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When you shoot JPEGs with a digital camera, a lot of the photo processing goes on inside the camera, before you ever get to see the photo. By contrast, when you shoot RAW, you're the one who does the processing. What you get from your camera is RAW data that's unprocessed, the equivalent of an original negative in film photography. The big advantage of shooting RAW is that you get to control the processing yourself, in the Adobe Camera Raw Editor that comes with Elements. Another advantage of RAW is that RAW files have a higher bit depth or more color information, than 8-bit JPEGs have.
So there's more latitude to edit RAW files. Not all cameras will shoot RAW, so if you're interested in shooting RAW, check your camera manual, and see if your camera will do that. When you bring RAW files from your camera into your computer, you'll see a special extension on the filename that represents the flavor of RAW photo that your particular camera takes. This file for example, has a CRW extension, which means that it was taken with a Canon camera. But if I'd have taken it with my Nikon, it would have a .NEF extension. To open RAW files from here in Bridge into Elements, I work the same way that I would with JPEGs.
I'll select this photo in the Bridge Content panel by clicking on it once, and then I'm going to right-click and choose Open With Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0. That will launch the Adobe Camera Raw Editor, a special interface for adjusting RAW files and converting them, so that Photoshop Elements can read them. In the Camera Raw Editor on the right side is the basic column of settings that you'll use to control the way that this photo would be processed. At the top of that column is a histogram. A histogram is a graph of all the tones in the image, from the brightest possible whites on the right, to the darkest possible blacks on the left, and all of the gray tones in between black and white.
It's useful to keep your eye on this histogram as you manipulate the controls in this column for a visual representation of what you're doing to the tones in the image. What you want to look out for is pushing this graph of tones over too far to the left, or too far to the right, making a spike in either direction. You want to avoid that. The first control in the column is White Balance. White balance controls the overall color temperature of the photo, from warm to cool. Here in the Raw Editor, you can change the white balance that you used when you shot the photo in your camera, which is another advantage of shooting RAW.
Changing the white balance will change the overall mood of the entire photo by adjusting the color of the light. The way that I approach white balance is by starting with this menu of White Balance Presets. I'm going to open that menu, and I'll just cycle through the various options here, until I see the one that I think looks best on the image. There is a live preview right over here in this area of the Raw Editor. If you don't see a preview there, then check this box to the left of preview. I think that Cloudy is the best starting place for this particular image, so I'm going to leave the menu there.
Once I've chosen a Preset from the menu, I'll come down to the Temperature and Tint sliders, and tweak that Preset with these sliders to get just the white balance that I want. So in this case, I might move the Temperature slider a little to the right to make the image warmer or more golden, and I might add a little bit of magenta by dragging the Tint slider to the right as well. If I think it's too gold, I might take that Temperature slider and move back a little to the left. Down in the next area of the Basic column, there is an Auto button, and if I were to click that Auto button, all the controls would be set for me automatically.
But I hardly ever do that, because the whole point of working with RAW photos is that you can do the processing yourself. So rather then click Auto, I'm going to adjust the sliders in this area of the column myself. I'll start with the Exposure slider, which sets the white point of the photo. I'm going to hold down the Option key on my keyboard, and click the Exposure slider as I drag slightly to the right, until I see just a little bit of color up here in the image. This color represents the pixels in the red channel of the image that will be set to the brightest point in that channel.
I'm going to back off on that a bit, so that there are just a few spots of color, and then I'll release the Option key, so I can see the result, and then I'll release my mouse. Next, I'm going to go down to the Black slider, which is used to set the black point in the image. Again, I'm going to hold down the Option key and click, and I'll drag just a bit to the right. As I do so, I start to see little spots of color, which are going to be set to the darkest points in the corresponding channels. When there are just a few of those, I'll release the Option key and I'll release my mouse.
To see the difference that just those two sliders have made, I'll go up to the Preview field and uncheck that box. So that's where I started with this RAW image, and here's what it looks like now, with just the White Balance Exposure and Blacks adjusted. There is also a Brightness slider that I can tweak. If I want the entire image to be darker, I'll click on the Brightness slider and drag to the left. I can also tweak the Contrast to extend the Tonal Range of the image. If I drag that to the right, the image gets more contrasty.
If I drag to the left, the image gets flatter. I'm going to leave it just about there. The Clarity slider is useful for restoring any loss of detail or sharpness that might have occurred as a result of making other tonal adjustments in the digital process. Most images will benefit from increasing clarity. I'm going to drag the Clarity slider to the right until I like the result. There are two ways to increase the intensity of the colors in the photo here in the Raw Editor. I can use either the Vibrance slider or the Saturation slider.
Often the Vibrance slider does the best job. Watch what happens when I increase Saturation, everything in the image gets saturated. I'm going to put that back to its starting point of zero, and instead, I'm going to use the Vibrance slider to increase saturation. What the Vibrance slider does is affect only the intensity of the less saturated colors. It also does a better job with skin tones in many cases, than the Saturation slider. So those are the basic settings. There is another tab at the top of the column that contains detail settings.
In the Detail tab, I'll often take the Sharpening Amount slider and drag it to zero. I'll do that when I plan on bringing the image into Photoshop Elements to do further editing there, perhaps adding filters or dragging in another photo. Then when I'm done doing that in Elements, I'll do my sharpening there at the end of the editing process, rather than here in the Raw Editor. But if all I'm going to do to the image is run it through the Raw Editor, then I will use the Sharpening sliders here in the Detail area to sharpen the image. If there are little specks in the image known as digital noise, I can reduce that noise here in this area of the Detail column.
The Luminance slider will reduce black and white noise. The Color slider will reduce colored noise. In this case I don't think I have to tweak those sliders. Down here at the bottom of the Document Preview Window is a Depth menu. Here I can choose whether to retain the 16-bits of color information in this RAW image, making it a high bit image, or whether to reduce it to just 8-bits per channel. I'm going to leave it at 16-bits. I can always reduce it to 8-bits in Elements itself. When I'm all done with my edits in the RAW Editor, I have several choices.
I can just save the image with these settings and then reopen it later into the RAW Editor with the settings that I've chosen, or if I want to open the image into Elements, I'll click the Open Image button. That opens the image into Elements Editor, and as I mentioned, there are some things I can do here in the Elements Editor that I can't do in the RAW Editor. For example, I can add text, I can add filters, I can make image collages, I can use the various create and share functions, and lots more.
If I do bring the image into the Elements Editor at 16-bits, as I've done here, there will be some functions that aren't available in Elements. For example, I'll click on the Filter menu, and you can see that some of the filters are grayed out. These are filters that can only be applied to an 8-bit image. Similarly, if I wanted to save this file as a JPEG image, I would find that in 16-bits, I don't have that option here in the Save As dialog box. I'm going to cancel out of there. So what I can do here in Elements, when I'm ready, is to convert the image to 8-bits.
I might make most of my edits at 16-bits, and then go up to the Image menu, go down to mode, and go over to 8-bits/channel. Now the filters are available, and I could if I wanted to, Save As in the JPEG format, but I'll just cancel out of there for now. When I do save the image in another format, like JPEG or PSD or TIFF, the RAW image remains untouched. I can always go back and reopen the RAW image into the Camera Raw Editor, and make yet another copy of the file with different RAW settings.
So if you have the opportunity to shoot RAW with your camera, I suggest that you do it, so that you have the flexibility to do image processing yourself in the Adobe Camera Raw Editor, as well as in Photoshop Elements.
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