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Understanding Photoshop Camera Raw

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  1. #26. Understanding Photoshop Camera Raw

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What is unique about Camera Raw is that when you use it to make an adjustment, the data in your image is not changed; rather, the plug-in creates a set of instructions that determine how the pixels in the image are to be displayed. Chris Orwig introduces you to Camera Raw.

#26 Understanding Photoshop Camera Raw

The Photoshop Camera Raw plug-in provides a unique and compelling way to process raw, JPEG, and TIFF files inside Photoshop. Camera Raw offers a number of different controls to modify exposure, color, tone, contrast, sharpness, and so on. What is unique about Camera Raw is that when you use it to make an adjustment, the data in your image is not changed; rather, the plug-in creates a set of instructions that determine how the pixels in the image are to be displayed.

You can think of a camera raw file as a traditional film negative. If you want to create different types of prints from a film negative, the film negative never actually changes. Rather, you could bring the negative to a photo lab and write down instructions for the lab to print the image brighter, darker, or as a sepia tone. The negative stays the same, but the final output varies based on the written instructions.

In comparison, a raw file (like a negative) is never modified, but the set of adjustment instructions can be infinitely modified. The wonderful thing about this approach is that the image adjustments are not permanent, and they do not drastically increase the file size. Thus, making adjustments with Camera Raw keeps you nimble, creative, and quick.

When you use Camera Raw, the adjustments (or “instructions”) you make are stored as metadata. The metadata is saved in one of the following ways:

  • As a database (the default storage method)
  • As an accompanying sidecar file (an extensible Metadata Platform [XMP] file)
  • Within the file (DNG format—a nonproprietary, TIFF-based file format for storing Camera Raw data)

Which option is best? It really depends on your preferences, so let’s discuss the options. By default, Camera Raw is set to save the camera raw “instructions” in a database. This option is best if you are working on only one computer, and the image will stay on that computer.

For the majority of amateur and pro imagemakers, this default setting isn’t ideal because of the need to store a large volume of images. Multiple hard drives are usually necessary. If this is your situation, you may want to change the default preference to accommodate this need. Open Adobe Bridge and choose Edit > Camera Raw Preferences (Windows) or Bridge > Camera Raw Preferences (Mac) to display the Camera Raw Preferences dialog box (Figure 26a). From the Save Image Settings In menu, choose Sidecar “.xmp” Files. This provides more flexibility, since the raw settings will “travel” with the image rather than stay on the main computer’s hard drive.

The other option is to convert your images to DNG format, which will store the camera raw settings inside the actual file. You can convert your images to the DNG format using Adobe’s DNG Converter application or by saving them from within Camera Raw as DNG files. For more information on the DNG format and DNG Converter, see www.adobe.com/products/dng.

To use Camera Raw with JPEG and/or TIFF files, open the Camera Raw Preferences dialog box in Bridge and select the check box for the appropriate option in the JPEG and TIFF Handling area (Figure 26b).