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A Detailed Look at Camera Raw Controls

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Peachpit Press.
  • Date: Jun 16, 2006.

Chapter Description

Camera Raw starts working as soon as you point the file browser at a folder full of raw images, creating thumbnails and previews. In this chapter, we'll look at the Camera Raw controls in detail.

Camera Raw Static Controls

The static controls, which appear all the time in Camera Raw, fall into several groups: the Tool palette; the preview controls; the rotate controls; the main control buttons; the histogram; the RGB readout; the Settings menu; and the Camera Raw menu. Let's look at each of these in turn.

The Tool Palette

Camera Raw's Tool palette contains three tools. The zoom (magnifying glass) and pan (grabber hand) tools work just like their Photoshop counterparts. See Figure 3-5.


Figure 3-5 Camera Raw tool palette

The white balance tool (press I), however, works differently from the white eyedroppers that appear elsewhere in Photoshop. The white balance tool lets you set the white balance by clicking on the image. Unlike the white eyedropper in Levels or Curves, it doesn't allow you to choose a source color, and it doesn't affect the luminance of the image. Instead, it lets you set the white balance—the color temperature and tint—for the capture by clicking on pixels you've determined should be neutral.

Don't confuse the white balance tool with the gray balance tool offered by some other raw converters, which are designed to balance a midtone gray. Camera Raw's white balance tool works best on light grays close to diffuse highlight values.

Click-balancing with the white balance tool provides a very quick way to set color temperature and tint simultaneously. You can always fine-tune the results using the individual Temperature and Tint controls in the Adjust tab, which we'll cover in due course.

The Preview Controls

Situated immediately below the image preview, the preview controls let you control the zoom level and orientation of the preview, and toggle before-and-after views. See Figure 3-6.


Figure 3-6 Camera Raw preview controls

Zoom Level menu

The Zoom Level menu lets you choose a zoom level for the image preview—zoom in to check fine details, zoom out to see the global effects of your adjustments on the image (but see the earlier tip, "Use Keyboard Shortcuts for Fast Navigation").

Preview checkbox

The Preview checkbox toggles the image preview to reflect the current settings or those that were in effect when you opened Camera Raw—it provides the same before-and-after functionality as the Preview checkbox in the Adjustments dialog boxes such as Levels or Curves (press P to toggle Preview on and off).

Rotate controls

The Rotate 90 Degrees Left and Right controls (press L and R, respectively) let you apply a rotation to the preview that will be honored in the final conversion.

The Main Control Buttons

Both the OK and Cancel buttons perform multiple duties. Clicking OK dismisses the Camera Raw dialog box and converts the image using the settings specified in Camera Raw. Clicking Cancel closes Camera Raw, leaving the image unchanged, and no conversion takes place.

When you hold down the Shift key, the OK button changes to Skip. The subtle difference between Skip and Cancel is that if you select multiple images to open with Camera Raw, Cancel cancels the entire process, while Skip simply skips the current image and opens the next one in Camera Raw.

When you hold down the Option key, the OK button changes to Update. When you click Update, the current settings are written to the image's metadata without performing the conversion and opening the image. The Cancel button changes to a Reset button, resetting any changes you've made in Camera Raw and leaving the Camera Raw window open. See Figure 3-7.


Figure 3-7 Camera Raw main control buttons

The Basic and Advanced radio buttons, unsurprisingly, let you toggle between Basic and Advanced modes. The obvious difference between the two is that the Advanced mode adds two extra sets of image controls, Lens and Calibrate, which I'll discuss later in this chapter. A less obvious difference is that Advanced mode also adds some commands to the Camera Raw menu, which I'll discuss shortly. Since you've bought this book and read this far, I'll assume that you're an advanced user and hence you'll do what I do and keep the Advanced radio button turned on at all times.

The Histogram and RGB Readout

The histogram displays the histograms of the red, green, and blue channels that will be created by the current conversion settings, not the histogram of the raw image (which would look strange since digital cameras capture at linear gamma—all the image data would be scrunched over to the left).

The histogram lets you check for black and white, just like the histograms on the Histogram palette, but it also lets you check for clipping caused by colors you've captured that are outside the gamut of your chosen working space (see Figure 1-5 in Chapter 1, Digital Camera Raw). If you find that the chosen working space is clipping some colors, you can select a larger one—if your color is clipping in ProPhoto RGB, you're probably capturing something other than visible light!

The histogram is a useful tool both for evaluating the unedited raw capture and for checking your edits to make sure that you don't introduce any unwanted clipping.

