Paths to Artistic Imaging in Photoshop

Adobe Camera Raw: an intelligent first approach

In March 2014, after the publication the previous November of my book, “Paths to Artistic Imaging in Photoshop”, I decided to write a bonus chapter on Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) as a thank-you to those who purchased a copy.

The chapter’s aim is to show the features now available and give some examples that demonstrate their power and convenience.

This is an extract from the new chapter.

It includes the introductory section, along with an explanation of one of the most useful tools in the ACR module.

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I have been especially impressed with the abilities of the Adobe Camera Raw module since the new version that shipped with Photoshop CS6 and wanted to write about it, however it didn’t really fit with the theme of the original book.

The module provides tools for adjusting raw image files and has undergone a significant upgrade.

ACR was always a useful tool and a better choice for quality imaging than using JPG files, but the newer version is seriously better than those that have come before.

I will show some example images and run through all the ACR controls, to create pretty impressive results, before even opening them into Photoshop.

There are benefits with this workflow in both speed and quality.

The tools in ACR are quick and effective to use and because adjustments are made to the original file data, you can squeeze a surprising amount from a good quality file with much less chance of visual degradation.

At the risk of stating the obvious, be sure that you have your camera set to save raw files, so that you can use these methods with the most benefit.

One of the new features is the ability to open not only raw, but TIF and JPG files directly into Adobe Camera Raw to take advantage of its powerful tools, so raw files are not essential but far better results are possible if they are used.

This is because all the original data from the camera is available for use, in a raw file.

Camera JPG and TIF files will have been already processed in some way by the camera and will have lost useful data.

Raw files contain a surprising amount of “hidden” data, which can be accessed and processed by ACR to reveal much more image detail than you might expect.

The ability to open TIF or JPG files into ACR is handy though, if you simply don’t have a raw file and one of these other formats is all that is available to you.

From the outset, I should point out that ACR is not the only raw module available.

I previously mentioned the Nikon and Canon proprietary versions in chapter four of the main book and there are a number of others.

ACR is probably the most common though, as anyone who has Photoshop, already has it too.

It is also the one I use, so it is simply the one that I am best qualified to talk about!

Anyhow, it’s probably time to look at the great new features in ACR.

First things first

To begin with, let’s navigate the main window.

In case you don’t already know, it is generally best to open your files from Adobe Bridge, either by double-clicking the file or selecting one or more files, right-clicking and choosing either Open or Open in Camera Raw.

The Open in Camera Raw option is useful if you want to do some initial work on some images, without opening them into Photoshop, or if you wish to make adjustments and then save the result out to a new file, in a DNG, TIF, PSD or JPG format.

It is also used if you want to open a JPG or TIF file into Adobe Camera Raw.

The first illustration is the Adobe Camera Raw module, as it appears when you first open a file.

Adobe Camera Raw Window

And immediately, we have some housekeeping to take care of. At the bottom centre of the window, there is a line of text, which you should click on. This opens a dialogue that you will see in the second illustration.


It is fairly self-explanatory, I suppose but it is important that you set these options to suit your normal workflow. These settings can be changed for individual images, however it’s best to set them initially to default values that work for your normal way of working.

First, set your preferred colour space; most commonly Adobe RGB or sRGB. For those not so familiar with colour spaces, sRGB is the safest default, although for artistic and high-quality work, I prefer the extra gamut available in Adobe RGB.

The bit depth can safely be set at 8-bit for most purposes, although again, for high quality work, I prefer to play it safe and choose 16.

As for the remaining three, I prefer to leave them alone.

Resizing and sharpening are best done in Photoshop and I don’t use Smart Objects for my work, however if you want to open files as Smart Objects, go for it.

While we’re in this vicinity, the Save Image button to the left will allow you to save the worked version of the image as a separate file in a different format, as mentioned previously.

The Open Image button opens the worked file into Photoshop and the Done button saves your changes, without opening the image.

Moving to the top left of the Adobe Camera Raw window, we’ll first skip across to the third from last button, which hovered over, reads Open Preferences Dialog.

The first two options in this window are important.

It’s messy but probably best in most cases, to set the “Save Image Settings In” option to Sidecar .xmp files and essential to set the Apply Sharpening option to Preview Images Only.

Trust me on this; you definitely don’t want sharpening applied before you have completed your adjustments in Photoshop.

Mention should be made too, of the area to the top-right of the window.

Here you will see a histogram of the image, along with an RGB readout of wherever the cursor happens to be and some data about the file.

Sadly, RGB is the only option for the readout, which is not very useful unless you’re just looking for neutrals.

You may know from reading the printed book that I’m not a Histogram fan, so this part of the window is also of little use, in my humble opinion.

Also, if you find that you’re seeing some strange blue and/or red splotches on the image in the Adobe Camera Raw window, click the small up-arrows in the top corners of the histogram display, to switch off these annoying coloured warnings that shadows (blue) or highlights (red) are being clipped.

Lastly, the Preview check box next to the histogram, allows you to toggle between the adjustments you have made and the file as it was when opened.

It is important to note however, that this will only toggle the settings in the tab that you are currently using, unless you select one of the last two, Presets or Snapshots, which will then toggle the original view with the result of adjustments made in all the tabs. (I’ll mention this again later in the chapter, as it’s worth repeating in the context of explanation of the tabs.)

The Targeted Adjustment Tool

The Targeted Adjustment tool is one of the most useful and powerful in Adobe Camera Raw. Take my word for it; remember the shortcut key, T, now and you won’t regret it.

Select this tool, right-click on the image and choose from one of the HSL values, Hue, Saturation or Luminance (or Grayscale Mix in the case of mono output). Ignore the Parametric Curve option, which is of no value, in my humble opinion. Then simply click and drag up or down on a colour that you want to adjust and this terrific tool will, as its name suggests, target that precise hue.

A demonstration is perhaps in order.

The next illustration is opened from a raw file with all settings zeroed.

Canoe 1

Let’s say that I’d like to darken the water to add depth and focus attention on the canoeist.

I select the Targeted Adjustment tool, right-click on the image and choose Luminance.
Then, I place the cursor over a section of the water, click, hold and drag down until the desired density is achieved.

For demonstration purposes, I do the same to the yellow part of the background life vest and then select Hue and drag up on the green of the foreground vest, which both removes some of the yellow component in the green and takes the water a little away from cyan and towards the blue, resulting in the second version.

Canoe 2

I’m getting a little ahead of myself but the third version below it, shows a few more tweaks to the other settings, giving a pretty spectacular improvement, before even getting to Photoshop.

Canoe 3


Many thanks for taking an interest. I hope that my humble contributions have made a positive difference to your work!

If you are interested, my book is available in Australia and Canada from my website – – and for the rest of the world from Amazon, here:

Paths to Artistic Imaging in Photoshop. How to Create Stunning Photographic Art From Capture to Processing.

If you would like to see more of my work, apart from my website, you can see it at Fine Art America – and also my featured Artist page at Artsy Shark –

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