An example of RAW workflow in Photoshop CS3

This page may open somewhat slowly - there are a lot of illustrations, and some of them are fairly large of necessity. I chose one of the first shots taken with the Nikon D300, during a nighttime snowstorm, since it is a challenging image and thus involves much of Adobe Camera RAW's devices on the first (Basic) tab, I will narrate in the first person.

I selected the image in Adobe Bridge and double-clicked upon it to open it.
The first step will be colour balance. There is a mix of light sources so an overall neutral colour balance can only be obtained by balancing areas, then using layers and layer masks to blend them. As this is a nighttime street scene, I want to retain some of the feeling of street lights. To set the colour balance, I select the colour balance tool - an eyedropper - from the upper left side of the toolbar, at the top of the window.
Knowing that fresh snow is a true neutral, I click various places in the image until the balance pleases my eye. The shadow of the tree was just fine. If necessary, I can fine-tune later.
I adjust the Fill Light slider to bring up details in the dark trees. It opens up shadow detail, leaving mid-tones and highlights intact. If overused, there will not be a smooth transition between shadow and mid-tones and it can even generate a visible line where the crossover takes place. A very useful tool.
The Recovery slider will recover all the highlight detail in the image, leaving pure white intact. In most images, one will want some pure white and pure black to remain. If highlights are less than a luminance of 255, the image will look dull, while if there is no zero value in the shadows, the image will look muddy or weak.
The Clarity slider increases local contrast without impacting the overall contrast of the image, which is just fine. I zoomed in on the streetlight to clearly see the falling snow and moved the Clarity slider to the optimum point.
Vibrance increases local saturation will little impact on overall saturation unless applied to excess. I added it until I got the colour and sparkle I wanted.
When shooting the photograph, I paid close attention to the camera's histogram so neither the exposure nor the Brightness slider were needed. The exposure slider moves the whole histogram toward a darker or lighter image without changing the luminance relationships within the exposure. Brightness increases the bias of tones toward darker or lighter, leaving the maximum and minimum values untouched. Contrast expands the dynamic range if necessary. They are both set at the default settings. Together, all the sliders give the photographer great power to shape the histogram to the needs of the image. When the settings are to taste, click on Open Image.
Viewing the image and its histogram in Photoshop, I felt that it needed more solid black as a visual reference, so used Levels to set the point below which everything will have a luminance of zero.
Setting the black point lower lost some of the shadow detail I wished to retain, so once again Level were used to move the mid-tones up the luminance scale a bit. There was no need to adjust the highlights, since actual light sources were in the picture, providing a pure white highlight as reference for the viewer's eye. At this point, I was quite satisfied with both dynamic range, saturation and colour balance and did not feel the need to meddle more.
Pretty much every digital image whether scan or digital camera exposure needs some sharpening. Photoshop provides a wide variety of options. In this case I wanted rather subtle sharpening, but sufficient that when the image is reduced to web-resolution little or none will be required. Step one is to duplicate the background layer.
With the new layer selected, from the Filter menu, select Other and then High Pass.
In the dialogue, I inserted a low radius, but one with sufficient strength to accomplish the level of sharpening I wanted. This is learned by trial and error, play with the technique until you get a feel for what is needed.
Since I was using a low radius, but wanted a strong effect, I chose Hard Light as the blending mode from the dropdown menu in the Layers palette. A slightly less strong application can be used by choosing Overlay and an even more subtle impact by choosing Soft Light. One can fine tune further by using the proportional Opacity or Fill sliders. With the variable radius plus the blending options, High-Pass sharpening is vastly controllable.
Satisfied with the sharpening and with the new layer still selected, I chose to flatten the image to a single layer.
Image correction now complete, it is time to resize it for this web-page.
In the past, a width of 640 was pretty much standard for photography on the web. With more people having high-speed connections and running higher resolution monitors, 800 pixels is now acceptable. Choosing Bicubic Sharper, one can reduce the image with minimum damage from interpolation.
Photoshop's Save or Web and Devices gives one great control over size and quality of images.
Since there is no type in the final image, JPEG is chosen rather than PNG for the output. In order to produce an image that will open readily, click on the little triangle in the circle, indicated by the arrow. Choose Optimize to File Size.
Choosing a file size of 96K in an image this size avoids obvious JPEG artifacts, but still produces an image small enough for quick opening in e-mail or on the web
The image is saved in the appropriate folder, for use in this tutorial.
The finished image seen on the web..
It was suggested that the preview image as seen above be shown for comparison. Since RAW has no inherent colour balance, the preview image simply represents how the camera was set at the time of the exposure - Auto White Balance, in this case. As the colour temperature of the light-source drops, less and less correction is applied by the camera, and so photographs taken under incandescent or toxic-orange streetlights display as abnormally warm. There is good reason for this. Such spectra are also common in most sunsets. A few early digital cameras were set so that 2500K incandescent bulbs were seen as neutral white - so were sunsets! The effect was of a sunset without colour. Nikon wisely allows one to set colour temperatures or do preset colour balancing if JPEGs are the goal, or colour balance after the fact when shooting RAW. Of course one can also use such settings for RAW, and they will be reflected in the preview image. However, they are meaningless for the final processed version.
©2009 Larry N.Bolch