Working with camera raw images
Raw images are high-quality image files that record the maximum amount of image data possible, in a relatively small file size. Though larger than compressed formats such as JPEG, raw images contain more data than TIFF files and use less space.
Many common file formats involve in-camera processing of the incoming image data that can effectively degrade the quality of the image. In creating a compressed file, data deemed superfluous is discarded; in mapping the spread of captured data to a defined color space, the range of the color information can be narrowed. In contrast, raw images retain all of the data captured for each and every pixel.
Capturing your photos in raw format gives you more flexibility and control when it comes to editing your images. Raw files do incorporate camera settings such as exposure, white balance and sharpening, but this information is stored separately from the image data. When you open a raw image in Photoshop Elements, these recorded settings effectively become “live;” the Camera Raw plug-in enables you to adjust them to get more from the raw image data. With 12 bits of data per pixel, it’s possible to retrieve shadow and highlight detail from a raw image that would have been lost in the 8 bits/channel JPEG or TIFF formats.
In the following exercises, you’ll work with a raw image in Nikon’s NEF format as you explore the Camera Raw window. This section will also serve as a review of the image editing concepts and terminology that you learned earlier.
In the Organizer, isolate the Lesson 4 images in the Media Browser, if necessary, by clicking the arrow beside the Lesson 04 keyword tag in the Tags panel. In the thumbnail grid, locate the camera raw image DSC_5683.NEF. Right-click / Control-click the thumbnail and choose Edit With Photoshop Elements Editor from the context menu. Photoshop Elements opens the image in the Camera Raw window.
The moment you open a camera raw file for the first time, the Camera Raw plug-in creates what is sometimes referred to as a sidecar file in the same folder as the raw image file. The sidecar file takes the name of the raw file, with the extension “.xmp.” Any modification that you make to the raw photograph is written to the XMP (Extensible Metadata Platform) file, rather than to the image file itself, which means that the original image data remains intact, while the XMP file records every edit.
Use the Windows System Tray or Notification Area, or the Dock on Mac OS, to switch back to the Elements Organizer. In the My Folders list in the left panel, right-click / Control-click the Lesson 4 folder and choose Reveal In Finder from the menu. A Windows Explorer or Mac OS Finder window opens to show your Lesson 4 folder. Click the folder, if necessary, to see the contents; the newly created XMP sidecar file, DSC_5683.xmp, is listed beside the NEF image file.
Return to the Editor—and the Camera Raw window—in Photoshop Elements.
Getting to know the Camera Raw window
On the right side of the Camera Raw window is a control panel headed by three tabs: Basic, Detail, and Camera Calibration. For this set of exercises you’ll work with the Basic tab—the default—which presents controls for making adjustments that are not possible with the standard editing tools in Photoshop Elements.
Depending on your operating system and Camera Raw plugin version, you may see a Preview checkbox above the image window; make sure it is activated.
Hold the pointer over each tool in the toolbar to see a tooltip with the name of the tool and the respective keyboard shortcut. Click the Toggle Full Screen Mode button () at the right of the tool bar to switch to full screen mode.
Click the menu icon at the right of the Basic tab’s header bar to see the choices available from the Options menu. You can apply the same settings you used for the last image you worked with, have Photoshop Elements revert to the default profile for your camera by choosing Reset Camera Raw Defaults, or save your own custom settings as the new default for your camera.
Adjusting the white balance
The white balance presets can help you to rectify a color cast caused by lighting conditions. You could correct the white balance of a photo shot on an overcast day, for example, by choosing the Cloudy preset. Other presets compensate for artificial lighting. The As Shot preset uses the settings recorded by your camera, while the Auto setting recalculates the white balance based on an analysis of the image data.
Switch between the presets in the White Balance menu, comparing the effects to the default As Shot setting. In the following pages you’ll discover why setting the appropriate white balance is so important to the overall look of the image.
For now, choose As Shot from the White Balance presets menu.
For many photos, the right preset will produce satisfactory results or at least serve as a basis for manual adjustment. When none of the presets takes your image in the right direction, you can use the White Balance tool () to sample a neutral color in the photo, in relation to which Camera Raw will recalculate the white balance. The ideal target is a light to medium gray that is neither discernibly warm nor cool. In our sample photo, the weathered wood is a potential reference, but we can probably be more certain that the steel fencing wire in the background is a neutral gray.
Zoom into the image by choosing 100% from the Zoom Level menu in the lower left corner of the image window, or by double-clicking the zoom tool. Select the Hand tool () and drag the image downwards and to the right so that you can see the thick wire to the left of the girl’s hat.
Select the White Balance tool (), right beside the Hand tool in the tool bar. Sample a medium gray from the center of the wire where it crosses a relatively dark area. If you see little effect, click a slightly different point.
Zoom out by choosing Fit In View from the Zoom Level menu in the lower left corner of the preview window.
The White Balance is now set to Custom and the image has become cooler. The weathered wood in the background is a more neutral gray and the skin tones are rosier. The eyes also look clearer, having lost the original yellow-orange cast.
Use the White Balance menu to alternate between your custom settings and the As Shot preset, noting the change in the preview window, as well as the differences in the Temperature and Tint settings.