Camera RAW Does More Than Adjust Exposure

The deeper you dig into the features of Camera RAW, the more you’ll tout its power
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The deeper you dig into the features of Camera RAW, the more you'll tout its power. It does a lot more than simply adjust global exposure. The fact that local adjustments can be made is often overlooked. Learn to use the Adjustment Brush along with the Graduated Filter to bring your RAW captures to wall hanging quality.

This is the original RAW capture made with my Nikon D300:

These are the default settings of the capture. Note the two end points on the histogram. Some of the whites lack detail and the blacks need to be tweaked a bit to the left to bring up their saturation.

I toned down the Exposure and Highlights sliders to eliminate the spike of pixels on the right side of the histogram. This caused the shadows to go dark so I moved the Shadows slider to the right to restore shadow detail. To richen up the blacks, I moved the Blacks slider a bit to the left. Note the difference in the sliders from the default screen capture just above:

The above changes produced better global exposure:

With the global changes made, I wanted to produce a warmer look to the sky and its reflection without disturbing the tone, color and exposure of the rest of the image. I clicked on the adjustment brush to locally alter the white balance of the sky and it's reflection in the water. The fact that white balance can be locally adjusted is often overlooked. I encourage you to incorporate it into your Camera RAW workflow.

With the Adjustment Brush activated, I altered the white balance and increased the saturation to make the following changes highlighted in red. I simply used the brush to paint over the areas I wanted to change in the sky and the reflection. To get an accurate feel for where the changes take place, enable the SHOW MASK check box at the bottom of the window.

After painting the white balance over the sky and its reflection, the image looked like this:

The final change I applied dealt with the fact the sky was too bright. I clicked on the Graduated Filter and made a change to first the top of the image. The dialog box reflects the change:

While the effect improved the image, the bottom now appeared a bit too bright so I added a NEW graduated filter to the bottom. I clicked the Radial Button that says NEW in order to add an additional filter. The dialog box reflects the change:

With all the changes made and in just a matter of a few minutes, I went from the BEFORE:

to the AFTER:

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11 Comments

    Yes it looks good and some great tips. The only question is that the tone of the rest of the image appears out of balance with the warm sky and reflection. Should not the greens be a little more warm to seem more natural with that type of sky? Of course all is subjective.

    @ David – thanks for the positive feedback. I played with the warmth on the vegetation but felt it was too much so I added it to just the sky and water. In looking at the image as a stand alone photo without comparing it to the original, the greens do look natural. This was my reasoning for presenting it the way I did. And you are correct that a lot of subjectivity plays in photography. Thanks for taking the time to comment on the tip.

    @Bill – I used CS6. I no longer have my license active for CS5 so I can’t test what you wrote. Perhaps someone else can chime in regarding Bill’s concern – THANKS!

    To me your warming of the sky and reflection was way over done. It doesn’t look natural. I tried editing the original by reducing highlights in sky and reflection along with slight warming, adding saturation and reduced exposure to the trees and grass, and it looks much more natural.

    I currently shoot in JPEG format, and have CS2. If I were to switch to RAW, would my older version of PS have all those nifty sliders that you used? If so, where would they be found?

    BTW, I would agree (subjectively) that the sky is way too pink in your final version for my tastes… prefer it more muted as it was in an earlier stage that you showed.

    @ All ………..hence the subjectivity. Thanks for all the feedback and great comments. / Bob – CS2 is very different so no, you wouldn’t have all the means of CS6 / @Marge – that latest update of Camera RAW in CS6 /

    I’m looking all over CS5 and cannot find adjustment brush or Graduated filter.
    Therefore, I can’t even get on first base.
    Where do I find them?

    Yet another good article that reinforces the lore that Photoshop/LR is a perfect medium for photographers who enjoy taking bad photos.

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