“RAW rules!” is one of the daily chants at my workshops. That’s because I encourage all my workshop participants to always shoot RAW files since you can do more—and rescue more detail in highlight and shadow areas—with RAW files compared to JPEG files. For my professional processing work, I use Photoshop CS5. In my workshops, however, I also use and teach Photoshop Elements because it’s a very powerful digital image-editing program—powerful enough for most photo enthusiasts.
In this column, I’ll take you through some basic RAW settings in Adobe Camera Raw for Photoshop Elements 9, the latest version of Elements as of this writing. After that, I’ll share with you a couple of tips for working and playing in Photoshop Elements 9. The opening image for this column started out as a RAW file. I first processed it in Adobe Camera Raw and then moved it into Photoshop Elements 9. Let’s go!
Here’s my original image. It’s a bit dark and flat, has a few dust spots and is off-kilter.
In the Adobe Camera Raw Basic window, you virtually have all the adjustments you need to adjust, enhance and fix your image. My favorite controls are Recovery, which lets you recover overexposed highlights (up to about a stop), Fill Light, which lets you open up shadows, Clarity, which makes your picture look clearer, and Vibrance, which saturates only the colors that aren’t already saturated. In this screenshot, I haven’t made any adjustments yet.
Here’s a screenshot that shows my adjustments. Compare the settings to the settings in the previous image. You’ll also see that in this screenshot I highlighted the Crop and Straighten tool, located at the top of the window. This is a cool feature for cropping and straightening an image.
The second tab icon in the Adobe Camera Raw window is the Detail tab. This is where you can sharpen your image and reduce noise. Keep in mind that you can’t sharpen an out-of-focus picture and that it’s not a good idea to oversharpen an image—but note that all RAW files need sharpening. And when it comes to Noise Reduction, remember that as you reduce noise, your picture can become softer. Luminance noise is grayscale noise, and color noise is color noise. Look for noise in shadow areas and in the sky. To avoid noise, shoot at low ISO settings.
When you click Open Image, your image opens in Photoshop Elements, where you can further enhance an image. To check the brightness and the shadow/highlight area of an image, go to Enhance > Adjust Lighting > Levels. As you can see, my image lacked good highlights, indicated by a space at the right side of the histogram. To create a better, brighter image, I simply moved the Highlight slider to the left, just inside the histogram’s “mountain range.” Had my image lacked good shadows, I would have moved the Shadow slider (dark triangle) to the right. The basic histogram adjustment concept is to have the “mountain range” stretch across the width of the histogram window.
Want to try black-and-white? Go to Enhance > Convert to Black and White. You can select a Style and Adjust the Intensity. I chose Vivid Landscapes, and increased the Red setting because, just like a red filter on a film camera loaded with black-and-white film, it makes the sky go darker and look more intense. Play around with Black and White. It’s fun, and it’s cool that you can see the Before and After images.
Here’s my final black-and-white image. I like the color image, but this one looks cool to me, too.
Rick Sammon, a Photoshop World Hall of Fame nominee, has written extensively on digital imaging. See more of Rick’s work at www.ricksammon.info.