Disney Photography Blog

The Amazing Power of Camera RAW – Part 1

By Cory Disbrow on December 21st, 2011   |    Posted in:  Processing   |    12 Comments

Hello readers! Today, I’m going to talk about how immensely powerful Adobe Camera RAW can be. In a world where many use Nik Filters, Topaz, Photomatix, and a myriad of other programs, great images can still be made without spending all that extra money and just using Camera Raw, whether you’re in Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, or Lightroom. To demonstrate this, I’m going to edit an image of Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland, using nothing but Camera RAW. Here’s the original RAW file:

Now, as a short disclaimer. This photo I’m using was pretty good before even doing any work in the RAW editor. It had good light, a decent exposure and good sharpness. Shooting with bad light or botching things in camera will more likely than not make a shot unworkable. We here at DPB like to think of the digital darkroom as a way of enhancing our photos, not as a crutch used to correct our mistakes.

Moving on, the first thing I do when working in Camera RAW is adjust the White Balance. This shot had a pretty good balance of color temperature, so I actually left it on the “As Shot” selection. This usually is not the case. I usually tend to like my images a little warmer, so I tend to go higher on the WB.

Next is Exposure. What Exposure does is simply to adjust your exposure. If you think your image is a little dark, or you want to bring out some shadow details, whatever your reason may be, you can raise the Exposure slider. The same goes for if your image is too bright, you can pull the exposure down. With this slider, I tend to not go more than a full stop in either direction. For this shot, I wanted to bring the original up a little bit, so I set the Exposure slider to +.25, or a quarter of a stop.

Sometimes, when you raise up the exposure, you can get some clipped or blown highlights (spots that are way to bright and come off as very hot in the image). That happened a little bit when I raised my exposure on this shot. What I used to combat it is the Recovery slider. Recovery simply takes only the spots that are too hot, and cools them off. This is a very powerful tool, but is one that I find that a little bit goes a long way. If you slide the Recovery slider over too much, things can become too dull, and sometimes whites will even come off as gray. This really doesn’t work when editing shots like the Icicle Lights on Cinderella Castle that are an ultra white. For this shot, I set the Recovery slider to 30, and it pretty much did what I wanted it to.

Next on our Basic tab in Camera RAW is Fill Light. What Fill Light does is basically raise up the brightness of the midtones of the image. If you have shadows that you want to bring detail out of, Fill Light is a great little solution. The only problem with that is that it doesn’t pinpoint certain parts of the image like Recovery, it instead changes the whole image. Too much Fill Light can cause a very flat and dull look to your shot. I set the Fill Light slider to 22.

After using Fill Light, you’ll notice that you brought out the shadow detail you wanted, but it also happened to have an effect on the rest of the photo. This is where Blacks come in. You can use the blacks to gain back some of what you lost when you used Fill Light. You can also use Blacks to make the image very inky. I’ve been one to overuse the Blacks slider sometimes, but for this image, I kept it in check and only set it to 24.

Next, we have Clarity. Clarity acts kind of like the Unsharp Mask does in Photoshop. It adds some edge and grit to the shot. Just like with the Unsharp Mask, if you use it too much, the image will look oversharpened. Also, since we’ll be doing a different method of sharpening within Camera RAW in part 2, I kept the Clarity slider on this image at a modest 50.

For the last slider in the basic tab, we’ll use Vibrance. This one is really awesome. It works much in the same fashion as the Recovery slider. It finds parts of the image that are lacking in terms of color, and gives them one heck of a boost. On some images, Vibrance can have a huge effect with just a little bit of sliding. And we don’t want the colors to be pushed too hard. But then again, on some images, the colors need to be pushed. And since we’re a Disney based website, I think it’s pretty safe to push some colors. So, I went ahead and went almost all the way with this slider, setting it at 84 out of a possible 100.

To show you all what the image looks like at this point, and a visual of what I just wrote a whole lot about, here’s what our progress in Camera RAW looks like up to this point:

Pretty incredible to see the difference after what can be done in just a matter of minutes in the Basic panel of the RAW Editor, eh? Make sure to check out the blog tomorrow for Part 2 of this tutorial, which will focus on the Color tab, Sharpening tab, and Vignetting tab. Oh, and to see the finished product too! Thanks for reading, see ya real soon!




  1. Mike   |   Dec 21, 2011

    Great tips! I really like the explanation for each of the adjustments. It helps fill in my understanding of the different settings.

  2. Jen   |   Dec 21, 2011

    Thanks so much for this! I have many great WDW shots and I am just beginning to use Photoshop so this helped tremendously.

  3. Carolyn   |   Dec 21, 2011

    I definitely love shooting in Raw. :) I’m a Lightroom girl myself — but Camera Raw is an awesome starting point for people new to raw files. In the meantime, whenever anyone discusses shooting Raw vs. JPG, I always provide them with this funny & clever link: http://www.pixiq.com/article/why-you-should-take-photos-in-raw

  4. Rosemary   |   Dec 21, 2011

    Thanks for the step by step and explanation of what each slider does. What is also amazing to me is that I can use ACR editor in Photoshop Elements and enhance my photos which are shot as .jpg since I’m a humble point and shoot gal. It is one of the best ways I can take my pictures from drab to fab in just a couple of minutes.

  5. Dogstardaddy   |   Dec 21, 2011

    I leave tomorrow! I’m shooting everything in RAW, and just got Lightroom for Christmas. I’ll catch up on the articles when I get back. Wish me luck!

  6. Mike Greening   |   Dec 22, 2011

    Great tutorial Cory.
    You should know that the Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop Elements doesn’t have many of the features that it has in CS5. It doesn’t have the HSL Grayscale tab or any of the individual color sliders. All it gives is one Saturation slider for the entire color range. It also doesn’t have the lens correction tab. I sure wish it did though.

    • Rosemary   |   Dec 22, 2011

      Yes, I realize that PSE’s version of ACR is just like the rest of the program, “just elements” of its big brother CS5. But I was able to recreate Cory’s tutorial Part 1 in Elements. I don’t think many PSE users are aware that they can enhance their .jpg files in ACR and what a difference it can make.

      • Mike Greening   |   Dec 22, 2011

        I’ve heard you can edit jpegs in ACR but I’ve never been able to figure out how to open them in it. Please advise!

        • Rosemary   |   Dec 22, 2011

          I’m using PSE 7 so I don’t know if it is any different in later versions.

          1. Open the Full Editor in Photoshop Elements
          2. On the Menu, click on File > Open As…
          3. In the Open As.. dialog box, select Camera RAW on the Open As line. Navigate to and select your JPEG image and click on Open.

          Your JPEG image opens in the Camera Raw Editor as if it were a RAW image.

          Hope this helps.

        • Mike Greening   |   Dec 23, 2011

          Thank you so much Rosemary. To think, I’ve been using PSE for a few years and never figured out how to do that. It’s SOOOO Helpful!

  7. Alicia   |   May 9, 2012

    This is a great post. I understand how RAW works (I shoot almost exclusively RAW), and now dull the photos are to begin with, but sometimes I have a hard time pushing the colors. It’s hard to determine when “what it actually looked like” becomes “super saturated”. I do love the vibrance slider for that reason, though.

  8. Alicia   |   May 9, 2012

    *how dull



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