In this tutorial, I will be focusing on the RAW conversion process
using Adobe Camera RAW 7 (ACR 7). This is a feature of Adobe Photoshop
CS6 and Adobe Lightroom 4.
This is Adobe's finest RAW converter to date but also its most
complex, so I felt another update in this series was called for.
I cannot cover all ACR's functions in a short tutorial such as
this - there are numerous Youtube training videos that do this
already. I will aim to cover the main process and tools that I
use in the majority of my RAW conversions.
I will assume that you will have already imported your favourite
images, rated them and ruthlessly disposed of less than perfect
images, using your favourite software tool. I use Breezebrowser
Pro for this purpose in preference to Lightroom or any other software
as it is so fast to render image thumbnails and the full screen
raw image slideshow is so much better than anything else out there
for evaluating images.
As a professional I have to embed my copyright information and
search keywords into images for my agencies. If you do not wish
to do this I recommend skipping to step 3 below.
Optional step1. First I open Bridge and go to
Tools > Create metadata template. I then enter all my copyright
information, which will be embeded in the image and is viewable
later on in File Info (in Photoshop). Once a template is generated
it can be saved, and thereafter it can be applied to all selected
images in a file very quickly and simply using Tools > Append
metadata (and select your saved template).
Optional step 2 At this time I also add keywords,
using the keyword pallet (bottom right of the screen in Bridge)
which enables you to quickly find all images with designated keywords
such as birds > herons for example.
Perform a batch rename on your files to something meaningful that
won't be duplicated when your camera file numbering runs out of
file numbers and starts again at zero. This is covered in the
Photoshop CS3-5 tutorial
The RAW converter may be launched from within Bridge or Breezebrowser
Pro by double-clicking on the image but you must tell the application
to do this in File>Preferences>Editor (Breezebrowser) or
Edit>camera RAW Preferences (Bridge).
Before starting a RAW adjustment, I suggest that you first do
a few things :
Step 4 Set colour space and resolution
Firstly, at the bottom of the RAW conversion box, you will see
some underlined blue text, where it specifies the output image
colour space, size and resolution. If you right click on this
text, you can specify your requirements. I set mine to sRGB colour
space and 300 ppi and leave size untouched.
Next hold down Ctr+K and the camera RAW preferences box will appear.
I like to select "Apply sharpening to preview images only"
as it is useful to see a sharpened preview, but it is much better
to sharpen as the final step in Photoshop. Also I select "Save
image settings in sidecar .xmp files". This saves all my
RAW adjustments in a tiny file that follows the main image around
(like a motorbike and sidecar!) if you move it to another location
In the above example, I have opened up an image of a church in
Iceland with the Aurora borealis behind it.and the first (Basic)
tab is open. (Denoted by a camera aperture symbol). If you are
familiar with earlier versions of ACR you will notice that there
are more sliders. There are some very useful tools at the top
of the palette that were introduced in ACR 6 (in CS5) and have
been extended and improved in ACR7 (CS6).I have not covered these
before and so I will explore them a little later through this
Step 5 Crop tool and Straighten tools
These are at the top of the ACR workspace and work the
same as in earlier versions of ACR. I put these at the beginning
of the workflow because if you plan to do a significant crop on
your image, there is no point including areas
that will be deleted anyway from being included and influencing
To crop, simply select the crop tool by clicking on it (or type
the letter c on the keyboard) drag out the crop area and hit enter.
Press Esc to undo.You can also modify a crop by pulling on the
drag handles. Once you have the crop area selected you can place
your cursor in an area outside the selected area and a curved
arrow will appear which enables you to rotate the image to straighten
it if necessary.
Alternatively you can straighten an image by selecting the Straighten
tool (A on the keyboard) and drag out a line along any existing
line in your image (such as a crooked horizon) and let go - the
image will be instantly straightened. Usefully, if you look at
the bottom of the screen after cropping, ACR tells you the megapixel
count of your cropped area.
Step 6 Lens corrections
This is another very useful feature found in later versions of
ACR and is getting progressively better as more lens profiles
are being added. Even excellent lenses can still show some lens
distortions, chromatic aberrations (blue and red fringes) and
vignetting (darkened corners - particularly on full frame cameras).
