If I had to guess, I’d say the most popular goal most people around the world have when using Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop is to make their pictures look better. Period. Nine out of ten people I know in this business do just that. There’s a reason Adobe offers a “Photography” plan in their lineup and there’s also a reason why it’s extremely popular. Folks simply have a desire to transform what they capture with their cameras into something beautiful. As we all know, regular wedding, portrait, vacation or any other types of photo doesn’t make a jaw drop right out of the camera. It takes some editing work before that happens. What I’m here to tell you today is that the editing work isn’t very difficult to achieve at all. Actually, it’s extremely easy.
I wrote a post a while back that talked about the Basic panel in Adobe Camera Raw. I went through all the sliders and described what they do. I also offered my general workflow for you to, sort of, imitate. I hope that post helped you out if you read it. In today’s post, I’d like to take another look at the Basic panel in this application and simplify the process a bit. I know that once you get the hang of pushing some sliders around, it’s really a no-brainer, but what about speeding the process up? Below, I’m going to offer a few tips that can take some of the pain and repetitiveness out of doing the same, or just about the same, thing to every single photo you edit. There are ways to make your workflow as efficient as possible and I’ll show all of them to you below. By the way, while I’ll be using Camera Raw for this tutorial, feel free to use Lightroom if you’re into that. The Basic panels in these two applications is virtually identical.
To make this as realistic as possible, I’ve decided to use a photo of a bride sitting on some steps. Unrealistically, this isn’t a RAW file, it’s actually a JPEG. That’s fine because many of the same steps can be taken between the two formats. Here, take a look at the before shot.
If you look at the picture, you can see that the bottom portion is pretty much wasted. You can’t see any detail down there. Also, while the area around the bride’s head is okay, the rest of the photo can use some contrast. Below, I’m going to show some very helpful tips for dealing with contrast while editing photographs in applications such as Camera Raw.
The Auto Button
The best part about Camera Raw and Lightroom is that there is a beautiful Auto button sitting right in the Basic panel. Honestly, with the advances in technology these days, we should be taking advantage of anything that say “auto” on it, if it’s available. Of course, we’re not going to stop there, but using these types of features can be a time saver if considered as a part of the workflow. They can quickly set the tone sliders to their starting positions.
Let’s see how the sliders move if I click the Auto button.
As you can see, the Temperature sliders were left untouched as were the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation ones. So, in essence, what I’ve done by clicking this nice shortcut was to adjust the Tone Controls.
Let’s now take a look at the photo to see the result of this action.
Looking at the image above, we can see that it’s slightly brighter and that the lower steps are a bit more visible. I’d like to go further in this direction and reveal the lower steps even more.
For this post, I’m going to leave the temperature alone. I’ve already discussed this topic in other posts, so I don’t want to waste anyone’s time here.
Working on Some Tonal Corrections
In this section, I’m going to describe the corrections I apply to the center slider area. I’ll try to be as clear as I can be.
Exposure: I’m happy with the exposure. I don’t think it needs to be adjusted at all. I’ll leave it at the value Camera Raw set it to of +35.
Contrast: Since too much contrast can actually add saturation to an image, I’m going to reduce the contrast to a value of -15. With this move, my goal is to, sort of, flatten out the photo a bit. Don’t worry, I’m going to add the contrast back with the sliders below. What I won’t be adding back is any unnecessary color.
Highlights: The model in this photo is wearing a white dress. In many photos of this type, the details of the dress become washed out from the light. To reduce the washed out look and to reclaim some of the dress’ detail, I’ll lower the value of this slider to -70.
Shadows: A problem I noticed early on with this photo was the shadows in its lower portion. They were hiding some of the detail in that area. A quick and easy way of cleaning that up is to push the Shadows slider all the way to the right for a value of +100. Doing this will reveal the steps in their entirety.
Whites: This white value is fine at the auto-adjusted value of +16. I don’t see any reason to move it from where Camera Raw thought it should be.
Blacks: This is the most valuable player with this photo. To get back some of the contrast I lost above, I can push this slider to the left quite a bit. I’m given this liberty because I reduced the contrast value above and increased the shadows one. I’ll push this slider to the left for a value of -65.
Let’s see what the photo looks like now.
Wow, that looks great. Look at all the new detail in the lower steps. Actually, all of the steps look better.
Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation
We’re almost done here. At this point, I’d like to tackle the last three sliders. I’ll cover each one below like I did above.
Clarity: Since this slider ads depth by increasing the contrast of midtones, and this is what I want to do, I’ll raise this value to +40. Doing this will add dimension to the image.
Vibrance: This is saturation’s little sister. The further you push this slider to the right, the less effective it is, which reduces clipping. I do want to add some saturation to the photo in certain areas, such as the model’s skin, but not to other areas. With this in mind, I’ll increase this value to +30.
Saturation: This is a powerful slider to push. Many editors don’t ever push it to the right. Lots, however, push it to the left. Since this photo already has too much saturation, I’ll nudge it to the left for a reduced value of -20.
Now, let’s take a look at the photo again.
That’s one perfectly edited photograph. It’s a wonder because it was all done just in the Basic panel using the Auto feature for much of the heavy lifting. I didn’t need to think about much at all. Basically, Camera Raw set the stage and told me where to go. All I did was continue on and think about if I wanted more or less of the values it already set. Very nice.
It’s even more clear if you look at a before and after shot. Check out the bottom of the photo where the change is most pronounced.
And there you have it. If you go through this process just a few times, you’ll really get the hang of it. After that, you’ll fly through your edits in no time. In this post, I hope I clearly explained how to use the Auto feature in the Basic panel of both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom to more efficiently make your edits. If you have any questions or concerns regarding what I shared above, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!