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"Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers" Excerpt: What's New in Camera Raw 7.0, The New Camera Raw Workflow

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The following has been excerpted and edited from the 10th edition of Martin Evening's book, "Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers." The book is currently available for purchase for $54.95 at FocalPress.com, BN.com and Amazon.com, as well as in major bookstores. To view CS6 video tutorials based on the contents of this book, click here.

(From Chapter 1)

What's new in Camera Raw 7.0 

Camera Raw 7.0 offers some further image processing refinements. In particular, there is now a new Process 2012 option in which the main Basic panel controls have been completely revised to provide more extensive editing capabilities for both raw and non-raw images. In fact, if you are familiar with the image editing controls in Adobe Revel for tablet devices, you'll already have seen how these work. The main Process 2012 sliders are also available as localized adjustments, along with new Temp and Tint adjustment controls. Lastly, the Tone Curve panel now also offers an RGB point curve editing option.

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Figure 1.104 When you select a single raw image in Bridge, and double-click to open, you will see the Camera Raw dialog shown here. The Basic panel controls are a good place to get started, but the Auto button can often apply an adjustment that is ideally suited for most types of images. Once you are happy, click on the Open Image button at the bottom to open it in Photoshop. TIP: If you click on the Full Screen mode button in Camera Raw (circled above in blue), you can quickly switch the Camera Raw view to Full Screen mode.

 

Saving from raw files

If you save an image that's been opened up from a raw file original, Photoshop will by default suggest you save it using the native Photoshop (PSD) file format. You are always forced to save it as something else and never to overwrite the original raw image. Most raw formats have unique extensions anyway like .crw or .nef. However, Canon did once decide to use a .tif extension for some of their raw file formats (so that the thumbnails would show up in their proprietary browser program). The danger here was that if you overrode the Photoshop default behavior and tried saving an opened Canon raw image as a TIFF, you risked overwriting the original raw file.

 

Opening photos from Bridge via Camera Raw

If you double-click to open a raw or DNG image via Bridge, these will automatically open via the Camera Raw dialog shown in Figure 1.104, where Photoshop will host Camera Raw. Alternatively, if you choose File ➯ Open in Camera Raw... via the Bridge menu, this will open the file in Camera Raw hosted by Bridge. The advantage of doing this is that it allows you to free up Photoshop to carry on working on other images. If you choose to open multiple raw images you will see a filmstrip of thumbnails appear down the left-hand side of the Camera Raw dialog, where you can edit one image and then sync the settings across all the other selected photos. There is also a preference setting in Bridge that allows you to open up JPEG and TIFF images via Camera Raw too.

I would say that the main benefit of using Camera Raw is that any edits you apply in Camera Raw are nonpermanent and this latest version in Photoshop CS6 offers yet further major advances in raw image processing. If you are still a little intimidated by the Camera Raw dialog interface, you can for now just click on the Auto button (circled in red in Figure 1.104). When the default settings in Camera Raw are set to Auto, Camera Raw usually does a pretty good job of optimizing the image settings for you. You can then click on the 'Done' or 'Open Image' button without concerning yourself too much just yet with what all the Camera Raw controls do. This should give you a good image to start working with in Photoshop and the beauty of working with Camera Raw is that you never risk overwriting the original master raw file. If you don't like the auto settings Camera Raw gives you, then it is relatively easy to adjust the tone and color sliders and make your own improvements upon the auto adjustment settings.

Easter eggs

There are some hidden items in Photoshop. If you drag down from the system or Apple menu to select About Photoshop..., the splash screen reopens and after about 5 seconds the text starts to scroll telling you lots of stuff about the Adobe team who wrote the program, etc. Hold down opt/alt and the text scrolls faster. Last, but not least, you'll see a special mention to the most important Photoshop user of all... Now hold down cmd/ctrl-alt and choose About Photoshop... Here, you will see the Superstition beta test version of the splash screen (Figure 1.105 below). When the credits have finished scrolling, carefully control/alt-click in the white space above the credits (and below Superstition) to see what are known as Adobe Transient Witticisms appearing one at a time above the credits. Being a member of the team that makes Photoshop has many rewards, but one of the perks is having the opportunity to add little office in-jokes in a secret spot on the Photoshop splash screen. It's a sign of what spending long hours building a new version of Photoshop will do to you. And if you are looking for the Merlin begone Easter egg, associated with the Layers panel options, well, Merlin is truly begone now!

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Figure 1.105 The Superstition beta splash screen.

