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- Configuring the Photoshop interface
- Opening an existing image
- Basic RAW conversion
- Introduction to adjustment layers
- Reviewing adjustments
- Saving the master image
- Basic, advanced, and creative adjustments
Skill Level Beginner
If you take advantage of the Raw Capture mode for your digital camera, which is certainly something that I recommend doing, then there's an intermediate step between opening an image and actually being able to work on it in Photoshop. Specifically you'll need to convert that raw capture to an actual image file. The raw capture itself is essentially just a data file that contains the information gathered by the image sensor during the exposure. That information needs to be converted to actual pixel values, which is what that raw conversion process is. I have a raw capture here in Bridge that I would like to process in Photoshop and so I'll double-click on that image in order to open it in Photoshop. But because it is a raw capture, instead of just opening directly we'll first see Adobe Camera Raw.
In most cases, I perform only basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw, saving everything else for a layer based workflow in Photoshop. For example, I really don't make use of the tools on the toolbar here. We do have a Zoom tool and a Hand tool, which can be useful for navigating around the image if we need to evaluate a particular detail, for example. I don't generally use the two Eyedropper tools which enable me to apply adjustments to the overall color for the image. We'll address that color adjustment in just a moment. And I also don't tend to use the on image adjustment.
I don't crop or straighten in the raw conversion. I save my image cleanup work for later, including red eye correction. And I don't apply targeted adjustments through painting or via a gradient. I will, however, take a look at the preferences for Adobe Camera Raw. I'll go ahead and click that Preferences button and the one thing that I will generally turn off is sharpening, under the Apply Sharpening To option. I'll change the option from all images, to preview images only. That basically means that if you apply sharpening in Adobe Camera Raw you will see the effect in the preview, but it wont actually effect a processed image.
All the other settings here, I'm comfortable leaving at their default values. So I'll go ahead and click OK. And then the last two buttons here on the toolbar are our Rotation buttons. Generally speaking, you probably don't need the Rotation buttons because I'm sure your digital camera has a sensor that automatically orients the image. However, in some cases you might want to rotate for creative purposes for example. We can then turn our attention to the actual adjustments that will apply. Note that we have a histogram display, that shows us the distribution of tonal values for each of the individual color channels within the image. We also have some exposure information for the current image shown below that histogram.
Most of the work that I do in Adobe Camera Raw is done in the basic section. First we'll fine-tune the color. We can adjust the White Balance setting using one of the presets. This will produce a result that is just as though you had changed the camera setting for White Balance to this particular preset, but in most cases I'll simply work with the sliders. The Temperature slider allows us to shift between blue and yellow. This can be seen as both a corrective adjustment if we need to correct for inaccurate color as well as a creative adjustment if we'd like.
For example in this case I'd like to cool the image down a little more than it actually was in real life just to add to those cyan and blue tones that are present in the ice. The tint slider allows us to shift between green and magenta. And this is almost always just a corrective adjustment. You'll fine-tune to make sure the color looks as accurate as possible, but I would say in most cases, you're not likely to try to create a green or magenta color cast in the image. We can then take a look at the overall tonality in the image.
The exposure adjustment is essentially allowing us to adjust the white point in the image. If you hold the Alt key on Windows or the Option key on Macintosh, you can get a clipping preview that will show you when you have brightened the image so much that you're losing detail in the highlights. Releasing the mouse will allow you to see the overall image again. Obviously in this case that is far too bright. I'll go ahead and back off that exposure adjustment, and right about there looks to be pretty good. Just a little bit brighter then it had been. In this case I think I'll add just a little bit of contrast.
Not too much. I can lighten or darken the highlights in the image. It just depends of course on the particular image and which direction we take that adjustment. The Shadows adjustment will allow you to lighten and darken some of the darker areas of the image. In this case I think I'll darken those down just a little bit to enhance some of the contrast. The whites will affect the brightest areas. So this is very similar to the Exposure adjustment except that we're not adjusting that white point. I think in this case I'll brighten up the whites just a little. And finally, the blacks slider allows us to lighten or darken the value for black effectively in the image and once again, we can hold the Alt key on Windows or Option key on Macintosh to get a clip-in preview that shows us where we're losing details in those shadows.
