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Photoshop CS4 Camera Raw Processing

March 22, 2011

If you’ve spent any time around professional photographers or are familiar with the field, you know that RAW format is the preferred image format by nearly all photographers. I had been using RAW for quite a while, but until recently I did not know it’s true potential. One of my professors likened processing your images in the RAW dialogue to developing film, using JPEG is more like having someone (or something in this case) else process your photos.

Editing your RAW photos in the RAW dialogue not only eliminates the need for almost 90% of your Curves, Levels, Exposure, and Color Corrections in Photoshop, but it offers a plethora of options otherwise a pain to reproduce. Now you may open JPEGs in the RAW, however it is not as much of an advantage as the image has already been compressed in a lossy process.

The RAW menu

The RAW menu

Once you have opened up a RAW image in Photoshop (.NEF for Nikon, .CRW for Canon) it will open the RAW dialogue which you can see above. Before I get into the sliders, you can see at the bottom you may edit the color space (I almost always use Adobe RGB (1998)) and bit-depth among other setting if you are editing a RAW image. This can come in handy if you do not have a color space choice in your camera menu or you shot with one you do not care for.

Because it would take a ridiculously long post to cover all the options in this RAW dialogue, I will only cover the options in the first Page, but for more info or tutorials on the other options check out

White Balance (Temperature and Tint):
This is one of the most helpful tools in the menu. You can use this tool to correct any white balance problems or global color casts that many cameras have. Although we would like to think auto white balance is perfect, IT’S NOT!!! There is also a drop down menu where you can choose presets, however I choose to use custom editing.

This option is self-explanatory. You can slide the fader to the left and right in order to increase or decrease the exposure of the image.

Recovery is a bit mysterious, but as I understand it dragging the fader to the right affects the highlights that are currently clipping and does so by adjusting the equivalent of the curves feature.

Fill Light:
Fill light concentrates more on the mid-tones, and acts like a “digital light”, filling the image with a brightness, however it tends to flatten images.

Again this feature is pretty self-explanatory, sliding the fader to the left or right either globally brightens or darkens the image, but use this feature in moderation as it can also flatten the image.

This feature obviously affects the contrast in the image, which is the difference between the darks and lights in the image.

This is one of the the most intriguing features in the menu. It is essentially a selective contrast on steroids. What it does basically is intensify lights and darks in addition to altering the background near the dark or light with a lighter or darker value. It can really do wonders to make a photo”pop”, but be careful as you can get some nasty halos with this one. Also, you can slider the fader to the right to get a soft effect.

In essence this is a “smart” saturation. It will increase saturation of the colors in your image that are not already bright or saturated.

Saturation is the last option, and it again is somewhat self-explanatory. Sliding the fader to the right thus increasing the saturation will cause all colors in the image to become more vivid and saturated, so use this one with moderation as an over-saturated image just looks amateurish.

One last note, all of these adjustments are GLOBAL and will affect the entire image, any fine tuning will need to be done in Photoshop. You can see how helpful the RAW dialogue box can be in “processing” your images, and it conveniently collects these features (and many more I haven’t covered) in one place so you can start with an excellent photo.

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