You can now correct these in ACR in the lens corrections tab.
Once you have selected your lens from the lens profiles, click
the Enable lens profile Corrections box and you will see the corrections
applied. On wide angle lenses, these corrections can be quite
The Canon 500mm f4 does not appear to have a profile at the time
of writing this, but the 600mm f4 does. I find that using this
profile works fine, and the corrections are pretty subtle anyway.
The colour tab enables you to correct chromatic aberration and
colour fringes. It is fantastically effective in its latest guise.
Here is an image from a wide angle zoom lens corner. The window
has bright white glazing bars, and on a sunny day these can cause
nasty purple and green fringing as you can see.
Now here is the same image corrected by adjusting the purple and
green Defringe Amount sliders. I also used the hue slider on the
green to get rid of the last remaining traces. I think that this
is very, very, impressive.
The Manual tab permits removal of vignetting (darkening of the
corners) and you can also take full manual control as the name
Step 7 Raw adjustment sliders
OK - we are now finally ready to start work
on the RAW adjustments in the basic tab (aperture symbol to the
right of the workspace). Let's work through the adjustment sliders
one by one in the order that they appear in the converter as the
procedure is now quite different in parts to previous versions
White Balance/Tint /Auto/Default
Just as in earlier versions of ACR,
set the white balance either by eye using the temperature slider
(my usual method), or by using the white balance eye-dropper tool
on a neutral grey area of the image. Adjust the green and cyan
tints if necessary . ACR can do a reasonable job using auto settings
on some images, and makes a right pigs ear of it on others. So
just click on auto and default and use the best-looking image
as your starting point.
Earlier versions of ACR had exposure, recovery, fill light, blacks,
brightness and contrast sliders.The exposure slider was used to
set a white point (brightest part of the image), Recovery was
used to recover any blown highlights, Fill light did the midtone
exposure and blacks were used to set the black point.Once you
had set your black and white points you could brighten or darken
the whole image to taste with the brightness slider.
These sliders have now been replaced by rxposure, contrast, highlights,
shadows, whites and blacks. I will demonstrate how to use them
below. I should add that the remaining clarity, vibrance and saturation
sliders remain unchanged from before.
A sensible change to the sliders is that they are now all initially
centred at zero and in all cases, sliding them to the right lightens
and to the left darkens the pixels in that part of the histogram
as in the diagram below..
A histogram in ACR7 divided up into
the zones affected by the new sliders
Although this slider carries the same
name as in previous versions, it works completely differently
in practice. Previously it behaved more like a white point setting,
but now it affects the midtone areas of the histogram as you can
see from the illustration above. It is now used to set the overall
brightness of the scene. I suggest focusing on the main subject
itself rather than the background and moving the slider left and
right until it looks as good as you can get it by eye. You will
probably revisit this slider again to tweak it after making other
White and black sliders - setting the white point and
the black point
Using the white slider and black sliders set the white and black
points in the image. That is to say, ensure that the histogram
is not pushed outside the confines of the bounding box it sits
in. So keep an eye on the histogram as you make your adjustments.
With the the Alt key held down you can actually see what is clipping
in the image as you adjust the sliders and you will enable you
to minimise it. Some colours - particularly vivid yellows and
reds are very hard to control without making the rest of the image
too dark so a compromise is sometimes required. These are dynamic
range limitations of the camera's sensor and will hopefully improve
with future developments.
Providing that your image is not too overexposed you will usually
eliminate any clipping but there is still one last chance in the
form of the highlights slider to come yet so don't worry too much
at this stage.
When adjusting the blacks, again, with the Alt key held down,
move the slider back to the left until the clipped pixels just
disappear and the histogram looks reasonable. It is often advantageous
to allow blacks to clip a little to give the image a degree of
punch, but not to the extent that important shadow detail is lost.
But once more, there is still the shadows tool to go so don't
This is a simple one slider adjustment that you can make by eye.
