We're taking the blog back to photoshop basics for beginners. This post, while something of a tutorial, is really more of a really quick trip through the controls in photoshop's raw converter plugin.
If you have a newer version of photoshop you can download the free plugin for raw conversion from their site. There are a variety of camera formats supported, but you must be careful which version of the plugin you download. The most recent version on the site is Camera Raw 5.6 for Photoshop CS4. Some versions work only with some versions of photoshop. And some older versions of the plugin may not open your version of camera raw files, so you do need to read the documentation for what you are downloading.
CS2 and older doesn't support newer cameras. I discovered that when I bought my Nikon D700. My first shoot with the camera was all in raw, only to discover the PS CS2 with it's raw converter wouldn't open those files. Downloading the newer converter plugin didn't work either, because it wasn't designed to work in CS2. Downloading and updating to CS3 didn't work either, since my operating system was Win2000Pro - I also had to upgrade to Win XP. I couldn't do that without entirely wiping out the current computer system and starting with a hard formatted disc drive. I couldn't afford to do that - I had a lot of old programs I still use, and some that wouldn't work on WinXP.
So my solution was to have a new computer system built for me at a cost of $2,000, including a full copy of Windows XP Pro. Then another $200 to upgrade to Photoshop CS3. So my camera purchase ($2000+) wound up costing me more than double the original price.
That's a warning - don't install an updated raw plugin to photoshop uless you know everything is going be supported.
If you've bought a new camera and have an older photoshop version, try the software that came with your camera. Most manufacturers provide software that will open their own raw files.
These instructions are for Photoshop CS3 since that's what I use. I suppose one of these days I'll have to update to CS4 and have a look at the new raw converter, but for now, what I've got suits my purpose.
When you open your raw file in photoshop you'll be presented with a separate screen from the raw converter, with it's own set of controls for adjusting your image.
On the right are a series of controls that will allow you to adjust a number of things from the white balance to the exposure. Across the top of the control panel are a series of little buttons or icons, that when clicked will take you to other sections of the converter - controls for adjusting the light and dark portions of your images, very much like the native curves function in photoshop; settings to allow you to sharpen your image, and to remove chromatic abberations (affectionately known as purple fringe, but is often seen as red or blue); as well you'll find controls for hue and saturation showing all the colours, allowing you to adjust the saturation of individual colours, and their intensity; if your lens has a tendency to vignette the corners (where the outer edges or corners look darker than the rest of the image) you can also make adjustments to this, you can calibrate your camera colours, and save settings from one image in a series so you can use the same settings on the balance of the images.
In many cases, once processed from the raw converter images may not need anything further. This of course depends on what you intend for the image use, but straight forward portraits or stock objects shot on white backgrounds are likely to need nothing more.
The main panel gives you some control over the white balance - in the drop down box are options like "as shot", or "auto", or "sun, shade, cloudy" and a few others like tungsten and fluorescent. Selecting one of the options can change the look of the overall tone of your image.
Below that the temperature and tint controls also allow you to change whether the image looks warm or cool.
The exposure slider allows you to correct your exposure if you were a little off. Keep in mind when you do this, if you underexposed the shot by too much when you shot it, you are most likely going to create some noise by adjusting the exposure. How much will depend on the camera make & model and it's censor type.
The recovery slider will allow you to reduce the exposure in areas that are over exposed, but like the exposure slider these controls should be used carefully.
Fill light works a little like the fill light on a flash unit - sometimes helping you to get more even lighting between background and foreground, but it also reduces the contrast.
The slider for blacks darkens or lightens the blacks in the image, either creating more contrast (darkening blacks) or less contrast (lightening) blacks. Most of the balance of the controls work on the overall image, much the same as any similar control in an image editor.
I seldom use many of the controls on the main panel, preferring to gain a little more control by using the other sections available.
When you click the little icon on the top row that looks like a chart it will take you to the Tone Curve control panel. Here you have a lot more control. You can lighten the lights, tone down or brighten the highlights, darken or lighten the darks and shadows, all individually. This is usually a better option than using the exposure slider on the main panel. You have control over how the tones work together in your images. When you adjust these sliders you'll see the curve line on the chart change, and the histogram at the top will also change. The image is still open in the left hand side of the pane, so you'll see the effects of this on your image as you work.
Back at the top of the converter now, click on the little icon that looks like a triangle. This opens the panel where you can adjust the sharpness, and reduce the noise in your image (if there is any). I generally have the sharpening set to very low or OFF in my cameras, preferring to sharpen the image myself when it needs it. I seldom use this panel in the converter, preferring adobe's own sharpening functions for the little I use it, and using Neat Image for noise control where necessary. For home users, Neat Image has a free version. I recommend you try it - if you plan to use it for commercial purposes, then purchase the Pro + version as this comes with a plugin for photoshop.
Remember that these adjustments can just as easily be changed back to the original settings. When you open your raw image into photoshop, you would save it either as a .tiff, .psd or .dng file if you want to keep the 16-bit format, or as a .jpg if you switch to 8-bit, so you can try the sharpening and noise reduction in the raw converter on your own and decide whether or not it provides enough for your purposes.
The next icon (looks like squiggly lines) brings up the HSL/Grayscale dialogue box. This box has three sections - the first one it opens on is the "Hue" option. This controls the over hue of the image. I seldom adjust this, but it can be useful if you want the image to be more blue or more green - you can adjust each of these colour sliders independently. When you click on the saturation tab an almost identical box will show, but this controls the saturation of each of those colours in your image. You can increase the saturation of yellows, oranges and reds in an autumn image, for instance, without changing the saturation of the greens and blues. Or you can decrease the saturation of yellows in grass that's too bright, without affecting the other colours in an image. This is another of the adjustment boxes I use most often. Clicking on the luminance tab brings another identical box, but this one allows you to adjust how light or how dark each of the colours is. You can darken the reds to almost burgundy without affecting how bright your yellows are. You can darken the blues if your sky is slightly over exposed. This too is a useful tool for me.
The option you'll see in this section is at the top - there is a little box that allows you to convert the image to grayscale. But it's much more than just converting to grayscale. The lightness and darkness of each of the colours can be adjusted in grayscale, allowing you to select whether the blues are light or dark. So in the black and white version you can add drama to a sky full of clouds by darkening the blue tones, or make the entire sky white by lightening them.
The next section is where you can remove vignetting from the corners of your images, or control the fringe (chromatic abberations) on your images. If you look at an image up close that has areas of high contrast - for instance between the sky and a series of tree tops you might notice an acqua or red line around the edges of the trees. In some cases this line may show as purple, or blue too. You can reduce this effect by using the controls in this section. When the fringing is minor in nature, you can usually remove it altogether.
The vignetting has two controls - one to select where the vignetting centers and one to decrease the vignetting, but for those who like to add vignettes to an image, you can also do that here. Playing around with center slider will show you fairly quickly what it does.
The balance of the two panels you'll find are the camera calibration panel - I don't use this, so you'll have to explore it on your own. And the panel where you can save and name your settings, and it is fairly self-explanatory.