Photoshop Workflow – Using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR)

Editing Photos using Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)

 “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways.” – Ansel Adams

You should get used to using the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) program inside Photoshop CC for doing your initial editing. It is very powerful and easy to use. You can use this for RAW files, DNG (Digital Negative Files) and JPGs. For some photographs you may not need use the main editing space in Photoshop CC.

You may think of your RAW files as digital negatives. They are not compressed and have more dynamic range (range between black and white) than JPGs. You will get much more color information as well. This information will allow you more control over color, white balance, tonal range, contrast, sharpening, etc. in your images.

To Begin in Adobe Bridge
Select the RAW image or images you would like to work on by single-clicking them. Double-clicking will automatically launch Adobe Camera Raw within Photoshop CC.

Along the top you will see the Zoom, Hand, White Balance, Crop and Straighten Tools, etc. You can begin the editing process by applying these as needed.

To the right of your image you will see the Camera RAW Adjustment Tools. This set of sliders is where most of the magic happens. Notice there are 10 tabs with different controls within each. You will do most of your editing in the Basic and Details tab.

Typical workflow in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR)

There are many different ways of working in Adobe Camera RAW. Here is a suggested workflow for Photoshop CC.

  1. Open Adobe Bridge, select and double-click on the RAW files you want to process.
  2. Click on the Basic tab and adjust the Color Balance/Tint to adjust the White Balance if necessary. This can be done manually or you can use the White Balance Tool by clicking the Eyedropper at the top menu and using it to select a neutral white or grey in your photo.
  3. Adjust the mid-tones or overall brightness of the image using the Exposure Slider. Watch for overexposure or clipping on the right side of the Histogram. If there is already clipping in the bright areas you can slide the Highlights Slider to the left to bring back highlights.
  4. Use the Contrast Slider to set the overall contrast of the image. You can refine the image contrast by using the HighlightsWhites, Shadows and Blacks sliders.
  5. The Whites slider is  helpful for brightening or darkening the whitest tones in your images.
  6. Use the Blacks to set the Black Point for the image. Watch for clipping in the dark areas on the left of the Histogram.
  7. If necessary, use the Shadows to open up or brighten the shadows.
  8. You can use the Contrast Slider to adjust the overall contrast of the image if necessary. You will get more control with the Exposure, Black & Brightness Sliders.
  9. Use the Clarity setting (about 15 to 30 points) to bring out contrast in the mid-tones and the Vibrance setting to increase color in the areas of your image with less color. The Saturation Slider will add overall color and I do not recommend it.
  10. Finally, click the Details tab, zoom in to 100%, and adjust the Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings in the Details Panel.

Clicking Done will apply your changes and close the image.

Clicking Cancel will ignore your changes and close the image.

Clicking Open Image will save your changes and open the image in the main editor of Photoshop CC for additional editing and retouching.

As you work your way through the process you will notice some settings will interact with previous adjustments and you will need to go back and tweak them for optimal results. It’s important to keep an eye on the image and the histogram to avoid clipping and bring the most out of your RAW file. Keep in mind that images vary, so will your settings.