(From Chapter 3)

The new Camera Raw workflow 

When Camera Raw first came out it was regarded as a convenient tool for processing raw format images, without having to leave Photoshop. The early versions of Camera Raw had controls for applying basic tone and color adjustments, but Camera Raw could never, on its own, match the sophistication of Photoshop. Because of this, photographers would typically follow the Camera Raw workflow steps described in Figure 3.1 (below). They would use Camera Raw to do all the ‘heavy lifting’ work such as adjusting the white point, exposure and contrast and from there output the picture to Photoshop, where they would carry out the remaining image editing.

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Figure 3.1 Camera Raw 1 offered a limited but useful range of image adjustments, and this remained unchanged through to version 3.0 of Camera Raw.

Camera Raw 7 in Photoshop CS6 offers far more extensive image editing capabilities and it is now possible to replicate in Camera Raw some of the things which previously could only have been done in Photoshop. The net result of all this is that you can (and should) use Camera Raw as your first port of call when preparing any photographic image for editing in Photoshop. Let’s be clear, Camera Raw does not replace Photoshop. It simply enhances the workflow and offers a better set of tools to work with in the early stages of an image editing workflow. Add to this what I mentioned earlier about being able to work with JPEG and TIFF images, and you can see that Camera Raw is a logical place for any image to begin its journey through Photoshop.

Camera Raw support

Camera Raw has kept pace with nearly all the latest raw camera formats in the compact range and digital SLR market, but only supports a few of the higher-end cameras such as the Hasselblad, Leaf, Leica and Phase One cameras. Camera Raw currently offers support for over 350 raw camera formats, including most of the leading models, and is updated regularly every three months or so. As I mentioned here, you can also use Camera Raw to open JPEG and TIFF files. It is an RGB editor, so it is designed to edit in RGB. However, CMYK files can be opened via Camera Raw, but will be converted to RGB upon opening. For the full list, go to: http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/extend.html

If you look at the suggested workflow listed in Figure 3.2 (below), you will see that Camera Raw 7 now has everything you need to optimize and enhance a photograph. It can also be argued that if you use Camera Raw to edit your photographs, this replaces the need for Photoshop adjustments such as Levels, Curves and Hue/Saturation. To some extent this is true, but these Photoshop adjustment tools are still relevant for fine-tuning the images that have been processed first in Camera Raw, especially when you want to edit your photos directly or apply certain kinds of image effects that require the use of adjustment layers or additional image layers.

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Figure 3.2 Camera Raw 7 has now extended the list of things that can be done to an image at the Camera Raw editing stage.

Does the order matter?

When you edit an image in Camera Raw it does not matter which order you apply the adjustments in. The lists shown in Figures 3.1 and 3.2 (above) are presented as just one possible Camera Raw workflow. So for example, you could refer to the list of steps in Figure 3.2 and start by applying the crop and work your way through the remainder of the list backwards. However, you are best advised to start with the major adjustments first, such as setting the white point and Exposure in the Basic panel before going on to fine-tune the image using the other controls.

Raw capture

If you are shooting with a professional digital back, digital SLR, or an advanced compact digital camera, you will almost certainly have the capability to shoot using the camera’s raw format mode. The advantages of shooting raw as opposed to JPEG mode are not always well understood. If you shoot using JPEG, the files are compressed by varying amounts and this file compression enables you to fit more captures onto a single card. Some photographers assume that shooting in raw mode simply provides you with uncompressed images without JPEG artifacts, but there are other, more important reasons why capturing in raw mode is better than shooting with JPEG. The main benefit is the flexibility raw gives you. The raw file is like a digital negative, waiting to be interpreted any way you like. It does not matter about the color space or white balance setting that was used at the time of capture, since these can all be set later in the raw processing. You can also liken capturing in raw mode to shooting with negative film, since when you shoot raw you are recording a master file that contains all the color information that was captured at the time of shooting. To carry the analogy further, shooting in JPEG mode is like taking your film to a drugstore photo lab, throwing away the negatives and then making scans from the prints. If you shoot JPEGs, the camera is deciding automatically at the time of shooting how to set the white balance and tonal corrections, often clipping the highlights and shadows in the process. In fact, the camera histogram you see on the camera LCD is based on the JPEG interpretation capture data regardless of whether you are shooting in raw or JPEG mode (see Figure 3.3 below).

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Figure 3.3 The camera’s on-board processor is used to generate the low resolution JPEG preview image that appears in the LCD screen. The histogram is also based on this JPEG preview and therefore a poor indicator of the true exposure potential of a raw capture image. 

When shooting raw, all you need to consider is the ISO setting and camera exposure. But this advantage can also be seen by some to be its biggest drawback; since the Camera Raw stage adds to the overall image processing, this means more time has to be spent working on the images, plus there will be an increase in the file size of the raw captures and download times. For these reasons, news photographers and others may find that JPEG capture is preferable for the kind of work they do.

