Camera Raw is an incredibly useful tool that many professional photographers use to make adjustments to photos. The great thing is with these changes, they are non-destructive – meaning, everything is always undoable! For example, if you make a crop that you then later decide is too tight, you can open the image and change the crop or remove it completely.
Camera Raw is not just for photographers, anyone who needs to make adjustments to their images, small or large, should take advantage of the powerful tools.
Camera Raw is a part of Bridge and Photoshop and the techniques I show you should work in most versions of the Creative Suite – I am using CS5 Bridge and Photoshop.
I will take you through some of the tools available to you to help really enhance your images.
Let’s start with the photo of this loveable guy from a trip to the zoo.
Double clicking a photo opens Camera Raw from within Photoshop. This is useful if you are only making the first few changes with Camera Raw and then wish to take the image into Photoshop for further changes and general ‘Photoshopping’. Otherwise, right click the image and click ‘Open in Camera Raw…’ to open Camera Raw from within Bridge.
I think at this point it would be good to mention what kinds of files can be opened with Raw. Camera Raw will open all RAW file types but also Tiffs and Jpegs, but no others.
Welcome to Camera Raw! Along the righthand side is the bar where your mouse will likely spend most of its time. A tab bar lets you select the kind of enhancements you would like to make while an array of exciting buttons and sliders sit below to help you make those enhancements. There are also some tools that run along the top. Towards the bottom of the window is an Open Image button to open the image with changes in Photoshop normally and a Done button to save the changes and go back to Bridge. Between those too is the emergency exit – Just in case things get to scary and you do not want to save any of your changes.
In this tutorial we will be sticking mostly with the first tab bar, but we will sneak into some of the others.
I love this happy Sloth, but I think he can be greatly improved. Lets start with some of those settings in the first tab. (Aptly named – Basic Settings)
The two sliders here change the colours in the image to enable you to change the White Balance. All the drop-down does is make those changes with some presets. Not all are appropriate to your image but I feel the best way is to do it by eye for yourself. For my sloth I am sliding the temperature control up just 400 points (out of 50000) The changes in Camera Raw tend to be minor and fine but they make a huge difference. For my tint slider I am moving it 14 points towards the Magenta end to remove some of the green tinge in the fur.
Don’t forget, as you read this, play around! Everything you do is undoable.
These next settings are just underneath and control just about everything you could wish for in light manipulation without controlling the sun.
Exposure should make sense to most photographers; it changes the amount of light in the photograph, trying to replicate the setting on the camera. Brightness and contrast are also two sliders that are relatively self explanatory.
Recovery allows you to bring back some of the highlights that may have blown out, while fill light tries to recovery areas lost to shadow. Blacks increases the shadows darkness.
There is a saturation slider to saturate or de-saturate colours by helping you to pull the colours up and out to make them ‘pop’, or push them out to ‘wash out’ the image. Vibrance does the same but boosts less-saturated colours more than the high saturated colours. I find vibrance more useful as it helps protect you against over saturation.
Next, lets move to the second tab – The Tone Curve. Here you can either use the preset curves to adjust contrast, or click and drag on the curve to adjust it yourself. I am going to leave it at the medium contrast curve.
The next tab is all about sharpening. You can use these in combination to improve the sharpness. To see the refinements you are making in more detail, hold the alt key while you adjust a slider.
The fourth tab allows you to convert the image to greyscale and individually adjust each colours hue, saturation and luminance. This is particularly useful for making those super fine refinements. Below is an extreme example of what fiddling with these settings does.
The fourth tab really comes into its own when the image is in greyscale; although you can use it for full colour images. To demonstrate this I am going to temporarily tun the Sloth black and white using the checkbox in the previous tab.
Split toning takes changes the highlights and shadows to the selected hue. This produces some wonderful effects.
You can adjust the balance so more of the image turns to the shadow hue or visa versa.
I would say the basic settings are now sorted. There are other tabs which I would recommend exploring but for now we will look at the tools that run along the top.
I am going to cover the 3rd and 4th group of tools in the tutorial, as I have mentioned before, experiment with the others too. It helps you to learn even more.
Lets start with the crop and straighten tools. Both work exactly as you would expect. Click and drag out a box for the crop or a new horizon line for the straighten tool; then press enter to confirm. They both create a new clipping box which you can adjust freely. Don’t like your new crop? click the tools again to re-adjust.
The next tool is the spot heal, great for taking out small spots of dust or other things. To use it, click and drag a circle over the offending area. Camera Raw will then create a green circle of the same size next to yours, this is the sampling circle that will be used to ‘heal’ the spot. If needed you can adjust the size and opacity using the new sliders on the right. Clicking another tool will hide the circles but you can always retrieve them by selecting the spot healing tool again. You can create as many as you need, but this sloth only needs to one to remove this odd ‘glowing’ hair.
The next tool is the red-eye tool. Very simple, if you have people with red-eye, click and drag on their eyes and Camera Raw will do the rest. Fortunately for my sloth friend, his pupils are hidden and does not need this tool.
The next tool is called the adjustment brush and is one of my favourites. With it you can make most of the adjustments you can make with the Basic settings tab, but to certain areas by painting on a mask. The foot of my sloth needs to be sharpened up a little so here I have painted on a mask and can change some of the settings to improve only that area of the image.
When you finish painting an area you will see a pin, roll over it to see the mask associated with that pin. If you wish to create a new mask, click the ‘New’ button at the top of the Adjustment Brush settings panel. To go back to an old mask, click its pin.
The final tool in those group is the Graduated Filter. Click and drag out a gradient starting in the place you want to effect the most and ending in the place you wish it to effect the least. The gradient is linear and can take some getting used to, but you can easily re-adjust or remove it if need be. I use this tool a lot for changing the sky as I have here with the sloth.
You can create multiple Graduated Filters too.
The Sloth is done, for now. He now glows in this image and the colours are much truer to life. The great thing about Camera Raw is that you can always come back and make further changes or remove changes if need be.
To finish, click Open Image to take it into Photoshop and save out the file; or click done if you want to go back to Bridge. Here is a comparison to show how the original photo has been enhanced.
There are so many powerful features in the Adobe Creative Suite that most people are not even aware are there; Camera Raw is one of those.