Articles, Insights, and Tutorials
Adobe Camera Raw
It's not just for Raw files any more
Did you know that you can easily correct Exposure, White Balance, and more on any Jpeg from any digital camera using the free Adobe Camera Raw software (versions 4 & newer) for Windows or Mac that's included with Photoshop Elements 5 and newer, Photoshop CS3 and newer, and all versions of Photoshop Lightroom?
Adobe Camera Raw is easy to use, intuitive, instantly responsive with its on-screen adjustment previews, and most importantly, non-destructive with your original Jpeg files. Camera Raw adjustments and corrections are not "burned in" to the original Jpegs, they are retained as tag files that accompany and modify the original files when they are opened into Photoshop.
Indoor flash photo, too dark
White Balance a little too cool
Corrected with Adobe Camera Raw
Adjusted Exposure +1.0,
White Balance Temperature +5, Recovery +10
Washed out sky
Corrected with Adobe Camera Raw
Adjusted Exposure -1.0,
Fill Light +30, Recovery +10
Similar to working with Raw files, changes made to your original Jpegs in Camera Raw can be undone and returned to their original state at any time thereafter, with the original Jpeg file information remaining untouched. Because of this, you can now consider your original Jpegs to be like digital "negatives" for use as a lifetime source for future post processing and printing. With that in mind, it's a good idea to have a long term cataloging plan before you copy your original pictures from your memory cards to your hard drive so you can easily find them in the future. It's wise to make permanent backups of your original files in another location (CD, DVD, external hard drive, etc.) in case something bad happens to your computer.
Prior to Camera Raw version 4, Jpegs that needed White Balance or Exposure work were difficult to correct, requiring strong Photoshop skills and time consuming work to get acceptable results.
- For exposure correction, the traditional Photoshop process involves working in Levels, dragging the shadows slider to the right for overexposure, dragging the highlight slider to the left for underexposure, and / or moving the middle slider left or right to achieve a new midtone balance, followed by a Brightness and Contrast adjustment to tweak the results. Advanced Photoshop users often apply advanced masking techniques before working in Levels to make exposure corrections to shadows, highlights, or specific color ranges. Photoshop CS2 & newer includes an 'Exposure' adjustment tool found under the Image > Adjustments menu that has control sliders for Exposure, Offset, and Gamma. The Exposure adjustment tool is easy to use, works surprisingly well for underexposure, but works poorly on overexposure.
- For White Balance correction, the traditional Photoshop process involves trial and error sampling with the eyedropper tool in Levels to find the best baseline white, gray, or black points; trying different looks in Variations; or applying different warming or cooling filters in the Image > Adjustments > Photo Filter tool. The Photo Filter tool is the easiest to use, and reasonably effective for some White Balance corrections. Aftermarket Photoshop Plug-ins for White Balance corrections can be as or more complicated to use than traditional Photoshop processes. Most work out of reduced size preview screens that make it difficult to properly evaluate adjustments.
Easy Exposure & White Balance correction was the main reason I switched from Jpeg to Raw back in 2001 when Nikon Capture 2 software was introduced with its user friendly White Balance and Exposure Compensation tools. Three years later, my excitement about further industrywide improvements to Raw conversion software motivated me to publish a short web article titled "Why shoot Raw?".
As time went on, I continued shooting Raw because of the technical processing advantages and the enhanced quality of the images they provided, but I missed the practical side of shooting Jpegs.
- The down side of Raw files is that they require a computer with special Raw conversion software to process, view, or print pictures. Cameras and megapixels advance year by year, requiring faster computers with bigger hard drives, more processing power, more memory, and updated software to recognize the new camera Raw file format changes.
- The up side of Jpegs is that every computer, every web browser, and every kind of imaging software knows what Jpegs from any kind of camera are and can handle them with no problem. Other than having larger file sizes due to more & more megapixels, Jpegs haven't changed since digital cameras were invented. Jpegs can be quickly and easily loaded up & viewed on any computer or portable image viewing device, viewed in any e-mail, and printed anywhere without any special software or equipment.