So if I darken up too much, I'll lose detail for example in the hose here. I'll go ahead and bring that value back up. Right around there looks to be a pretty good value for the blacks, for this image. I'll sometimes also use the clarity adjustment. You can sort of think of this like sharpening or a haze reduction filter. If I increase clarity, you'll see that the appearance of haze is reduced, obviously if I take it too far things start to look a little bit weird. If I reduce clarity, the image starts to look a little bit fuzzy and ethereal, almost kind of dream-like. And that can actually work very nicely for things such as portraits or flower photography.
I'll go ahead and increase clarity just a little bit for this image. I'm also going to increase vibrance just a little bit, just to boost the colors. Now I could certainly apply this adjustment later, but often times I'll apply at least some basic adjustments here in order to improve the initial appearance of the image. And generally I'll favor vibrance over saturation in terms of boosting the colors within the photo. Those are typically the only adjustments that I would apply for most images, but there are a couple of other things that you might want to consider. One of those is noise reduction. If we go to the detail tab, you'll find some noise reduction settings. We can control the degree of color noise reduction as well as luminance noise reduction.
Generally speaking, I'll move the color slider down to zero unless noise is a problem for the photo. And in this case, since the image was shot at 400 ISO I don't expect noise to be a serious problem. If I were concerned about noise I could zoom in on the shadow areas. And then increase the value for luminance if there is luminance noise, in other words, variations in pixel values that are tonal in nature. I can then adjust the level of detail that I want to retain within those areas that are being affected by the noise reduction.
And I can also increase the contrast for the overall image to help compensate for the softening that can occur when we reduce luminance noise. But in this case again I don't think noise is an issue. I'll go ahead and reduce luminance to zero. And similarly we can increase color noise reduction if need be. The color value will determine how much noise reduction is being applied. But this can cause a loss of color within the image. You can start to essentially desaturate the image a little bit if we apply too much noise reduction. So the rule of thumb is to increase the noise reduction for both color and luminance, only to the minimum amount you need to improve the image without taking things too far.
Once you've increased the value for color noise reduction, you can also fine tune the level of detail to be preserved within those areas that are being affected. In this case though I'll leave the color noise reduction set to a value of zero. Finally we'll take a look at the Lens Corrections option. And here I can compensate for issues such as distortion caused by the lens. But the bigger issue that I'm really worried about at this point is chromatic aberration. If you enable the lens profile corrections by turning on the check box here, then we can turn on an option to automatically remove chromatic aberration.
In addition to these automatic adjustments, you can fine-tune the controls using the manual section for lens correction. But for this image, that's not really an issue. So again, those lens correction and detail controls are some that you might want to look at, in some cases, but generally speaking, I'll work primarily with the basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw. Finally, I'll check my Output Settings. So I'll click the link that summarizes those settings below the image. That will bring up the Work Flow Options dialog. Here, you can choose your color space. I generally work in Pro Photo RGB because it's the largest color gamut. That does require then that you work in the 16 bit per channel mode to help ensure you don't cause posterization in the image with your adjustments. If you're at all concerned about that, you can work in Adobe RGB, or in some workflows you actually might want to work in SRGB. But generally speaking I would recommend Pro Photo RGB if you're working in 16 bit per channel mode, and Adobe RGB if you are working in the 8 bit per channel mode.
And we can also specify that bit depth. And I do encourage you to work in the 16 bit per channel mode whenever possible. The other settings I can leave at their defaults. I don't want to resize the image. So I'll leave that set to the standard value for my camera and for resolution, I can just leave that as the default. This is purely a convenience setting. It will just set the default resolution for the image. In this case I've set it to 360 pixels per inch, which is a great setting for printing images to a photo inkjet printer but again I could always change this value later.
I don't want to apply any sharpening upon output and I'm not going to use the smart objects option either, so I'll go ahead and click OK. And with that all of my settings are established and I've adjusted the settings for this particular image so I'm ready to continue in my workflow using Photoshop. I'll go ahead and click the Open Image button and Adobe Camera Raw will process that image and open it in Photoshop so that I can continue through my image optimization work flow.