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The Power of Camera RAW – Basic Adjustments

Editing a Sunrise or Sunset Scene Part Two

Technology is constantly changing in the world of photography.  Back in the days of film cameras there was a constant change in the types of film that was available, giving it’s own unique finish to a photo.  Film is still used today though not as much in demand as back in it’s day.  Forward to how we develop our images today and it is completely different but it has the same principal.  Hours were spent in darkrooms developing pieces of film, overdeveloping in one area, then under developing in another area of the film.

This practice is still done today except it is done digitally, without the need to spend hours in a lonely dark room.  Instead it is done in the comfort of an office or a living room with processing time being cut dramatically, in most cases an image when worked on for a decent finish can be complete in thirty minutes when using the many tools available in Photoshop, Lightroom or Capture One Pro.

Using Camera Raw

For this part i will be using Adobe Camera Raw only, just to show how easy it is to process your images easily before adding any more technical changes via the software programmes already mentioned.  Note that Capture One Pro and Lightroom will be different but it will have the same principal.

Getting Started

The first thing we need is an image that has been shot in a RAW format.  These will have various extensions depending on the brand of camera you use.  I shoot with Sony cameras, so my extension will end in ARW.  The image i will be using is from a sunset at St Davids Cathedral when twilight is almost setting in.  I normally shoot five images at different exposures then blend them all together to form a single image, something i will explain at a later post, however for this post i will be editing one of the darker exposures just to show how easy it is to expose an image right.

The original RAW file i will be editing to bring the exposure to a decent level.

Editing the Image Using Basic Adjustments

Once loaded up into Camera Raw, i normally work my way from left to right in the pictured menu just below the histogram.  You can see the exposure is dark by looking at the histogram on the top right in the image above.  Information that is on the left of the histogram is your shadows, anything in the middle is your midtones & information that is on the right are your highlights.

you can clearly see that the image is severely underexposed as shown by the colour of the shadow clipping bar shown in red.  The exposure on the right is in black so i have not overexposed.  The idea is to get the exposure just right by getting the clipping bars showing black and with having a decent result.  The image shows what i did after playing around with the settings.

After some basic adjustments the image has been nicely exposed with no clipping problems.

After just some adjustments here and there i have got a relatively decent image without having a finish that looks too over processed.  I did the following to enhance the image:

  • Raised the temperature slightly to give the image some colour.
  • Slightly raised the contrast for some tones.
  • Brought the highlights down so not to overexpose the image.
  • Raised the shadows for detail in the darker areas.
  • Brought the whites down, again so the image does not overexpose.
  • Raised the blacks for more details in the darker areas.
  • Raised the clarity to give the image more depth.
  • Some vibrance for more colour.
  • A touch of saturation, again for more colour.

Tone Curve

I normally do not use the tone curve when editing a single image.  As i am happy so far with how the image looks i will not touch it.  Use them if you need to make any refinements from the basic editing above.

The tone curve adjustment area. Note i did not make any changes this time.

Detail Adjustments

The next tab is detail adjustments.  This area focuses on the sharpness & noise reduction of the image.  I left the sliders to it’s default when opening a RAW as i am happy with how the image looks so far with regards to sharpness and noise.  As i shot the image in a low iso setting there was no real need to change this.  This is best used when shooting in high iso situations.  The sharpness i normally leave as i use another tool within Photoshop to bring out the detail a little more, and this will be explained in a later post.  An explanation of what each setting does below.

Sharpening:

  • Amount – Adjusts the edge definition.  The lower the amount the cleaner the image.
  • Radius – Adjusts the size that the sharpening is being adjusted to.  Images with finer details usually work best with a low setting whilst images with a larger radius work best with a larger radius.  Careful not to go crazy with this as it can ruin the image and make it look unnatural.
  • Detail – Adjusts the high frequency sharpening.  A low setting will remove blurring whilst a higher setting will make it look more pronounced.
  • Masking – This controls the amount of sharpening in an image.  The higher the setting, the more it concentrates on stronger edges.  Leaving it at zero will concentrate on the whole image.

Noise Reduction:

  • Luminance – Self explanatory, reduce the luminance noise.
  • Detail – Useful for very noisy images however having too high a setting can give a noisier result,
  • Contrast – Controls the noise in contrast areas.  Too high a setting and you could have a blotchy image.
  • Color – Reduce the noise in colours.
  • Color Detail – Take care with this one as too much can result in colour specking.  A very low setting can result in colour bleeding as well.
The detail tab in Photoshop. Try not too go too far with the sliders or it can ruin the image.

HSL/Grayscale

This is another area where if the sliders are out of control then it can completely colour out your image or just ruin it.  If you do use them have a play around first until you are happy with the result.  the only area i really use is Saturation to define the colours a little more.  you can also use this area to convert your image to mono.  I did make a few adjustments in the image below but not really noticeable in a small resolution image.

HSL/saturation. Some changes were made to enhance the colours a little more.

Split Toning

Split toning helps to add a bit of extra colour in the image but be aware that it will affect the whole image so it is not really ideal for most images unless it is necessary.  I did add a touch to mine just to show what it can do even at a low settings.  You can see there is a slight pinkish hint with a saturation that has been set quite low.

A touch of split toning being applied to the image in Camera Raw.

Lens Corrections

A very handy tool in Camera Raw.  This helps to reduce any chromatic aberration and correct any distortion in the image when using RAW.  Simply tick the two boxes, then select the lens you are using.  I used a Samyang 14mm f2.8 for this one so i selected this one in the list.  I also adjusted the distortion manually for a better profile but left the vignetting as there appears to be no severe whiting or blacking in the corners.

Correcting the image using the lens correction table in Camera Raw.

Effects

Dehaze is useful for getting rid of any haze in images but if the slider is too far to the right it can ruin the image, if you do use it try not to go over +5.  Grain adds a noise effect to the image if you prefer to add noise.  Vignetting creates a black or white vignette for personal taste.

Effects tab in Camera Raw.

Camera Calibration, Presets & Snapshots

The final three tabs are handy but rarely used except for Snapshots.  Camera Calibration is a selection of three types of processes.  I leave it to 2012 is it is the current one.  Presets are any adjustments you have made or downloaded and want to load them up rather than editing the whole image yourself.  Snapshots is very handy is you want to save what you are editing as a point, so if you make a mistake in the editing process you can roll back to a snapshot at any time.

Result

So the finished result after making some simple adjustments using Camera Raw.  Looks nice already but it’s not finished quite yet.  In the next part more adjustments will be made using Camera Raw before opening up the image for use in Photoshop.

The result of the image after making some basic adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw.

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