Dual format shooting options became standard in later model high-end cameras, providing both a Raw and Jpeg file of the same picture. This gave me the opportunity to enjoy the best of both worlds. I could share, view, or print the Jpeg copies right out of the camera anywhere & anytime, and still have the Raw files for advanced post processing.
But dual format also means fewer total pictures per memory card because of the space taken by the additional Jpeg files. And it takes considerably longer to transfer the dual set of Raw plus Jpeg picture files into a computer.
So should you shoot Raw? Jpeg? Or both??
If you want the absolute best image quality your camera can deliver, shoot Raw.
If you prefer the simplicity & ease of working with Jpegs, Adobe Camera Raw can now give you nearly all of the technical processing abilities of a Raw file.
If your camera can shoot Raw plus Jpeg at the same time, do it. Even if you don't want to work with Raw files now, save them for the possibility that one day you might make the change. Your experience working with Jpegs in Camera Raw will make it easy. And then you can go back to your old photo archives, dig out the Raw versions, and make your favorite pictures even better!
How to open a Jpeg, Tiff, or Raw file into Adobe Camera Raw with Photoshop Elements (version 5 or newer) or the full version of Photoshop (version CS3 or newer)
- Click on File > Open As...
- A new Open As dialog box will pop up (see screenshot below).
- Navigate to the directory where your image files are located.
- Scroll down to the "Open As" field at the bottom center and click on "Camera Raw".
- Go back up in the same dialog box and click on the file you wish to open, then go back down to the lower right and click "Open".
- Camera Raw will open up with your image.
Below: Screenshots of an open Jpeg in PS Elements 7 Camera Raw (top)
and in Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw (bottom).
- Modify your image with Camera Raw as you like, then click on "Open Image" and the picture will open up into Photoshop or Photoshop Elements for final finishing or printing.
Photoshop and Photoshop Elements have three Camera Raw control tabs in common.
- Camera Calibration
Photoshop Elements is limited to just these three.
This is where you'll find White Balance, Exposure, and other basic tone adjustments.
For Jpegs, the available White Balance choices are As Shot, Auto, and Custom. Auto and Custom provide a broad range of correction, likely all you'll ever need.
For Raw images, the available White Balance choices are Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Tungsten, Fluorescent, and Flash. You can also choose As Shot, Auto, and Custom.
All of the following adjustments can be applied to either Jpeg or Raw files.
The Temperature slider warms or cools the White Balance.
The Tint slider can be used to neutralize a green or magenta color cast.
Clicking on Auto analyzes the camera image and makes automatic adjustments to Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, and Contrast. Clicking on Default returns all values to zero. These values can also be individually adjusted.
The Exposure tool is used to correct under or over exposure.
The Recovery slider is used to restore details in highlights.
The Fill Light slider helps recover details from the shadows.
The Blacks slider darkens the blacks, especially in the shadows.
The Brightness slider lightens or darkens the whole picture, but tends to wash out or muddy up the darker tones. Use sparingly or never.
The Contrast slider adds or reduces image contrast, especially in the midtones.
The Clarity slider is perhaps Camera Raw's best feature. Plus settings add a feeling of depth and will clean up hazy looking pictures. Minus settings smooth out harshness in shadow details, especially useful for improving facial skin tones.
The Vibrance slider adds or subtracts saturation with a more natural look than traditional Saturation adjustments
The Saturation slider? Use the Vibrance slider instead to retain a more natural looking saturation or desaturation.
Sharpening and Noise Reduction
For Jpegs, the in-camera sharpening is embedded when imported into Camera Raw. Any sharpening done in Camera Raw will be in addition to what was already preset in the camera.
For Raw images, in-camera sharpening settings are ignored when imported into Camera Raw. All sharpening is done to a zero-sharpened file.
All adjustments can be applied to either Jpeg or Raw files.
The Amount slider adjusts edge definition. Higher values increase sharpening. A value of zero turns off sharpening.
The Radius slider adjusts the size of the details that sharpening is applied to.
The Detail slider adjusts how much information is sharpened in the image and how much the sharpening process emphasizes edges.
