Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Hello everyone! Beckie here!
Every two weeks we bring you photography tips…little bits of info so that you can learn to take great pictures. But this week we’re going to switch things up a bit! In our guest post with Damien last week, he mentioned using ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) to correct white balance. So I thought it would be good to show you how to open your images in ACR and do some very basic edits that can make a HUGE difference! These were the first two editing steps I ever learned for my photos but I’m STILL amazed at the before and after images every time :)
Oh – and once again, I really am taking one for the team on this one – showing you just how BAD some of these shots were before I edited them! Ah, the things we do for our friends :)
What is Adobe Camera Raw (ACR)?
ACR is an incredibly powerful photo editing tool that was initially available only for editing RAW image files. But the tools were so popular that Adobe later released versions that supported JPEG files as well. ACR does what is called “non-destructive editing”, meaning, the changes you make to an image in ACR are applied as data and adjustments in a “sidecar”, or .xmp file, not directy to the image itself. This means that your original unedited photo is always available.
RAW vs JPEG
I might as well have called this section “PC vs MAC”, or “Coke vs Pepsi” because there are strong opinions on this topic! I found this whitepaper on the Adobe site, and it gives an excellent technical explanation of the differences between these two formats. But here’s what this all means for you:
- Most digital SLRs give you the option of taking photos in RAW, JPEG or RAW + JPEG format. So the choice is yours!
- It is a fact that as your camera stores the image data as JPEG, image data is actually lost and destructed during the process to convert from the native “RAW” image captured by the camera to the JPEG format. You will have more control over the finished edited photo if you shoot in RAW instead of JPEG.
There are drawbacks to RAW
- File size. I had to make an investment in new camera memory cards and more external storage capacity when I started shooting RAW. The files are significantly larger than their JPEG counterparts.
- Portability. Ever taken a bunch of pictures and had someone say “oh, I’d love a copy of those pictures!”. Yikes. With RAW, you can’t just hand over unprocessed files as only specialized photo programs are capable of reading RAW files.
- File Handling. JPEG is JPEG is JPEG. It’s standad. RAW files are not. Each camera produces different raw files. When I got a new camera, I suddenly realized that the version of ACR I had (that came with Photoshop CS2) didn’t support the RAW files from my new Canon 7D. This is where DNG (Digital Negative) converters come in, but I found it to be somewhat of a hassle to get my old computer and software set up to convert images from my new camera into something my software could “read”.
If you’d like to read more about RAW vs JPEG, just google “raw vs jpeg” and you’ll get TONS of results and opinions on this topic! I like this one by Ken Rockwell .
It will be a personal decision for you to reasearch and determine the file type you feel most comfortable working with. I shot RAW briefly, got frustrated and switched back to JPEG for several months. But recently I made the switch to RAW for good and have been thrilled with my photos ever since :)
How to open a file in ACR
PSE and CS:
File –> Open As , then browse to the photo you wish to open. In the “Open As” box at the bottom, select “Camera Raw”.
Or – if you have Photoshop CS and you wish to permanently establish ACR as the default editor for JPEG files:
Edit –>Preferences –> Camera Raw in the window that opens up, at the bottom is a drop down box called “JPEG and TIFF Handling”. Select “Automatically Open all Supported JPEGs”. (this is the way in CS5; I imagine it’s similar for other versions of CS).
note: one drawback to this method is that all scrapbook elements you open up that are .jpg will pop into ACR first, requiring you to go to an extra step to open them into Photoshop.
Getting Started with our Example
The photo we’re going to look at today – the whole approach I used for taking photos in a less than ideal situation – was based on what I could correct after the fact in ACR…so learning to use these basic tools just may change the way you take pictures :)
I wanted to get pics of my daughter at her gymnastics showcase, and man, talk about a less than ideal photography situation! I knew I couldn’t get close enough to use my flash (remember, the flash has to light your subject – not just the space between you and your subject!) and there was no natural lighting – just the big lamps overhead that were not very bright. I actually took these shots with the full intention of “fixing” these in ACR after the fact :)
See that yellow color cast to the photo above? That’s a perfect example of BAD white balance! I could have corrected this with my camera when I was taking the pictures, but I didn’t know what type of lighting I was working with. So even though I could tell the photos were coming out horribly yellow as I took them, I didn’t worry about it!
