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Enhancing RAW images

From: Photoshop CS6 Quick Start for Photographers

Video: Enhancing RAW images

I encourage you to take advantage of the Raw Capture option, if it's offered by your digital camera. So, that you can maximize the information and quality in your digital photos. The only caveat of working with Raw captures in Photoshop is that you must convert those captures from Raw data. The information gathered by the image sensor when the photo was captured into actual pixel values. And that's done in Photoshop through Adobe Camera Raw. If you open an image that is a Raw capture, I'll go ahead and choose a Raw capture and click the Open button here the File > Open dialog. Then Photoshop will bring up Adobe Camera Raw with your image available. Here we can adjust the various settings related to that capture information. Fine-tuning the overall appearance of the image, before converting that raw data into actual pixel value.

Enhancing RAW images

I encourage you to take advantage of the Raw Capture option, if it's offered by your digital camera. So, that you can maximize the information and quality in your digital photos. The only caveat of working with Raw captures in Photoshop is that you must convert those captures from Raw data. The information gathered by the image sensor when the photo was captured into actual pixel values. And that's done in Photoshop through Adobe Camera Raw. If you open an image that is a Raw capture, I'll go ahead and choose a Raw capture and click the Open button here the File > Open dialog. Then Photoshop will bring up Adobe Camera Raw with your image available. Here we can adjust the various settings related to that capture information. Fine-tuning the overall appearance of the image, before converting that raw data into actual pixel value.

Now there are many options available to you here but most of them I don't prefer to take advantage of. And the reason is I generally prefer to retain a little bit more flexibility by using a layer based work flow in Photoshop. So, most of the things that I can do in Camera Raw, I'll actually save for Photoshop proper. But let's take a look at some of the settings we can us to help optimize the image, right from the start. Over on the right side of Adobe Camera Raw, you'll see a panel with a variety of controls. And in fact, those controls are divided into individual sections because there are so many controls available to you. At the top you can see a histogram display.

And that histogram shows us that in this case the image was a little bit underexposed and we don't have much in the way of highlight detail. Most of the pixel values are over at the dark end. You can see that the image was captured at an apature of F5.6 at a 3,000th of a second using ISO 800. So, with a little bit of an underexposure, and with a relatively high ISO setting, I'm expecting there's probably some noise in the image. But we'll address that in a moment. I'll start off with the basic adjustments, and here I can use a white balance preset. These are the same options that are available in your camera. So, for example, if I choose a daylight option, I'll see what the image would look like if I had used the daylight option in camera. Keep in mind, that the setting you use for white balancing in your camera, actually doesn't affect the data, as it's being captured. So, you can alter that information, after the fact, with no penalty in terms of image quality.

A common approach is to use the cloudy or shade option in order to warm up the image. But I find that I generally prefer to adjust temperature and tint manually. Adjusting the sliders based on a visual evaluation of the image, rather than just working from a preset. So, I can drag the temperature slider over to the right. To increase the yellow in the image, or to the left to increase the blue. Obviously, I'll want to fine tune both to neutralize any color cast in the image. But also maybe to warm up the image just a little bit if I prefer that interpretation.

I can also adjust the tint, which is a shift between green and magenta. And here, I'm usually not thinking about creativity, so much as just avoiding any problematic color casts. Next, we can take a look at the overall tonal adjustments. And there are a series of option here that you'll want to take a look at. Exposure is, in essence, a white point adjustment. As I drag exposure to the right, you'll see that, primarily, I'm brightening the brighter portions of the image without affecting the blacks too much. Generally speaking, I'll use a Clipping preview while adjusting the Exposure slider.

To enable that, I'll hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh. Then as I increase exposure, I'll eventually see pixels start to appear. Those pixels indicate where I'm losing detail in the highlights of the image. Generally speaking, I'll adjust the exposure, so that the image is brightened as much as possible. So, the highlights are brightened, without losing any detail. So, I'll back off until all of those pixels disappear. Of course, we then need to evaluate the image itself, because setting the brightest pixel to be essentially white is not always the best approach for every image.

It's just a good general practice at least as an initial adjustment to see where things stand. I'll then typically adjust blacks to check the darkest areas of the image. And here again I can use the Alt key on Windows, or the Option key on Macintosh to get the Clipping Preview display. Generally I'll want to have no clipping, once again and so I'll adjust the blacks value until the last of those pixels disappear. Generally moving to the left until I can see pixels, and then moving to the right until those pixels disappear. Once again we want to evaluate the overall image to make sure that's producing a good result.

