Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The genius of editing photos (even JPEG's!) in Adobe Camera Raw

If you own one of the versions of Photoshop CS then you also own Adobe Camera Raw, which is Adobe's editor for photos shot in Raw format.  Did you know that you can edit other photo formats (i.e., TIFF, JPEG) in Camera Raw as well?  I've known this for a long time, but I only recently spent the time to seriously try it out. 

I'm here to say that using Camera Raw for quick (yet sophisticated!) corrections to your photos is fantastic.  Significantly complicated photo editing jobs will still be done easier in Photoshop, but for most touch-up editing Camera Raw is great.

First thing, if you're considering trying this then buy this book:  "Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS4" (or the newer version if you have CS5).  It's a terrific book that walks you through everything you need to know about Camera Raw and how to get the most out of it with photo examples and easily understandable text.  It's a must read for editing photos in Camera Raw.

The premise of my post here is to get the point across that making certain types of adjustments in Photoshop can be a chore, especially when dealing with layers, layer masks, etc.  Quite simply, this is because Photoshop is more than just a photo's also a graphic design tool....which means there are a lot of options and tools in there for graphic design that clutter up the interface and functionality when you want to perform photography tasks.

Software companies like Adobe and Apple realize this, which is precisely what gave birth to photo-centric editing software like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture.  These are sophisticated pieces of software geared toward editing photos and only editing photos.  The tools you need are presented in an easy to use way that supports a streamlined workflow.

What a lot of people don't realize about Camera Raw is that the processing engine and tools in it largely form the basis of the editing capabilities in Adobe Lightroom.  Knowing this, you can now realize that you have a great photo editing tool at your fingertips in Camera Raw that you probably don't use often because everyone focuses so much on Photoshop.

To get a JPEG photo opened in Camera Raw on Photoshop for Windows, go into File, Open As.  Then go to the folder path and find the image you want to open.  Click it, select "Camera Raw" in the open as dialog box below, and click 'Open'.  Your image should open in Camera Raw.

Or, if you want to automatically open all JPEG's in Camera Raw (which I've just configured my Photoshop CS4 to do), then just follow the three easy steps at this link.

This post is not meant to be a "how to edit your photo in Camera Raw" article.  That's what the book above is for and I certainly can't duplicate the book in this post.  But as you can see from looking within the Camera Raw editing window that you opened, you have a large set of photo-centric tools located on the right side of the screen that are very powerful and effective.

On the top of the editing window you can see two tools called "Targeted Adjustment Tool" and "Adjustment Brush".  The usefulness and power of just these two tools alone are worth editing your photos in Camera Raw, but when you also consider some of the other tools like Parametric Curves, Vibrance, Graduated Filter, and Clarity.....using Camera Raw to touch up your photos becomes a no-brainer.  In particular, the way the Adjustment Brush automatically creates layers with pins to identify them is terrific!  You can literally paint your corrections onto your photo and modify them at any time.  Brilliant!  All of these features are also available in Lightroom.

As I said above, if you need to do really complex photo fixes (like complicated photo retouching), then Photoshop is still the way to go.  But for most edits to your photos, I would bet that you can do them easier and with higher quality in Camera Raw than you can in Photoshop.

Try it!  You might never go back!


  1. I always use Camera Raw for some preprocessing, but Photoshop is the only way to go for post-production, especially in terms of making big images. For instance, I sharpen (smart sharpen) only in the LAB color mode at 16-bit with the image converted to a smart object using only the Lightness Channel. There's no color involved with the Lightness Channel, so you can get a great deal of sharpness applied to the image with no incidence of halo effect in the colors... that, and there's no need for software such as Nik Sharpener Pro, because in effect you're doing the same with Photoshop. A word of warning about LAB mode: one or two passes only in 16-bit and in layers or smart object, then flatten and return to RGB. I only use it for sharpening and noise reduction, with no loss to the image file as long as you play by these rules.

    Good narrative for the mostpart here, John!

  2. Thanks Mike. You make valid points about more serious post-production work like enlarging and sophisticated sharpening in LAB. Any of these types of things will definitely need a trip over to Photoshop after preprocessing in Camera Raw.

    Each of these tools has their potential place in a workflow. My main use for Camera Raw in my current workflow is to use its flexible color, tone, and exposure controls (and the great tools!) to achieve powerful corrections in Camera Raw that would potentially take many more steps in Photoshop.

    But essentially I agree with what you're saying. Heavy duty work has to be done in Photoshop.