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As photographers, we all strive for detail in our images. To that end, we buy more expensive lenses, we worry about depth of field, also that every tiny bit of texture in a scene can be visible. To help in this detailed mania, Camera Raw includes a couple of handy tools. Now, you've seen how contrast affects saturation, but what you may not have noticed yet is that contrast also affects the apparent sharpness in your image. I want to return to the Badwater image now to give you a demonstration of what I'm talking about.
I'm going to zoom in a little bit here, and previously, we did a contrast adjustment to this image. I'm going to turn it off now, basically. I'm going to put the Blacks back out to here. So my black point has moved back out here, the image is now lower contrast, and it appears that there is less detail in there. These areas are little more washed out. I don't see as much detail. When I start dragging the Blacks slider back in, I do see detail. So, why does contrast lead to more detail? An edge in an image is always composed of a light pixel next to a dark pixel.
So, this mountain range here, which now that I zoom in on it, I see is suffering maybe for a little chromatic aberration that I want to correct, this edge here is a light pixel followed by a dark pixel, side-by-side. So that contrast makes for the appearance of that edge. Texture is the same way. The more variation in pixel color I have, the more texture I see, the more detail. So, when I increase contrast, I'm increasing the apparent shift from this light pixel to this dark pixel, and that's making that texture appear more pronounced.
Do this over the entire image, and I can get a pretty radical change in the appearance of texture in my image. With that in mind, it's important to keep an eye on overall texture when you're adjusting contrast. If you take your contrast too far, in addition to the image possibly becoming too lighter or too dark, it could actually become too texture-y. You may think, well, how could there be too much texture? I thought the idea was to get as much detail on an image as possible. Not always. Because sometimes texture can be a little bit overwhelming to the eye. It can make the image too busy or too noisy somehow, not noisy in the camera noise sense, but just too much for the eye to deal with.
So, I'm going to back off of that edit that we made. If you notice down here, the Cancel button, which we've talked about before, if I hold down the Option key, it turns into a Reset button. Click that and my image settings go back to where they were when I opened the file, not to where they were originally when it came out of the camera - for that, I can use the Default button - but back to where they were when I last saved the image. If you're working with a RAW file, your images will come out of the camera looking a little bit soft. This is an unfortunate necessity of digital image sensors, and it happens for all RAW-capable cameras, no matter how good your lens is, no matter how expensive your camera was.
It has to do with the method that a camera uses to capture color. Fortunately, the softening can be easily corrected through software, and your camera does this when you shoot in JPEG mode. But when you're working with a RAW file, it will be up to you to add a sharpening step to your workflow. Camera Raw includes some sharpening tools, but we are not going to use them. The sharpening should always be performed as the last step in your workflow, and we'll learn more about why later, when we'll talk about sharpening in the output chapter. Camera Raw is not the last step for us.
We're going to be going on into Photoshop and doing a lot more editing. So, we don't want to apply any sharpening on. However, when you sharpen, you often increase the amount of contrast in your image, because as we've seen, more contrast means more detail. So, sharpening by adding more detail often leads to increased contrast. Consequently, it can be difficult to know if you've got the contrast set properly in your image. You might go do a lot of work refining your contrast in your image, then apply some sharpening and find that you get more contrast, maybe more than you want. So, Camera Raw does allow you to see a preview of your sharpening without actually applying any effects.
This can be a good way of assessing whether you've got the sharpness right in your image. Now, by default, Camera Raw does apply sharpening, and it's been doing that for your images all along. But we haven't actually opened any into Photoshop yet and done anything. So, we haven't already applied some sharpening to our images. I'm here in Camera Raw's Preferences, which you get to by clicking this Preferences button right here. You'll notice in the General section there is an Apply sharpening to pop-up menu. I'm going to change that from All images to Preview images only. This means that Camera Raw will not actually apply any sharpening to the image, but it will show me sharpening onscreen when I'm in Camera Raw, as controlled by these settings over here.
So, in other words, I can have Camera Raw kind of throw in a simulation of what my final sharpening might be, to give me a better sense of whether I've got the contrast that I want in my final image. But when I open the image in Photoshop, there won't be any of the sharpening applied. That's fine! We're going to be talk about sharpening in great detail later in the Output chapter. After we do that, you'll have a better understanding of what these sliders are. Simply put, just fiddle with the balance of these until you get a little bit of sharpening that you like. You may think, well, I want my image to be as sharp as possible, so I'm going to drag this all the way over here. As you can see, there is such a thing as too much sharpening.
We'll understand why that is when we get to the Sharpening section. For now, apply a little bit of light sharpening in Preview Only mode, and we'll learn about real sharpening in the Output chapter.
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