If you had to adjust every slider on every image, you might reasonably conclude that Camera Raw was an instrument of torture rather than a productivity tool. Fortunately, Camera Raw offers great flexibility in saving and applying settings (and, as you'll learn in the next chapter, the File Browser lets you apply Camera Raw settings to one or more images without even opening Camera Raw).
Depending on how you set Camera Raw's "Save image settings in:" Preference, settings get saved either in the Camera Raw Database, or as individual sidecar .xmp files—see "The Camera Raw Menu," earlier in this chapter. The Camera Raw database (file name is Adobe Camera Raw Database) lives in the Application Data folder as Document and Settings/user name/ Application Data/Adobe/Camera Raw on Windows systems, and in the user's Preferences folder as Users/user name/Library/Preferences on Mac OS.
Camera Raw Database
If you want to do absolutely no file management, and you work on only one computer, the advantage of saving settings in the Camera Raw database is that they're indexed by file content rather than name. You can rename your raw images and move them anywhere on your computer, and Camera Raw will still associate the correct settings with each image.
The significant downside is that you rely on a single file on a single computer to hold all your image settings. If you move the images to a different machine, or even just burn them on a CD, the settings won't travel with the images. So while settings saved in the Camera Raw database are easy to handle in terms of file management on a single machine, they're very inflexible. This inflexibility leads me to always save my settings as sidecar .xmp files.
Sidecar XMP Files
Adobe's XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) is an open, documented, W3C-compliant standard for saving metadata (literally, data about data), including all the EXIF data generated by the camera; IPTC information such as captioning, keywording, and copyright notices; and, last but not least, all the settings you used in Camera Raw on a given image.
When you elect to save image settings as .xmp sidecar files, they're saved in a small file with the same name as the image and a .xmp extension. The sidecar file is automatically saved in the same folder as the image, which is usually what you want.
As you'll learn in the next chapter, Photoshop's File Browser offers features that automatically keep the sidecar files with the raw images as long as you use the File Browser to copy or move them. If you use some other software to move or copy your images, it's up to you to keep the sidecar files with the images. Since they're always saved in the same folder as the images, and the file names match those of the images, this isn't hard to do.
But whichever method you use, Camera Raw doesn't limit you to saving only the entire group of settings for a specific image. Much of the power and flexibility of Camera Raw comes from its ability to save subsets of settings in addition to complete sets of image settings.
Save Settings Subset
When you edit an image, you generally want to save all the settings that apply to that image so that the settings get applied each time you open the raw file. But it's also useful to save and recall subsets of settings to speed editing, hence the Save Settings Subset command on the Camera Raw menu.
For example, if you create Calibrate settings, either for color calibration or for black-and-white conversions, it's useful to have them available at all times. You may also wish to save Exposure or White Balance settings, or noise reduction settings for different ISO speeds, so that you can simply choose them from the Settings menu instead of manipulating sliders. The Save Settings Subset command lets you choose exactly which settings you want to save—see Figure 3-46.
Figure 3-46 Save Settings Subset
To make settings subsets constantly available, save them in the Camera Raw Presets folder (that's the Camera Raw folder inside the Presets folder inside the Adobe Photoshop CS folder). Saving the settings in the Presets folder is useful for two reasons.
- I always know where to find them.
- Each saved setting is represented by a separate file, so when my Settings menu becomes unmanageably long, I can easily prune it by going into the Camera Raw Presets folder and trashing the files I no longer need rather than laboriously selecting each setting and then choosing Delete Current Setting from the Camera Raw menu.
Saving settings in separate sidecar files makes it easy to share them with others or to create multiple settings files for a single image. For example, you may want to create one setting for highlights and another for shadows, and then combine both versions in Photoshop to increase the apparent dynamic range, as shown in Figure 3-47.
Figure 3-47 Combining multiple exposures
If you consistently find yourself making the same setting over and over again, it's probably a good candidate for a preset. But if you save too many settings as presets, your Settings menu becomes unmanageably long. The bottom line is that we each need to arrive at our own ideal trade-off between the convenience of presets and the length of the Settings menu.