The RGB readout shows the RGB values that will result from the conversion at the current settings—it shows the RGB value for the pixel under the cursor. See Figure 3-8. The RGB readout always reads 5-by-5 pixels at the current view resolution, so it may give different values at different zoom levels. When you fit the entire image into Camera Raw's preview, you're sampling an average of a fairly large number of pixels—the exact number depends on both the camera's native resolution and the size you've chosen from the Size menu in the workflow controls (see "Camera Raw Workflow Controls," later in this chapter). You can't really sample a single pixel, but in those rare cases where you'd want to, sampling at 400% view will get you very close.


Figure 3-8 Camera Raw histogram and RGB readout

The Settings Menu

The Settings menu lets you recall and apply any saved Camera Raw settings (see Figure 3-9). The items that always appear are Selected Image, Camera Default, and Previous Conversion, in addition to the filenames of any raw images currently open in the File Browser for which you've saved custom Camera Raw settings. (I've seen situations where older versions of the plug-in listed all raw files open in the File Browser, whether they had associated saved settings or not, and choosing ones that didn't have saved settings just produced an error message.) Choosing an image from the Settings menu loads that image's settings into Camera Raw.


Figure 3-9 Camera Raw Settings menu

You can also save your own custom settings as presets, which then become available from this menu. It's easy to overlook the mechanism for doing so, though, because it lives on the final item on the list of general controls, which besides being one of the most important, is also (for reasons unknown) unlabeled.

The Camera Raw Menu

Hidden under the small unlabeled right-facing triangle is the Camera Raw menu, which allows you to load, save, and delete settings or subsets of settings, set default settings for an individual camera, restore Camera Raw's default settings for a camera, and set Preferences. (In Basic mode, the Save Settings Subset and Preferences commands don't appear on the menu, but on Mac OS only, you can still access Camera Raw Preferences from the Photoshop menu when Camera Raw is in the foreground.) See Figure 3-10.


Figure 3-10 Camera Raw menu (Basic and Advanced)

The Load Settings and Save Settings commands let you load and save any settings you make with the any of the image-specific (Adjust, detail, Lens, and Calibrate) controls. If you save settings in the Adobe Photoshop CS/ Presets/Camera Raw folder, they appear on the Settings menu. If you save them elsewhere, you can load them using the Load Settings command.

In Advanced mode, the Save Settings Subset command becomes available (see Figure 3-11). This lets you save subsets of the image settings—for example, you can create settings that only adjust the exposure value up or down in 1/4-stop increments such as +0.25, +0.50, -0.25, -0.5, and so on.


Figure 3-11 Save Settings Subset

Camera Raw contains factory default settings for each supported camera model, which are used as the defaults for images originated by that model of camera. But you can create your own defaults—the image metadata tells Camera Raw which default to use for each camera model. The Reset Camera Default command resets the default setting for the camera that shot the current image to Camera Raw's factory default.

The Camera Raw Preferences command (which is also accessible from the Photoshop menu when Camera Raw is in the foreground) contains two items (see Figure 3-12).


Figure 3-12 Camera Raw Preferences

The "Save image settings in" option lets you save settings in the Camera Raw database or in individual sidecar .xmp files. Camera Raw treats the raw images as read-only (which is a Good Thing since your raw images never get overwritten), so any metadata that you add or edit for the image is saved either in a sidecar .xmp file—a small file designed to travel with the image—or in the Camera Raw database.

The Camera Raw database indexes the images by file content rather than name, so if you rename the raw file, the Camera Raw database will still find the correct settings. If you save the settings in sidecar files, make sure that you set the File Browser Preferences to "Keep Sidecar Files with Master Files," and make sure that you include the extension in any Batch Renaming operations—that way the sidecar files will get renamed to match the images, and will travel with the images if you move them using the File Browser. (See "Using Sidecar .xmp Files" in Chapter 4, The File Browser.)

The "Apply sharpening to" option lets you choose whether to apply sharpening to the previews and to the converted image, or to the previews only. I prefer to apply selective sharpening to the converted images, so I set this option to "Preview images only"—that way I can enjoy reasonably sharp previews, but apply more nuanced sharpening to the converted images. Note that this preference only affects the Sharpness setting, not either of the noise reduction settings, which are found on the same Detail tab as the Sharpness control (see "The Detail Tab," later in this chapter).

3. Camera Raw Workflow Controls | Next Section Previous Section

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