Adobe Camera Raw is software that lets you import and enhance raw images. It is the first editing program used in the retouching workflow because it allows you to do non-destructive editing, which means pixels are not discarded or lost in the editing process and the quality of the image is maintained. (Destructive editing is an adjustment that permanently affects the pixels in an image. These types of edits cannot be undone once the file is saved and closed.) Follow the editing process in Adobe by following the arrangement of the tools, working from left to right, top to bottom, and use sliders to make adjustments to the images. An important feature in the editing program is the histogram, which shows the tonal distribution of the image. Looking at the histogram as you make adjustments will help you understand the different qualities of your image.
In Camera Raw, the retouching workflow is as follows.
- Save As
- Choose Convert and save image.
- Destination: Save in a new location. Select your PSD/TIFF folder to save the retouched version.
- Under File Naming, enter the File extension: .TIF.
- For Format, select Tiff; Metadata: All; Compression: None.
- Under Color Space, for Space, select Adobe RGB (1998); for Bit depth, select 16 bit/channel for the best color.
- Under Image Sizing, do not change the default. Leave as your original MP. For Resolution, select 300 dpi.
- For Output Sharpening, check the box for Sharpen and select Screen.
- Global adjustments
Start by adjusting the overall brightness to ensure that midtones, shadows, and highlights have appropriate detail. Tonal range in the image is determined by the distribution of pixels, ranging from dark to light. The goal is to have a strong variety of tones across the entire image. Move the exposure slider to the right to brighten the image; move it to the left to darken it.
Then make contrast adjustments to move highlights and shadows further away from each other. Contrast will vary depending on the lighting in the image, the tones within the subject, and the artist’s preference. Too little contrast and the image will appear flat and dull. Too much contrast, and the image will look surreal with little tonal variation of midtones. The right contrast will make the image pop. The histogram of the image will look like two tall mountain peaks with slight tonal variation in the middle. Adding contrast to your image causes the whites to appear brighter and the blacks to appear darker. Therefore, use the sliders for contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, and blacks to refine each of the contrast adjustments. A low-contrast image typically does not have true blacks or true whites, and the histogram is bunched in the middle. It is a good idea to apply contrast sparingly or even to wait to apply contrast in Photoshop, which allows for more specific and subtle control.
Next, make color adjustments to remove color casts created by varying temperatures of light within a given scene. The first step in color management is to choose the white balance appropriate for the image.
- As Shot: If you have custom white balance in the camera.
- Auto: If you forgot to adjust white balance in the camera, this setting will have the software do an automatic adjustment to the image to determine an appropriate white balance.
- Custom: Another option if you forgot to adjust white balance in the camera, which allows manual selection of the part of the image to balance from. Use the eye dropper tool to select the most neutral part of the image, a place that is white or grey.
- The other white balance options are for distinct types of light. Select one of these if you photographed in fluorescent, cloudy, daylight, or tungsten light.
The other options for adjusting color are the temperature and tint sliders. The temperature slider allows you to add more warmth or coolness to an image by adding yellow or blue light. The tint slider allows you to add more coolness or warmth to the image by adding green or magenta light.
Note that it may be necessary to go through the global adjustments, starting with brightness, then contrast, then color, until you are satisfied with the outcome.
Other Slider Adjustments
- Highlights: Brighten or darken the pixels in the highlight range near the right side of the histogram.
- Shadows: Brighten or darken the pixels in the shadow range near the left side of the histogram.
- Whites: Adjusts the lightest part of the image, the far-right side of the histogram.
- Blacks: Adjusts the darkest part of image, the far-left side of the histogram.
- Texture: Smooths or enhances textures in the image without destroying the finer details or adding noise. This slider applies to the mid-tone areas.
- Clarity: This is a more nuanced contrast that adds depth around mid-tones.
- Dehaze: Controls fog or mist.
- Vibrance: Increases unsaturated colors, which can help with a dull background.
- Saturation: Adjusts the saturation of all colors equally.
- Crop and Rotate
To straighten images, use the Straight Edge tool. The constrain proportions allow you to maintain the height and width (HW) dpi ratio of your image. Minimal cropping should take place on the computer because you are more likely to reduce the image quality. To make the most compelling photographic images, crop in the camera while taking the photograph. Use the act of taking the photograph as a way to frame within the camera using the view finder--you will make better composition.
- Spot Removal
The spot removal tool allows you to repair a selected area of an image.
Select the Type of spot removal.
- Heal blends pixels from one area with pixels from another area, essentially matching the areas, and is best for large areas of a single color or gradients of color.
- Clone copies pixels and textures from one area and pastes them onto another area and is best for areas with patterns or straight lines that you want to match exactly.
Select the size of the spot removal brush. Choose a brush that is slightly larger than the spot you are trying to remove. Move the slider to the right to make the brush bigger; move the slider to the left to make the brush smaller.
Feather determines the edge of the brush and how it blends with the surrounding area. For a hard solid circle, move the slider to 0%. To feather out or blend with the surrounding area, move the slider to 100%.
- Local Adjustments
Because the options for local adjustments in Camera Raw are a little clunky, it is better to make these adjustments in Photoshop using masking and selections.
- Preparing for Output
Retouch the image using the steps above until the image looks “correct.” Correct images are free from unrealistic color casts, have appropriate brightness in the mid-tones with details in both highlights and shadows, and have adequate contrast for the subject. Once your adjustments are complete, select how to save, close, or continue working on the file.
- Done: This option will close the file with the adjustments applied and allow you to open the image in Camera Raw again to make further changes.
- Open: This will open the image in Photoshop for further retouching. Be sure to save the file as a PSD or TIFF once you have finished editing.
- Open Object: This option opens the image in Photoshop as a Smart Object so that you can move back and forth between Camera Raw and Photoshop in the same image file.