JPEG capture

When you shoot in JPEG mode, your options are more limited since the camera’s on-board computer makes its own automated decisions about how to optimize for tone, color, noise and sharpness. When you shoot using JPEG or TIFF, the camera is immediately discarding up to 88% of the image information that’s been captured by the sensor. This is not as alarming as it sounds, because as you’ll know from experience, you don’t always get a bad photograph from a JPEG capture. But consider the alternative of what happens if you shoot using raw mode. The raw file is saved to the memory card without being altered by the camera. This allows you to work with all 100% of the image data that was captured by the sensor. If you choose to shoot in JPEG capture mode you have to make sure that the camera settings are absolutely correct for things like the white balance and exposure. There is some room for maneuver when editing JPEGs, but not as much as you get when editing raw files. In JPEG mode, your camera will be able to fit more captures onto a card, and this will depend obviously on the capture file size and compression settings used. However, it is worth noting that at the highest quality setting, JPEG capture files are sometimes not that much smaller than those stored using the native raw format. What you will find though is that the burst capture rate is higher when shooting in JPEG mode and for some photographers, such as those who cover sports events, speed is everything.

It’s ‘raw’ not ‘RAW’

This is a pedantic point, but raw is always spelled using lowercase letters and never all capitals, which would suggest that ‘raw’ was some sort of acronym, like JPEG or TIFF, which it isn’t.

Editing JPEGs and TIFFs in Camera Raw

Not everyone is keen on the idea of using Camera Raw to open non-raw images. However, the Camera Raw processing tools are so powerful and intuitive to use that why shouldn’t they be available to work on other types of images? The idea of applying further Camera Raw processing may seem redundant in the case of JPEGs, but despite these concerns, Camera Raw does happen to be a good JPEG image editor. So from one point of view, Camera Raw can be seen as offering the best of all worlds, but it can also be seen as a major source of confusion (is it a raw editor or what?) Perhaps the biggest problem so far has been the implementation rather than the principle of non-raw Camera Raw editing. Earlier in Chapter 2, I made the point that opening JPEGs and TIFFs via Camera Raw was made unnecessarily complex in Photoshop CS3, but following the changes made in Photoshop CS4, this issue has been mostly resolved. The Camera Raw file opening behavior for non-raw files is now much easier to configure and anticipate. On the other hand, if you look at the Lightroom program, I think you’ll find that the use of Camera Raw processing on non-raw images works very well indeed (I explain the Lightroom approach to non-raw editing in a separate PDF that’s on the book website). It has to be said that editing non-raw files in Lightroom is much easier to get to grips with, since Lightroom manages to process JPEGs quite seamlessly (see sidebar).

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom program is designed as a raw processor and image management program for photographers. It uses the exact same Adobe Camera Raw color engine that is used in Photoshop, which means that raw files that have been adjusted in Lightroom can also be read and opened via Camera Raw in Photoshop or Bridge. Having said that, there are compatibility issues to be aware of whereby only the most recent version of Camera Raw will be able to fully interpret the image processing carried out in Lightroom and vice versa. Lightroom does have the advantage of offering a full range of workflow modules designed to let you edit and manage raw images all the way from the camera import stage through to Slideshow, Book, Print or Web output. There is no differentiation made between a raw or non-raw file, and with the latest Process 2012, the same default settings are applied when a photo is first imported. When you choose to open a Lightroom imported, non-raw file (a JPEG, TIFF or maximum compatibility PSD) into Photoshop, Lightroom gives you the option to apply or not apply Lightroom edited image adjustments.

Alternative Raw processors

While I may personally take the view that Camera Raw is a powerful raw processor, there are other alternative raw processing programs photographers can choose from. Some camera manufacturers supply their own brand of raw processing programs, which either come free with the camera or you are encouraged to buy separately. Other notable programs include Capture One, which is favored by a lot of professional shooters, Bibble, DxO Optics Pro and Apple’s Aperture which can also be seen as a rival for Adobe’s own Lightroom program. If you are using some other program to process your raw images and are happy with the results you are getting then that’s fine. Even so, I would say that the core message of this chapter still applies, which is to use the raw processing stage to optimize the image so that you can rely less on using Photoshop’s own adjustment tools to process the photograph afterwards. Overall it makes good sense to take advantage of the non-destructive processing in Camera Raw to freely interpret the raw capture data in ways that can’t be done using Photoshop alone.

Martin Evening is a London-based photographer and Photoshop Hall-of-Famer who is renowned for his fashion and beauty work. Evening has worked with the Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom engineering teams for many years and is one of the founding members of Pixel Genius, a software design company producing automated production and creative plug-ins for Photoshop. “Adobe Photoshop CS6 for Photographers” is his latest book from Focal Press. For a full list of Evening’s Focal Press titles, visit www.focalpress.com.