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Adobe Photoshop Tutorial




Getting Started with RAW

Step 3 - Using ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) Making the best of your photos

Now I am going to show you how to use the tools available in ACR to get the best out of your photos. Remember, you are not changing the files in any way, all you are doing is telling the system which bits of data to display and which to keep in reserve. As i mentioned before, each RAW file hold tons more data than can ever be displayed giving you enormous flexibility.

When I took this batch of shot I did so deliberately not paying too much attention to exposure so I can demonstrate how ACR works. As you can see below, all my files are open and visible a thumbnails down the left hand side and the first one is visible in the preview window.

adobe camera raw

Batch edits

This image and the one below both have the same exposure settings as they were taken together and both look a bit washed out. Rather than editing them individually I will select them both by clicking on the top thumbnail and 'shift+click' on the second. Now, although you can only see one image in the preview window, any changes I make to this image will also effect the other image.

acr exposure correction

Moving the exposure slider in the 'Basics' tabbed window, to the left has the same effect as reducing the exposure compensation would at time of shooting while moving it to the right increases the exposure compensation and brightens the image. I want to reduce the exposure so I have moved it to the left about half a stop. Notice the colors deepen. Notice too that the second thumbnail that was selected also changes with it. Some people have asked me what the difference is between using the Exposure slider and the Brightness slider. Well, the main difference is that the exposure slider effects all the brightness values across the histogram while the Brightness slider effects the brighter values more than the darker ones.

I'm not going to do too much more with this image so lets move on down the list. I can see there are a couple of thumbnails for some very sick cyclamen.

acr deleting

Umm, not only are these over exposed but they are well out of focus. ACR is good but nothing can fix focus so I'm going to delete these. By selecting them both again I simply click on the rubbish bin at the top of the ACR window above the preview image. They don't instantly disappear but instead a little red cross appears in the top left hand corner of the preview image and the thumbnails. These image will not be deleted until you save the settings and leave ACR. If you change you mind before hand you can simply click on the rubbish bin again and the cross will disappear. I am very happy to delete these images so the crosses remain.

Ok so that has given you an idea of how you can edit things as a batch. Remember you don't just need to work on two you can work on as many as you like as a batch and they don't need to be consecutive. To select non consecutive thumbnails click on the first and then hold the Ctrl key down while clicking on the other images.

Shadows and Highlights

Let's take a look at the histogram and in particular the two tiny triangles at both top corners. By clicking on these they will show you any blown out highlights, right triangle, or clipped shadows, left triangle, in your image. By default the blown out highlights will show up as red areas while the clipped shadows show up bright blue. This is useful because ACR provides the tools to fix these problems.

acr highlights marker

This image is very contrasty so bound to have both some blown out highlights and clipped shadows. Mind you, the histogram doesn't look too bad at the highlights end but lets just see what we have. First I will click on the highlights triangle at the top right of the histogram.

acr highlights marker

Now you can see some small patches of bright red in the image on the edges of some of the petals. OK so not too bad but good enough for a demonstration. Now I will click on the clipped shadows triangle at the top left of the histogram. Notice all the blue that appears in my image. This is telling me that these areas are completely black at this exposure setting. To be honest, I don't normally worry too much about some shadow clipping it's blown out highlights I really hate.

acr highlights marker

This image could do with a bit of a lift so I simulate taking this shot at a higher exposure by sliding the exposure setting to the right. You will see a lot more red appears as the highlight become more blown out but the blue decrease very slightly although it would need a lot more exposure to make a real difference but as I said, some shadow clipping doesn't really worry me.

acr highlights marker

In fact, let's just click on the clipped shadows triangle to turn it off and get rid of all that blue. There, that's much better :-) In truth, I could reduce it by moving the Blacks slider back to zero. With my D300 this is set a 5 by default it may be different with your camera but by changing that to 0 would probably remove all the clipped shadows.

acr highlighs marker

Now let me fix the blown out highlights. I do this by using the recovery slider right below the exposure slider. This slider just recovers lost highlights provided the image is not so horribly over exposed that even the RAW file doesn't contain that data. Move it only far enough to get rid of the red and no more. Now all the highlights are correctly exposed.

acr highlights marker

Fixing Exposure

acr fixing exposure

This close-up is horribly under exposed. So once again I will go to the exposure slider in the Basics tabbed window and move it to the right to brighten the exposure. I'm also going to up the contrast to give it more punch. The default contrast setting for this camera is +25 so I'm going to move the slider to the right to +60.

