At first glance the Camera Raw editor may seem fairly basic, a place perhaps to make a few quick tweaks before opening your files into Photoshop. But delve a little deeper and you’ll find that Adobe’s powerful raw plug-in has much to offer.
Many features can be found in the panels to the right of the interface, but there are also plenty more that may not be so obvious.
In this tutorial we’ll take a tour of the Camera Raw interface and uncover a host of tips and tricks used by the pros, from setting camera profiles and using the Tone Curve to tweaking preferences, making selective adjustments and cropping for print.
If you’re a Lightroom user, you’ll find these tips equally useful, as the tools in Lightroom’s Develop module are virtually identical.
One of the biggest advantages of working in Camera Raw is that every single edit you make is completely non-destructive.
This is because Camera Raw (as well as Lightroom, Aperture and Capture One) employs parametric image editing, which means that rather than altering the pixels that make up the image, any edits are instead logged as sets of instructions or parameters, and typically saved as a ‘sidecar’ file.
When you’re working on an image, you’re not actually making changes to it, you’re changing the way the imaging software interprets the data. Any setting can be edited or undone at any time, so you can apply the following tips in any order and on any image you like.
How to use Adobe Camera Raw for just about everything: steps 1-6
01 Host ACR through Bridge
Did you know the ACR plug-in can be hosted by Bridge? Photoshop needn’t even be open, which saves on processing power. Open Bridge, right-click nextsteps_before.dng and choose Open in Camera Raw. If you like, set ‘Double-click edits Camera Raw settings in Bridge’ in Edit>Preferences>General.
02 Set the camera profile
It’s tempting to begin adjusting tones in the Basic panel, but often the Camera Calibration panel is a better starting point. Adobe Standard doesn’t always look best, so experiment with others. Nikon and Canon cameras are supported, but for others you’ll need to download profiles. We’ve used the ACR 4.6 profile.
03 Recover detail
Go to the Basic panel and set Temperature to 4350 and Shadows to +16. Hold Alt while dragging the Whites slider to check for clipped pixels. We won’t be able to bring back detail in the sun completely, but we can perform a recovery by dragging whites to -32.
04 Vibrance and Saturation
The Saturation slider adjusts all colours, and Vibrance targets the less-saturated colours. A decrease in Vibrance with an increase in Saturation can give good results. Set Vibrance to -10 and Saturation to +26. Set Clarity to +22 to add punch to the midtones.
05 Boost the tones
Go to Tone Curve and click Points. Cmd/Ctrl-click over the image to set a point along the curve line, then use the arrow keys to move it. Cmd/Ctlr-click on lighter clouds, then repeatedly tap up. Cmd/Ctrl-click on the grey rocks then tap down to boost contrast.
06 Lighten the foreground
The foreground is too dark, so grab the Graduated Filter tool, then set Temperature to +10, Exposure to +70, Highlights to +16 and Clarity to +15. Drag upwards from above the rocks towards the horizon while holding Shift to keep the line perfectly vertical.