The quickest method of changing the WB is to use the “White Balance” drop down box just below the histogram (the colorful chart) as shown in the image above. I tried out Tungsten and Flourescent, and could easily tell that Flourescent was just what I needed. Check out the HUGE improvement just by making one simple adjustment!
As you can see, removing that yellow color cast made a tremendous improvement. But now another issue is obvious – the image is underexposed (too dark). I knew as I was taking the photo that it was underexposed, but knowing that my ISO was as high as I wanted to go and I didn’t want to lower my aperture any more, I made a conscious choice that I would correct the exposure in ACR also!
The Histogram as a Guide to Fix Exposure
This is where the histogram comes in :) The histogram has lots of colors and curves, but all you need to look at to know if the exposure is correct is to look at whether or not the curves reach all the way to the “walls” of the chart.
Look at the original histogram above, where I showed you the WB drop down box. Notice how much open space exists between the color chart and the “wall” of the histogram on the right!! This is another quick and easy fix…simply click on the little triangle slider labeled “Exposure” and drag it to the right slowly until the graph stops just short of hitting the wall to the right. Here’s what I got when I corrected the exposure:
What an improvement! You can actually SEE my budding gymnast and her incredibly sweet and patient coach now! :)
There’s a little “Preview” toggle button on the top right of the photo – you can toggle this on and off to see the before and after of the changes you’re making.
Take a look at the histogram in the photo above. Notice how I increased the exposure until the graph slid over and just stops short of touching the side wall of the graph.
So what have we just done by increasing the exposure as described above? We’ve used the histogram as our guide to ensure that we make the photo as “bright” as possible without losing any of the color detail in the photo. If we had continued to slide the exposure to the right and caused the graph to hit up against the histogram wall, we would introduce clipping. Clipping results when portions of the photo become so bright that the color detail is actually lost.
Now look at the histogram one more time. See that little black triangle on the top right corner of the histogram? If you click this, it will display for you the areas that are “clipped” as you increase exposure. Let’s cause a little clipping on purpose to see how this works…
Look at the histogram…even without looking at the photo, you know that we are clipping portions of the photo because part of the graph is slammed up against the wall on the right.
With the clipping warning turned on (by clicking on the black triangle), you can actually look at the photo to determine what part of the image is being clipped. See the red on my daughter’s arm and on the yellow mat in the background? That’s letting me know that the image is too bright and that color data has been lost at those places. Note: when you click on the triangle to turn on clipping warnings, the triangle turns red as in the photo above.
As a general rule, you never want to have any clipping occur on skin, or really any other portion of the image that is “important”. Sometimes I will allow the background sky to clip a tiny bit in order to make sure my subject in the foreground is properly exposed.
When all is said and done…those two adjustments only took me about 30 seconds to apply and made a WORLD of difference to my photo! Now this sweet image is ready for me to use in my scrapbook page!
Last but Not Least…Saving Your Changes
The actual buttons you have available will vary depending on the version of ACR you are using. But you will have some variation of “open”, “save”, and “cancel/discard”.
Save – will save your changes to the photo as a .xmp sidecar file.
Open – will also save your changes, but then continues to open your file in Photoshop (Elements or CS, which ever you use). I use this most often, as I only edit my photos once I’ve decided to use them. Since I take hundreds of pics a week, this saves me lots of time!
An Alternate Method to Adjust White Balance
You know how we corrected WB using the drop down box? If you’re editing JPEG files, you won’t have as many pre-determined WB settings as I did. Also, there are times when the WB just doesn’t look right even when you select one of these standard options. In these situations, you want to use the eyedropper tool.
See the buttons across the top in ACR? the third one from the left is a WB eyedropper tool. Click on that eyedropper, then click on something in your image that is supposed to be white, and it will automatically adjust the WB of your entire photo! You can continue to click around various white portions of your photo to see what gives you the best result.
Note: I tried the eyedropper tool method on the photo above. I zoomed way in and used the white letters on the instructor’s shirt. The results were nearly identical to what I got when I selected “Flourescent” from the WB drop down list in this case. I also could have used the white spots on my daughter’s leotard, or even the white letters on the red pole just to the right of the instructor’s leg. You only need a tiny bit of white to make the dropper tool work!
I hope you give ACR a try – and if you do, I am sure you’ll be amazed at how simple it is to make huge improvements to your photos. Thanks for stopping by today!!
Be sure to visit tomorrow as SP will be sharing our latest TEMPLATE CHALLENGE :o)