acr under exposure correction

Fill Light

One last thing I'll do is to brighten the shadows. to do this I'm going to use the 'Fill Light' slider which is below the 'Recover' slider we used earlier. This effects the image a little like if you had used a flash on you camera. Moving this to the right brightens the shadows and brings out the detail there. I've moved it here to +25 which is probably more than it needs but I wanted to be able to clearly show you the difference it makes. It can reduce the contrast but as I zapped that up pretty well anyway the result is OK. You could always go back a adjust the contrast anyway.

acr fill light

I think you'll agree this is a big improvement on the first image. Look at the two histograms on the before and after. The fist one, two above, shows everything bunched up at the dark end while in the one below it is more spread out but unlike if you were to do this in Photoshop, there are no gaps appearing and the 'mountain range' outline is reasonable smooth. This proves that image quality is being maintained.

Clarity slider.

acr clarity vibrance and saturationThe last three sliders in the Basic tabbed window consist of the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation sliders. I shall discuss all three separately. First lets looks at the Clarity slider. The clarity slider works a bit like the sharpen tools in Photoshop. It doesn't apply any sharpening but it increases the contrast around edges or blurs them depending on which way you move the slider. It is more effective on some images than others.

For this this discussion I shall be using this image left to demonstrate on. Here it is with the clarity slider central at the 0 value.

On the image below I have moved the slider all the way to the right to increase the clarity. The effect on this image is reasonable acceptable but on some doing this can look dreadful so it's not a tool you would want to apply as a batch.

acr clarity slider high

Now lets see what happens when I move it all the way to the left, decreasing the clarity.

acr clarity slider low

It produces an kind of Orton effect. Not a favorite effect for me but one day I might find it useful.


Please note, this slider was not available on the first version of ACR so if you are using cs2 you won't have it.

acr cyclamen image

Using the above image lets see how the Vibrance slider effects it. Vibrance boosts colours without clipping the colours that are already strong. Moving the slider to the right increases the vibrance while moving it to the left decreases it. On the image below I have moved the slider all the way to the right. Notice the hostogram and compare it to the original above. The beginning and end of both histograms have not change so no clipping has occurred.

acr vibrance high

As you can see, the image has become highly saturated with colour but the colour is fairly even because the less saturated colours have been boosted more producing, at this extreme, a reather flat effect. Having said that, I prefer this control to the Saturation and I'll explain why further on. Remember, you wouldn't normally need to increase it by this amount.

Now let's see what happens if I reduce the vibrance by moving the slider all the way to the left.

acr vibrance low

The image has become desaturated but, if you look closely, some colour still remains. This is because the colors that were most vibrant in the original image have once again been effected less than the least vibrant colours. The histogram proves this as once again the beginning and end has not changed.

Now lets compare that with the Saturation slider.


Once again we will use the same image of the cyclamen. first I will take the slider all teh way to the right to increase the saturation fully.

acr saturation high

Jeepers, we need sunglasses for this on! Look at the histogram. It has gone off the scale at both ends proving that the brightest colours have been totally clipped. If you look closely, even at this small size, you will see large areas of flat colour particularly in the magenta petals. this is why I don't like this tool and prefer instead to use the Vibrance slider instea

Now let's use the slider in the other direction to desaturate the image.

acr saturation low

As you would expect all the colour has now been removed from the image entirely. However, if you are considering creating a monochrome image I would not use this tool as there is a far better option available in the HSL/Grayscale tab.


In the next tutorial I will discuss the HSL/Grayscale tools.


Back to RAW introduction,

RAW - Camera Settings

Importing your RAW files

ACR Tools and Interface Explained

Creating and Applying Presets

ACR Basics & Exposure Tools

ACR Sharpening & Noise Reduction

ACR Curves tools

HSL/Grayscale tools (Hue, Saturation and Luminance).

Split Toning tools

Lens Correction tools

ACR Top Menu Bar (Crop, rotate and blemis removal etc)

Saving your settings and converting your RAW files

Bridge and Converted RAW Files



Recommended Further Reading for Photoshop

Return to introduction & contents page

"A-Z of Digital Editing"


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Tel. 07956 448690

e-mail - Images@sally-jane.com

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