I sometimes use it for speed, but if I want to get the best out
of an image I will leave it set to zero and make my contrast adjustments
using the tools within the Tone curve tab later. If you have contrast
sett too high it may make clipping impossible to eliminate in
Shadows and highlights sliders
These have a similar effect to the Shadows/highlights tool within
Photoshop itself in that the shadow tool can be used to extract
a surprising amount of shadow detail - say in the feathers of
The highlight tool is used to extract the maximum amount of detail
in highlights - think wedding dresses or swans plumage. Once again,
you can hold down the Alt key while you move the sliders and try
to minimise clipping, but it is more important to ensure that
the image looks good visually.If you overdo the highlight tool
your whites can look a bit grey (this is beginning to sound like
an advert for washing powder).
This was introduced in CS3 but it appears to be more effective
these days in CS6. It increases mid-tone contrast with a sophisticated
algorithm which gives the appearance of sharpening (clarity) the
image. I recommend that you view at 100% when you make the adjustments.
In CS3-5 I found that most images benefited from about 30% clarity
as a general rule. For CS6 20% is often more appropriate.
Unsharpened image - Clarity at zero
Unsharpened image - Clarity 20%
This was a superb addition from CS3 onwards. It behaves in a similar
fashion to the saturation slider, but targets under-saturated
colours rather than acting globally on all colours. This
is hugely beneficial as it avoids acting on colours which are
already nearing saturation. Vibrance is good for increasing colour
saturation in an image without exaggerating skin tones for example.
I find it works wonderfully in landscapes with water, as it brings
out the blue hues without looking overdone as it can do in Saturation.
Most images benefit from a starting setting of around 10-12.
This remains as found in other versions of Photoshop, and controls
the degree of saturation of all colours equally in an image .I
rarely use it anymore now that we have the vibrance tool which
is so much better.
The same image of the church after the
RAW adjustments but before conversion
( the image that is - not the congregation!)
Step 7 Tone curve Tab - Point and Parametric
The point tab acts rather like curves in Photoshop - and enables
you to either select points on the tone curve and adjust them
to taste. It is worth trying the presets - linear/medium/strong
contrast which can sometimes be very effective without further
I must confess that I have never really got on with Curves in
Photoshop as they are fiddly, but I do like the parametric option
in ACR where you can make adjustments to the highlights, lights,
darks and shadows individually to optimize the tones in the image.
Step 8 Detail tab
This addresses sharpening and noise reduction. If you followed
my advice in step 4 and set the camera raw preferences to sharpen
the preview only, then the sharpening adjustments will only affect
the preview image and not the finished image. These can be set
to any values that you feel simulate the level of sharpening that
you intend to apply later in Photoshop.. I suggest Amount 95,
Radius 1.0, Detail 25 , Masking 0 as being generally OK and set
this in the defaults. It is much better to sharpen as the last
stage in the workflow in Photoshop using Unsharp mask or Smart
sharpen at a level that is appropriate to the intended purpose
e.g. gentle sharpening for web use and firmer sharpening for printing.
The file size also influences the degree of sharpening required,
so I recommend sharpening later for the intended output.
Step 9 Noise reduction
There are two basic sliders, and if you are going to use noise
reduction software such as Photoshop, Neat image or Noise Ninja
at a later stage, you may want to leave these set to zero. The
noise reduction within ACR is now very effective at removing noise
without robbing detail provided it is used carefully and I seldom
resort to using other software these days.
For many well-exposed images, depending on the ISO used at time
of capture, some colour noise reduction and a tiny amount of luminance
noise reduction is often all that is required. To make adjustments
use the following procedure:
Select a zoom value of 100% to make the noise obvious and easy
to see. (Bottom left of the RAW converter - click on the little
down arrow above the "save image" box and click 100%).
Ensure that both the luminance slider and the color sliders are
set to zero. Then adjust the colour slider until the colour noise
in the image just disappears. Then apply just a little
luminance reduction in order to reduce the appearance of granularity
in the image background. If you overdo it, you will loose detail
and your image will start to look "plasticky". Settings
vary according to how high the Iso was set to in-camera for the
selected image, but I frequently find myself using settings of
around 15 for colour and 6 for luminance as a starting guideline.
