RAW files are essentially digital ‘negatives’: they contain a vast amount of data, some of which is lost when shooting compressed JPEGs. RAW files contain all of the data received by your camera at the time of taking the shot, with a wider range of dark and light tones as well as detail being stored than if you were shooting in an alternative format.
Saving images in RAW file format also presents other advantages; for example, while RAW files are tagged with the data relating to the white balance, sharpness and other colour settings you’ve applied, these are only actually applied to the JPEG you might choose to shoot at the same time. This is where your RAW editor comes into play: opening up these untouched files in Adobe Camera Raw later means that you have complete control over all of these options and more.
In this tutorial you’ll discover all of the functions Adobe Camera Raw 6 has to offer and how to use them to perfect your own RAW files. Once you’ve got to grips with the plug-in, you’ll be fully equipped to develop your own RAW files and ensure you make the most of your digital camera’s capabilities.
To start, locate the RAW file you want to edit on your computer. Adobe Camera Raw 6 now supports RAW file formats from 275 models – including DNG format – so unless you’ve got a just-released camera, you should be able to work with the updated plug-in.
As we’ve established, there’s a lot of information stored in a RAW file, so there’s plenty of scope to tweak and hone a shot. To that end, Adobe Camera Raw 6 provides a wealth of options, presented in an easy-to-use slider interface. We’ll work through each of the new options in turn to demonstrate their capabilities and perfect our image.
Not a new feature but essential to get started, use the histogram at the top right of the interface to gauge how your exposure is looking. If all of the tones are bunched to the left or the right, then you need to take steps to even things out. To do this, you can simply click Auto and allow ACR to correct things, or use the Exposure slider to tweak things manually.
The next thing to tackle is the white balance. If you’re pleased with the colour temperature of your own image, then there’s no need to touch this, but for everyone else, there are several ways to alter the colour temperature in ACR. Use the drop-down menu to choose from a range of presets, similar to those offered by your camera or use the Eyedropper tool for a more precise adjustment.
To inject a bit more light into our image – without touching the exposure – we can use the Brightness slider. To do this, as before, simply drag the slider to the right to brighten things up, or to the left to darken the overall look of the image. We set the Brightness at around +25 to retain detail in the brighter areas.
If you just want to give the shadow areas a bit of a boost, the Fill Light provides the means to do this. For our shot, we dragged the slider to around 20 – just enough to give the darker areas a lift and reveal a bit more detail, without affecting our highlights.
The image is looking a little flat, but that’s easy to correct. This time using the Contrast slider, drag it to the right – around +35 should be about right for our shot. This should bring some punch back into those shadow areas and inject a bit of life back into the image as a whole.
The next slider in the ACR workflow is the Clarity tool. This slider mainly affects midtone contrast. You only need a touch of it to give the image a lift, but dragging the slider to the right slightly should enhance the textures in your image. Don’t overdo it though, or it’ll start to look unnatural – around +20 works well for this shot.
There’s some new technology involved in ACR 6’s sharpening, de-mosaicing and noise reduction tools. Go to the Detail tab, located below the histogram. Note the Luminance and Color sliders. To remove colour noise from your image, move the corresponding slider to the right and the blotchy effect disappears. With the artefacts gone, you can bring back the detail and saturation using the Color Detail slider.
The Luminance slider is particularly impressive in the new ACR – move it to the right and you’ll see a dramatic reduction in the noise in our woodland image, but be careful not to overdo it or things will look too smooth. Bring back the detail and texture using the Luminance Detail and Contrast sliders, without going so far as to reveal the noise again.
Access the Effects (Fx) icon, and – ironically – there’s an option to introduce Grain, if you want to do so for creative effect. Drag the Amount slider to the right, and then hone the Size and Roughness of its appearance using the corresponding sliders – you have full control over the extent of this effect.
The Post Crop Vignetting section of this tab lets you add a vignette to your images. There are three Style options to choose from – we picked Highlight Priority for our shot. Use the Amount slider to darken or lighten the edges of the frame, tweak the Midpoint slightly, then increase the Roundness and Feather respectively to perfect the look.
If you’d rather keep the colours of the image looking natural, without too much of the darkening or over-saturated effect characteristic of the Highlight Priority option, select Color Priority from the drop-down menu instead and repeat the process detailed in the previous step to generate a more subtle result.
The final step is to select the Detail icon below the histogram again. Zoom in to an area then move the Amount slider to the right to apply some sharpening, keeping the Radius below 3. Once you’re happy, click Open Image to continue working within Photoshop, or Done to simply save your changes.