But right away we can see that there's already a considerable benefit to having used Raw Capture in the first place. Where I had clipped shadows, you can see that I now don't have any clippings for the blacks in the image. In addition to setting the overall white point and black point, we can also fine tune some of the values in between. I'll often times, for example, adjust contrast just a little bit in my raw conversion. Either increasing contrast or decreasing it if I feel that I need to pull out a little bit more detail. In this case, I think a little more contrast would be helpful. I can also adjust the brightness of the overall highlights and shadows. And in some cases, this can really help improve the overall appearance of a photo, especially shadows.

We tend to like having a fair amount of shadow detail, and so I can increase the value for shadows to brighten up the shadows. Essentially adding a Fill Flash type of effect or I can darken down those shadows if I want more contrast. Here I think I'd like to have a little more shadow detail just to bring out a little bit of extra detail in the feathers. I can also adjust clarity which is sort of like sharpening it helps to bring out a little bit more detail and reduce the appearance of haze. A negative clarity can also create an interesting artistic effect which can be especially nice for portraits and flowers and other photos of that type.

In this case I think I'll increase clarity just a little bit just to bring out some more of those textures. And I'm also going to increase vibrance which allows me to bring up the level of colors that aren't too saturated. So, giving a little bit more intensity to those colors that could use the most boost. Now that I've made the overall adjustments and the image is looking much better. I think I'm going to revisit temperature here and see if maybe warming up the image might be a little better. And sure enough I think just a little bit warmer is going to work nicely. I can also use some adjustments. I have a tone curve here that lets me get a little bit more sophisticated in my tonal adjustments. I also have a Detail tab where I can apply sharpening. I usually apply a very, very slight amount of sharpening in the Raw Conversion, just to compensate for the loss of sharpness that occurs with a digital capture.

But I also want to take a close look at noise in this case, because the image was a little bit underexposed. I'll go ahead and zoom in on some of the darker areas of the image. And then I'm going to reduce the level for color noise reduction. And now you can see there are some pixels of random color value. And so I'm gonig to increase color just enough, just enough, to get rid of as much of that color noise as possible. And right about there seems to be working pretty well, I can also adjust the color detail. Usually you'll want to have a moderately high setting for color detail.

In order to bring back some of the color information that you lose by applying noise reduction. I could also add some luminous noise reduction, that's the variation's in total values in the image. If I reduce luminous detail and then increase luminous, I'll reduce noise so much that the image looses detail. So, again, With noise reduction we want to use the minimum necessary to improve the appearance of the photo. So I'll use just a little bit of luminance noise reduction, but then I'll increase the luminance detail slider in order to enhance some of that over all detail.

Essentially compensating for the noise reduction. And I can also increase luminance contrast, and this will, once again, give me just a little bit more detail in those midtones. I'll zoom back out by pressing Ctrl+0 on Windows or Cmd+0 on Macintosh. At this point things are looking pretty good. I'm happy with how the image is coming along and so, I'm ready to open the image in Photoshop. But first I want to take a look at my Output settings. You can see at the moment that the image is set to be converted to the RGB color space, which is a relatively narrow gamut color space. And that it's set to the 8 bit per Channel mode. I'll go ahead and click this summary to bring up the Workflow Options dialog. And there I can change the color space to reflect the color space I'm using in Photoshop.

That happens to be Adobe RGB and I can also change my bit depth to 16 bits per channel. Just to insure maximum quality and detail in the final image, I'll leave the size at the default. I don't want to increase or decrease the number of pixels in the image at this point. And I'll set the resolution to 360 because that's what I usually use when I'm printing my images. And so this is a convenient setting to establish, it's not changing anything about the pixels in the image. It's just making it so I don't have to change the resolution value later. I'll go ahead and click the OK button, and now those settings are reflected.

They are sticky which means for future images if I've not made any adjustments to them, they will get these same settings. So, that tales care of everything that I feel I need to do in Adobe Camera Raw to convert my Raw Capture into actual picture values. So, I'll go ahead and click the Open Image button. Adobe Camera Raw will then process that raw data and create a pixel based image that's ready for me to apply additional adjustments to.

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Photoshop CS6 Quick Start for Photographers

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Tim Grey
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