Processing Camera RAW images in Photoshop CS5.5
For the most part we will use CS5.5’s Camera RAW processor to do basic tonal image adjustments, sharpening, reduce noise, correct chromatic aberration and on occasion straighten a horizon or building using the straighten tool. Other great tools include the spot removal, red-eye reduction, adjustment brush and graduated filter features (not covered in this note). The vignette feature is a nice creative way to darken the edges of an image to draw more attention to the central subject. Please keep in mind that the PS Camera RAW should not be seen as a substitute for using Photoshop for fine tuning tonal/color.
To really understand how Photoshop’s Camera RAW works I highly suggest that you invest in the Real World Camera Raw with Photoshop CS4 (or newest edition) by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe published by Peachpit Press.
CS 6 users please watch this video to note changes with the Camera Raw Basic panel adjustment sliders: http://www.peachpit.com/podcasts/episode.aspx?e=6b9357e2-caa6-4083-86f6-76975d67850c
After double clicking the image you wish to process in Adobe Bridge select the blue link below the image to set your image Workflow Options. In the dialogue box select Adobe RGB (1998) as the color space* at 8-bit/channel depth with a resolution of 300 PPI. Select your camera’s native resolution (size) using the setting without either a plus or a minus showing. Do not use the sharpen feature. Hint: Create a master file at the largest file size that you think you will need to reproduce and create smaller files sizes from this master.
*The sRGB IEC61966-2.1 color space may be used for accurate reproduction of skin tones when needed.
CS 5.5 Basic Panel:
Temperature: controls the overall color temperature of your image in degrees Kelvin through yellow/blue adjustments. Try ‘As Shot’ to begin with. Moving the slider to the left lowers color temperature making the image cooler. Conversely, moving the slider to the right raises color temperature making your image warmer.
Tint: allows fine-tuning of color balance using green/magenta controls. Moving the slider to the left adds green to the image. Conversely, moving the slider to the right adds magenta to the image.
Exposure: controls the mapping of highlight tone values in your image and is a white-clipping adjustment. Large increases in exposure will increase noise in shadows and/or posterization so make adjustments sparingly. If your image is grossly over or underexposed making drastic adjustments with this feature will not improve and most likely will degrade your image so expose properly in camera!
Recovery: helps to recover highlight detail in an image. Should be used in conjunction with Exposure slider. It is often one of the adjustments correctly guessed by the auto adjustment feature.
Fill Light: can be used to fill shadows and draw out shadow detail. Avoid overuse as you will create a visible halo effect in extreme high-contrast edge detail.
Blacks: is a black clipping control. Moving the slider to the right deepens shadow detail. Note that small moves are all that is necessary. Most images require a setting between 3 and 5.
Brightness: acts very much like the gray slider control in Levels. Redistributes midtone values without affecting shadows or highlights.
Contrast: unlike PS Contrast feature, Camera’s RAW’s Contrast applies a ‘S’ curve to data leaving shadow and highlight detail alone.
Clarity: This is my favorite new adjustment tool in Camera Raw. It adds mid-tone contrast and seems to brighten/sharpen the image overall. You can use this at a high amount. I apply between 50 to 80 on occasion. Use less for portraits with skin detail.
Vibrance: similar to Saturation, this adjustment increases saturation of unsaturated colors more than ones already saturated.
Saturation: does an overall saturation adjustment to the image. Still, it is a bit less robust than PS version.
Tone Curve Panel: applies either Parametric or Point curve adjustments to an image. I rarely use this panel myself but if you decide to use it I would suggest that you work with the Point auto curve adjustments found in the pull-down menu. This allows you to set a variety of contrast settings.
FYI: Be sure to check the histogram in the top right corner as you are applying the above image adjustments to make sure that you are not clipping shadow or highlight detail in your image.
Sharpening: allows you to sharpen your image during Camera RAW conversion. All Camera RAW images need some type of sharpening initially. If in doubt, use the default settings for this tool. Note that if your image is blurry to begin with this feature will not make your image miraculously sharp! DO ALL SHARPEN ADJUSTMENTS AT 100% VIEW.
Amount: generally apply between 25 to 75.
Radius: defines how pixels on either side of an edge will be sharpened. Generally apply between 0.5 to 1.5.
Detail: defines how sharpening affects the detail threshold of the image. Generally apply between 25 to 50.
Masking: reduces the sharpening of nonedge areas while concentrating on sharpening edge detail. Applying this really depends on the type of image. Photos with blue skies or large areas of color should have some masking applied to keep these areas from becoming noisy through sharpening. An image with a lot of edge details needs less.
Noise Reduction: high ISO settings add noise/grain to your images. This affect can be especially seen in smooth areas of color or shadow detail. To avoid this affect shoot at the lowest ISO setting that is possible for your subject matter. Rule of thumb is to shot at 100 ISO when ever possible. When used, the goal is to reduce the noise without destroying the edge detail and textures of an image.
Luminance: generally apply between 0 to 25.
Color: generally use the default of 25.
Lens Correction Panel:
Chromatic Aberration: results when a light on a lens’s sensor can not be focused on the same plane. Lower end zoom and wide-angle lenses are often affected by this phenomena. As a result you will see this occur at the corners of your image where there are areas of high contrast. This slider allows you to reduce red/green and blue/yellow chromatic aberration fringe occurrences. To determine whether you need to apply this feature, enlarge your image to 200 to 400 percent and study areas of high contrast to see if you need to adjust for this. Set Defringe to either Highlight edges or All Edges as necessary.
Lens Vignetting: this feature can be used creatively to add a dark vignette at the corners of an image. Helps to focus the viewer’s eye centrally. Moving the slider to the right lightens and moving the slider to the left darkens the corners.
When you have completed all necessary adjustments open your file in Photoshop by clicking “open image” to do further editing and retouching.
DOWNLOAD THIS AS A PDF: Processing Camera RAW images in Photoshop CS5