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Monday, June 25, 2007

Double-Process RAW

Optimize RAW files twice—once for highlights and once for shadows—for a better tonal range

Double Process RAW1. Process the shadows. There's no arbitrary rule as to which to process first, shadows or highlights. I like to work an image first based on which type of tonality covers the larger part of the photo. In this case, it's the shadowed areas, so I started there.

I first adjusted the tonality of the shadows as follows:

• Exposure is increased to lighten the brighter areas.

• Blacks are increased slightly because shadow detail looks flat if simply lightened. You usually need to increase the blacks a bit.

• Fill Light is a great new adjustment in the Camera Raw 4.0. It allows you to lift the tonality of the darkest areas without changing midtones, highlights or even the true blacks. I'll use it to brighten just the darkest parts of the photo when necessary.

Then I brightened the darker midtones with the Tone Curve:

Double Process RAW• Lights and darks (this is a nice new feature of the latest Camera Raw) are increased to lift the shadow midtones further.

• The Shadows slider is moved down to keep the contrast looking good in
the shadows.

Finally, for the shadows, I warmed up and strengthened the color. Shadow color is typically recorded weaker and bluer than we see it in real life.

Double Process RAW • The Temperature slider pushes up the warmth of the image, removing the bluish cast.

• Vibrance intensifies the colors. Vibrance is a new adjustment that's less heavy-handed than Saturation and works well with subtle colors like those seen here.

The image is opened into Photoshop, converting it from RAW, and saved with a name that includes "shadows" (it doesn't have to be saved when you're using CS2 or CS3, but this step just protects you). At this point, the shadows look good, but the sky and other bright areas look terrible. That's okay. Adjustments are made here purely to optimize the shadows without compromise.


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