There are more sliders for adjusting Luminance detail, Luminance
contrast and Colour Detail. These sound impressive, but their
effects are subtle at best and I have difficulty seeing much if
any change when using them so I ignore them.
100% view of the church before noise reduction. I have chosen
to inspect a part of the image
that both displays the noise and an area of detail to ensure
I don't overdo the noise reduction.
100% view after noise reduction both Luminance and colour
to 27 on the sliders. The noise
has all but gone and there is still plenty of detail - you
can see the writing on the hymn board
inside the church window.
Step 10 Optional specific targeted adjustments
I usually call it a day at step 9 and open the image
in Photoshop for any remaining work, but there are a few more
very powerful tools hidden within ACR that can make some significant
improvements to an image. They are accessed from the top toolbar
next to the crop tool etc.
These goodies include the Spot removal tool (although spots can
also be removed similarly later in Photoshop), the Graduated filter
- great for darkening skies, the adjustment brush (great for making
selective adjustments to parts of the image. These include sharpening,
noise reduction, darkening/lightening etc. Finally there is the
targeted adjustment tool .
The graduated filter -
I find that this is very useful when darkening washed out skies.
It is often surprising how much cloud detail is lost within a
bland sky that can be retrieved with this tool and it can mimic
the effects of a polarising filter at time of capture. You click
and drag a bar down from the top of your image to the horizon
and then a whole raft of adjustments can be made. In the example
below I have made adjustments to exposure, saturation and highlights
selectively in just this area of the image. You will notice that
the faces of the people have not been affected by the changes
Photographers in Iceland - before image
Same image with the graduated filter
selected and adjustments made to the selected area
The targeted adjustment tool -
If you open this tool, you can use it in conjunction with several
of the tabs above the sliders to the right of the ACR workspace.
Perhaps two of the most useful tabs are Curves (Parametric setting)
and HSL greyscale. When you have the tool active the cursor becomes
a cross with a small circle beside it. If you click and hold anywhere
on the image the cross becomes a two-headed arrow that can be
dragged up and down or left and right like a slider. In curves
you can for example click on a black area and drag the arrow up
to lighten this and other similar black areas. You will see the
curve graph change accordingly. You could then select an area
of midtone and drag the arrow down and decrease the brightness
of this and other similar pixels.
In the HSL tab, you can select a coloured area and change its
hue, saturation or luminance (brightness). Note that the effect
is global, in other words all similarly coloured areas in the
image will also be affected. Here is an example of a background
colour change done in this way..
White admiral with original background
Same image with TAT selected on HSL
tab. Note the arrows which
I dragged to the left. This affected the green hue.
The adjustment brush-
This is a very useful tool as its effects are targeted to where
you paint them on with a brush rather than being applied globally
like the other tools. Once the adjustment brush is selected a
raft of options open up including some really useful ones like
sharpening and noise reduction (you can selectively sharpen softer
parts of the image for example) in addition to the usual shadows,
Let's see the brush in action.Remember our graduated filter example
above ? Well - if you look at the top left corner, you can see
that in addition to darkening the sky, the filter unfortunately
also darkened the rocks and ice.
By switching to the adjustment brush, we can select this area
and lighten it again!
Select the brush (at the top of the ACR workspace) and the tool
palette opens up.
At the bottom of the palette click on the automask and show mask
boxes and select a lurid colour for the mask. In this case I have
chosen orange as it stands out well.
At the top of the palette above the sliders click add and this
will add a new adjustment pin to where you start painting a mask.
By selecting the automask, the paintbrush is restricted to boundaries
which helps you paint within the lines. To change the brush you
use the size setting and can alter the feather radius for a softer
blended edge. Finally when selecting tricky bits like hair, the
flow and opacity sliders help dilute the effect and assist in
building up a decent edge. Once you have the area masked you can
turn off show mask and then start to use the sliders. I changed
the highlights, shadows and exposure. Here is the finished image..
