Going from RAW Converter to Photoshop – What To Do in Each Program?

As many of you know, I’m a big proponent of shooting in RAW for your important images.  With that in mind, here’s a very good question from one of my clients, Frank Carter of Wilmington, North Carolina…

After trying out and testing 3 different RAW converters (DXO, Capture NX 2 and Adobe Camera Raw 5.2 in Photoshop CS4) I decided to take your advice and upgrade to Photoshop CS4.  I have a question:  Adobe Camera Raw 5.2 has so many adjustments – Do you make a lot of adjustments in RAW or just a few basic adjustments and then use Photoshop?  I have read some people say that the RAW converter is the best place to make adjustments and some say not.  What is your preference?

Regardless of the version of Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) that I’m using, I tend to strike a balance, using what I see as the strengths of each program.  Generally, my preference is to make as many global Color, Hue and basic Density corrections as I can in ACR, leaving Contrast adjustments, localized corrections, “fine-tuning”, and Sharpening to Photoshop.

I’ve found ACR (while working in 16-bit) is wonderful for global Color, Hue and Density correction, using the appropriate sliders in the “Basic” Tab, then moving to the “HSL/Grayscale” Tab to make further critical adjustments.  I’ve found any contrast adjustments in ACR to be tough to work with and not very effective, so I save it for Photoshop.

At that point, I open the image in Photoshop, concentrating on Contrast corrections using Levels and/or Curves adjustment layers, making any kind of localized corrections (taking advantage of the power of adjustment layers and layer masks), making any necessary “fine-tuning” such as cloning and horizon-straightening, then saving my image as an unflattened 16-bit Master File.

Now I can task my Master file for many uses – I can crop, sharpen and convert to 8-bit for printing on my inkjet printer or through a custom lab;  I can reduce the size and PPI to save as a JPG for the web, and so on.

By the way, if you’d like to find out more about how to use Adobe Camera RAW, I’m offering FREE Live and Interactive Webinars on many subjects, including working with RAW.  Click here for more information, courses available, and to sign up for any and all available Webinars- – – Remember, it’s FREE!!!!




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