Using Camera Raw in CS6

September 17, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

When I created my blog I did kind of promise to add some educational articles as well as my general ranting.  I have talked about some of the the nice new functions in CS6 like the blur tools and content aware moves but I would like to demonstrate some much more fundamental functionality in CS6 and more specifically the camera raw editor.

You will hear a lot of talk about using your camera's raw capture mode if it has one and it really is the next step in getting more out of your camera's sensor.  It is, in reality, the closest thing to an old film negative that you will get. Normally your camera will capture a JPEG image.  That image will have been manipulated in camera to change things like picture sharpness, colour saturation and white balance to name but a few things.  Crucially it will also compress the information your sensor originally captured which looses valuable information. This certainly includes details in shadows and highlights but also colour information right across the image. A raw image provides you will ALL the information your sensor captured in a completely uncompressed file allowing you to get much more details and clarity out of you final image.

In this blog I aim to show you how I have used the camera raw function to pull, what I feel, is a good final image out of a file you might be tempted to throw away!

Because I have to show images on the blog as JPEG files the following is not an absolute version of the initial file because as we have already mentioned some information is lost but it shows what that original raw file looked like.

As you can see there is little to be seen! There is a pretty bright sky and no foreground detail. This was a handheld shot at 800 ISO and 1/40th of a second at f4 (the maximum aperture on my 17-40 wide angle lens). I did not use a graduated filter to try and balance the sky out because there would not have been enough light to get any shot. I did not want to push the ISO up any higher because this increases digital noise.

The first thing I wanted to do was pull out some detail in the foreground shadow areas. The latest versions of Camera Raw has a Shadows control which is a simple slider.  Moving it to the right brightens any shadow areas. There is no science to how much to adjust the level. Move the slider until you are happy is the rule. I settled on a value of +73 to produce the image shown below.

We are now starting to see some detail in the foreground that you probably would not have captured anywhere near as much of in a JPEG image. The next stage was to introduce some more detail into the sky.  To do this I used the Camera Raw Highlights slider. Again this is a simple slider with no science! To darken the sky down I opted for a value of -91.  You will notice is both the shadows and highlights I have happily travelled a long way along the possible values.

This has given a much deeper blueness to the sky and brought out some definition to the cloud base. The next stage is to use the Clarity control.  This is one of my favourite sliders in Camera Raw. It essentially enhances the definition of the image by boosting contrast around edges. Hard to explain and again my recommendation is to grab the slider and pull it left and right to see the effect. I nearly always end up pushing the clarity up to around 30-40.  In this case, 31.

Hopefully you should see a little more crispness around things like the gate and flowers heads. Next, camera modes like landscape will always have a little play around with things like colour saturation. The Camera Raw function gives you a little more control with two sliders called Vibrance and Saturation. Both boost colour saturation but the Vibrance slider will saturate the less saturated colours first enhancing more pastel shades.  The Saturation slide will change the saturation of the whole image. I find you can push the Vibrance control much more than the Saturation one. Here I have selected values of +23 and +6 for Vibrance and Saturation respectively.

Right, one final stage for me in Camera Raw is to see what effect the White Balance setting has on the image. The white balance setting determines what the camera regards as white (although in reality it is actually based what is known as 18% grey). It sounds silly maybe but you experience white balance throughout the day and probably pay little attention to it. At mid-day (assuming the UK sun comes out to play) the light is very blue but as the sun starts to set the light takes on a more red hue. Light bulbs, for example, tend to have a warm 'colour balance', that is to say a red hue to them. Digital cameras are very susceptible to white balance, or 'colour temperature'. This is actually a good thing though! In the old days of film you would have to decide what type of film to load into your camera to accurately record the colours. Once it was in that was it mate. If you wanted a different type of film, say tungsten balanced for those indoor light bulbs, you had to get another camera out! With digital cameras you can change it on the fly between shots.  If you shoot JPEGs you need to make sure you set the white balance to the correct setting.  Thankfully the camera will have an automatic setting where it will decide for you. If you shoot in raw it does not matter what you set the white balance to, you can adjust it in Camera Raw. Lower colour temperature values have a cooler look to them (i.e. blue!) and higher values are warmer (red!). I wanted to create a warmer feel to the image so to do this I adjusted the white balance pushing it up to 7100.

Once I had made all the changes I could open the the image in Photoshop and save it as a file that can be uploaded to my website or printed by a lab. Most online labs do not process raw files the images need to be submitted as JPEGs. Some labs will take files formats with less compression such as TIFFs but in general images for general viewing, especially on the Internet, are JPEGs.

The image below is just a screen shot of the Camera Raw editor. There are plenty of other options to play around with including lens corrections, sharpening, and colour balance to name but a few. 

I hope this has demonstrated what can be achieved using the raw capability of your camera and the Camera Raw editor in Photoshop. While Photoshop Elements does allow for raw image editing it does not provide all of the functionality you find in Photoshop CS.

You may be thinking well what you have produced is not really what you saw and it is all digital magic. Well, yes to some extent this is true but do not be fooled into thinking it never happened with film. Photographers would regularly dodge and burn areas of an image to alter shadow and highlight details, and clarity, sharpness and colour saturation could be manipulated by using different types of paper and exposure techniques.

We can all get on a moral high horse and say get it right in the camera but a lot of the fun is what you do after you have taken the picture!



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