If you would like to learn more about using the adjustment brush
and the other sliders mentioned I suggest that you search with
Google to find some training videos on YouTube. I recommend the
following video for a very good explanation of the Adjustment
brush for example: Adjustment
The HSL/grey scale tab
Allows you to individually change a range of colours hue/saturation/luminance
(brightness) globally within the image. They can be useful to
emphasize or reduce an individual colour in an image.
If you want to work in grey scale (black and white) This is a
great place to do it. Just click to "Convert to grey scale"
and adjust the sliders to make the image look as you would like.
This removes the necessity to carry out conversions in the channel
mixer in Photoshop - which used to be the favoured method.
I have no use for split toning - so I never use this, so I will
leave you to play if interested.
Only of use if your camera routinely outputs colour biases. I
have not found any use for this function. This tab does allow
you to revert to the colours of previous versions of ACR, but
why you would want to I can't imagine.
Once you have a set of RAW settings that you want to
be able to save and routinely access, you can select and apply
them into here. I have a set of saved presets that I use as my
starting point for all images, and start correcting from there.
This can save a lot of time.
Fx Post crop vignetting
This tab contains some effects such as adding grain to an image
or adding a black or white vignette around the edges of the image.
This can be done in Photoshop but this is a very easy way to achieve
I very quickly made this image by simply using the intuitive sliders
in the highlight setting. I think it would make a nice greetings
card. For the record, my settings were Amount +78, midpoint 48,
roundness +8, feather 45, highlight zero.
Step 11 open the image in Photoshop
When all adjustments are completed, either click Done to apply
the settings, or click Open image to open in the image editor
( Photoshop CS6) or click Save if you just want to save the image
as a TIFF or DNG file without editing it further. You will need
to set CS6 as your editor in your preferences.
Money saving tip !
There probably remains little to be done with your image in Photoshop
now beyond cloning out any unwanted elements like a telegraph
wire or blade of grass and sharpening it for output. Notice how
the emphasis has shifted over the years from nearly everything
being done in Photoshop to nearly everything being done in the
RAW converter. Photoshop is very expensive, but if you use Breezebrowser
(inexpensive) to browse and select your images and use ACR to
convert your selected RAWS you could get away with buying the
inexpensive Photoshop elements to finish and save your images
Saving time by doing batch conversions
If you have taken a series of shots under identical conditions
(say, you let rip with the motordrive and have a sequence of ten
similar shots for example), you can save a lot of time by doing
a batch conversion
In Bridge or Breezebrowser, select all the images that you want
to batch-process (by holding down Ctrl as you click on each image).
Then right click > Open in camera RAW.
All the selected images will appear in a vertical column down
the left side of the screen and the first image will appear in
the preview window. You now have a choice of working in two different
ways. You can either click "Select all" and as you make
changes to RAW settings they will automatically be applied to
all the images selected. The disadvantage of this method is that
you have to wait for the changes to be applied after each change
you make. I find it much better to select just one image, make
all the necessary adjustments and as the last step, click "select
all" and then "synchronize" .
The synchronize dialogue box will then appear, and you can either
synchronize all settings or just the ones you would like to apply.
You would not usually want to apply a level or crop setting to
all images, so I tend to leave these un ticked, but check all
You then have the usual options to save the image or open them
all in Photoshop or simply apply the settings and close.
If all this sounds like a lot of work compared to working with
jpegs, then you are probably right, but you simply could not achieve
the end result that RAW processing achieves if you just let the
camera's on-board system decide on what parameters to apply to
each image. If you blow highlights in a jpeg, they are lost forever
for example - blow them in a RAW, and you stand a much better
chance of recovering them. Also, many of the post processing adjustments
that are normally required in Photoshop for a jpeg (Levels/hue
and saturation/colour balance/shadow -highlight /curves etc) are
no longer necessary as you have made those adjustments in the
RAW conversion process.
Final labour-saving tip
Finally, if you only want to view your RAW images on
your computer screen, why bother to convert them
at all ? If you use the supreme RAW slideshow facility in Breezebrowser
you can see your images fullscreen without bothering to convert
them. You can then just convert those images that you want to
print out or e.mail or display on the web etc. I don't bother
converting my holiday snaps for example - I just view them in
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