The Masking slider provides an edge mask. With a setting of zero, everything in the image receives the same amount of sharpening. With a setting of 100, sharpening is limited to only those areas near the strongest edges.
Tip: Zoom to 100% view and press the Alt key (Windows) or the Option key (Mac) while dragging any of the above sharpening sliders to see the effect of the adjustments. You must be zoomed to 100% for this to be seen!
The Luminance slider is used to reduce high ISO graininess. Use with restraint, because it can also blur fine details.
The Color slider is used to reduce high ISO color speckles.
The Jpeg camera color profile is embedded and cannot be changed from the profile you had your camera set to when the picture was taken.
For Raw images, the Camera Profile drop-down box allows you to change color profiles. For Nikon and Canon Raw files, you can use one or more of Adobe profiles, or you can select from a variety of additional profiles that emulate the in-camera color modes for your particular camera. Other camera brands have limited profile choices.
Note that there are no slider adjustments in the Camera Calibration tab with the Photoshop Elements version of Camera Raw.
The full version of Photoshop has additional adjustment features in the Camera Calibration tab.
The full version of Photoshop has nine Camera Raw control tabs.
- Tone Curve
- HSL / Grayscale
- Split Toning
- Lens Corrections
- Camera Calibration*
Except as noted in the previous section under Basics and Details, all controls, features, and adjustments apply to either Jpeg or Raw files.
*There are additional adjustment features available in the Camera Calibration control tab with the full version of Photoshop.
One of the things I like best about using Camera Raw is that all the controls and adjustments are easy to find, they're right there in front of you all the time, and they all operate the same way.
No need to search and navigate through a maze of menu bars like you have to do in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.
Notice the added Camera Calibration slider adjustments with the full version of Photoshop compared to Photoshop Elements.
As with Photoshop Elements, the Jpeg camera color output profile is embedded and cannot be changed from the Profile you had your camera set to when the picture was taken.
For Raw images, the Camera Profile drop-down box allows you to change color profiles. For Nikon and Canon Raw files, you can use one or more of Adobe profiles, or choose from a variety of additional profiles that emulate the in-camera color modes for your particular camera. Other camera brands have limited profile choices.
What are Presets & Snapshots?
Presets allow you to assign reference names and save any or all of the Camera Raw settings in a given picture. You can then use Presets to instantly apply the same settings to any other picture. Presets are one-click solutions for things like favorite sharpening methods, black & white or sepia toning techniques, or giving all the individual pictures in a group the same look.
Snapshots allow you to assign reference names and save the different stages of your Camera Raw editing progression. You can then toggle back & forth through your snapshots and easily compare the results of the changes you have made. Snapshots are especially useful for those "I think that picture might have actually looked better a few minutes ago?" situations.
Camera Raw and Photoshop Lightroom.
It looks very different, but Lightroom has the same Camera Raw options for Jpeg or Raw files as the full version of Adobe Photoshop, plus streamlined batch processing (called "Sync") and other unique features. Below: Screenshot of Camera Raw controls in Lightroom 3
Now that so much can be done with a Jpeg, why shoot Raw at all?
- For small prints, or for pictures reduced in size to fit your computer screen, there is little visible difference in image quality between a Raw converted file and a well groomed high quality Jpeg.
Jpeg Conversion - Reduced to 600x399 Pixels Click here for a larger view featuring both pictures at 1200 x 798 pixels Raw Conversion - Reduced to 600x399 Pixels
- But for images that require extensive post processing, for major shadow & highlight recovery, and for large prints, Raw converted pictures are richer, cleaner, sharper, and smoother looking.
100% View (Actual Pixels)
Raw Converted Crop
100% View (Actual Pixels)
Click here for the full sized Jpeg Conversion,
4256x2832 Pixels, 5.5 Megabytes
Click here for the full sized NEF Conversion,
4256x2832 Pixels, 6.5 Megabytes
Note: For accurate comparison purposes, the Jpeg and its corresponding Raw file shown above were taken with the camera preset to zero sharpening. Sharpening was applied with exactly the same values to both images in Camera Raw.