you do everything from making your initial selects from a shoot, to adding copyright and keywording metadata, to producing final files for delivery. One of the components of this system is, of course, Photoshop itself.

Photoshop is truly one of the deepest applications available on any platform, and has probably had more words written about it than just about any other application in existence. It's also seductive. One of my goals in writing this book is to wean photographers from doing everything in Photoshop—if you just treat Camera Raw as a quick way to get raw images into Photoshop for correction, you're making extra work for yourself, and probably not getting everything you can from your raw captures.

For the purposes of this book, Photoshop is simply a tool for making localized corrections, hosting automated processes, and writing images out to different file formats. My friend and colleague Jeff Schewe remarked jokingly during the beta period of Photoshop CS2 that Photoshop had become a plug-in for Camera Raw rather than vice versa, to which I can only add that rarely was a truer word spoken in jest.

One of the biggest challenges the digital raw shooter faces is to avoid drowning in data. Raw captures typically create smaller files than film scans, but we have to deal with so many more raw captures than we did film scans that spending hours correcting an individual image in Photoshop has to become the exception rather than the rule if we want to make a living, or even have a life. So in this short chapter, I'll lay out the basics of the raw workflow.

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is a brand-new application that comes bundled with every copy of Photoshop CS2. It replaces the File Browser that was introduced in Photoshop 7. Bridge lies at the center of the entire Adobe Creative Suite—it can manage all sorts of file types besides Camera Raw files and images created by Photoshop, including InDesign and Illustrator files and the ever-ubiquitous PDF format, but since this is a book about digital raw capture, I'll focus on its use with digital raw files.

The Virtual Light Table

One of the key roles that Bridge plays is as a virtual light table. As soon as you point Bridge at a new folder of raw images, Camera Raw goes to work behind the scenes, generating thumbnails and large-size previews using its default settings. As a virtual light table, Bridge lets you view, sort, rank, and make selects from your raw images.

Bridge is highly configurable for different purposes. The thumbnails and previews are resizable, so you can see anything from tiny thumbnails to previews that are large enough to let you decide whether or not an image is a keeper. As with a physical light table, you can sequence and sort images by dragging them into position, but unlike the physical light table, Bridge can find and sort images based on all sorts of metadata criteria, such as the time shot, focal length, shutter speed, aperture setting, or any combination of the aforementioned. You can apply ratings or labels to images to further facilitate sorting and selecting, and you can use Bridge as the source for automated processing into Photoshop by selecting the thumbnails of the images you want to process. Figure 3-1 shows some of the many ways you can configure Bridge for different tasks. I'll discuss Bridge in much greater detail in Chapter 6, Adobe Bridge.


Figure 3-1 Bridge configurations

Managing Metadata

Metadata literally means "data about data." One of the useful aspects of shooting digital rather than film is that your images contain a wealth of metadata right out of the camera—the shutter speed, aperture, ISO speed, focal length, and other technical metadata are embedded right in the image. But you can and should supplement the camera-generated metadata with custom metadata of your own—copyright and rights-management notices, keywords, and anything else that will make your life easier and add value to your images.

Moreover, the time and place to add custom metadata is as soon after loading your raw captures into Bridge as possible, for two reasons:

  • Metadata added to raw files gets carried through to any image produced from that raw file, so if you enter key metadata such as copyright notices on your raw files, all your converted PSDs, TIFFs, and JPEGs will already have that metadata entered.
  • Whereas Photoshop's File Info command lets you edit metadata on one image at a time, Bridge lets you edit metadata for multiple images in a single operation.

If you're new to metadata, consider that as your collection of digital imagery grows, the role of metadata becomes ever-more vital in letting you and your clients find your images. I faked Figure 3-2 to make a point—don't try to cache a folder containing 6,798,348 images on today's hardware! But if it seems fanciful, consider the plight of an editorial shooter who shoots 1,000 images a day, three days a week, 48 weeks a year, over a 40-year career….


Figure 3-2 The need for metadata

If you shoot even a tenth of this number of images, you will at some future date have a major challenge on your hands if you don't start planning for that future date now, and taking advantage of the power of metadata to help you manage your image collection. I'll discuss metadata in much greater detail in Chapter 8, Mastering Metadata.

Hosting Camera Raw

As a standalone application, Bridge can do things that the old File Browser could not, and one of those things is to act as a host for the Camera Raw plug-in. Hence, when you open raw images in Camera Raw, you have the choice of opening them in Camera Raw hosted by Bridge, or Camera Raw hosted by Photoshop.

Camera Raw edits are saved as metadata—the raw files themselves are read-only so editing in Camera Raw never changes the raw file itself. What you're doing when you edit in Camera Raw is to set the parameters for the conversion from the raw file to an RGB image. So you can use Camera Raw hosted by Bridge to edit raw images—to set conversion parameters—without actually performing the conversions. Then when you open the images in Photoshop, Camera Raw creates an RGB version of the image using the conversion parameters you set in Camera Raw hosted by Bridge.

Of course, if your immediate goal is to open the file in Photoshop, you can host Camera Raw in Photoshop instead, and either open raw images directly into Photoshop, bypassing the Camera Raw dialog box (but not Camera Raw itself, which still carries out the conversion), or you can host the Camera Raw dialog box in Photoshop when it makes more sense to do so. I'll discuss these workflow decisions in detail in Chapter 7, It's All About the Workflow.

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