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Processing RAW images in Adobe Camera Raw

Screenshots from Photoshop CS5 and ACR 6.7.
By Andy Evans.

There are many different RAW processing techniques out there, from custom to those published in books. I have spent the past few years developing my RAW processing technique using different pieces of software. Recently I have finally settled on my RAW processing technique and I only need one piece of software.... Adobe Photoshop.

This makes processing photo's quick and simple which is important when working exclusively in RAW!

Below is my step-by-step guide to my RAW workflow, I hope you find it of interest and helps you with your aviation photos!

Let's start with the below image which is overexposed in camera which, providing the highlights aren't blown, can be a good thing as there will be less noise in the resultant image.

Step One

Note I have set all the sliders to 0 apart from brightness which is set to 50.
Firstly, crop and level the photo as required using the level and crop tool combo. Hitting the return key on the keyboard will confirm the crop

Step Two

Now, adjust the white balance to get natural colours on the aircraft. Then adjust the exposure slider whilst noting the histogram until this shows the correct exposure for the image.

Step Three

Adjust the Contrast, Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation sliders to suit. These are my default settings that I tend to use on most photos.

Step Four

The next stage is the curves tab, create an S Curve using the parameter sliders until the images contrast and colours are correct.

Step Five

Switch to the sharpening tab and set all sliders to 0 and zoom to 100%. This way you can see all the noise and the natural sharpness of the image.

Step Six

Noise reduction time!
Firstly, adjust the "color" slider until all colour artefacts are removed from the image, around 25 should do this.
Secondly, adjust the luminance slider until the visible in the noise is virtually removed whilst at the same time, the detail is not destroyed.

Step Seven

Now comes the sharpening! Adjust the Amount, Radius and Detail sliders until the image is relatively sharp. Be careful with the Detail slider as this can add quite nasty noise if over-done!

Step Eight

Note how the image now has noise from the sharpening procedure. This can be quickly fixed!

Using the Masking slider, adjust this until the image is sharp and free of noise. This is usually around "60" to "70".

The below image shows the effect of noise reduction and sharpening at this stage on the original image.

Step Nine (Optional)

At this point, I recommend turning on the lens correction settings from the appropriate tab. I have this set to turn on by default.
In addition, if needed (i.e. if the sky is purple or something daft) adjust the colour balance as required.

Step Ten

You have now done all you can in ACR, click Open Image which will load the processed photo into Photoshop.

First thing to do here is resize the image to the required size. PLEASE NOTE, do not use the default "Bicubic Sharpen" on aircraft shots as it adds grain to the sky. Use the normal setting.

Step Eleven

Almost finished! Time to add the final touch of sharpening using the "Smart Sharpen" filter. Use the lens blur with "More Accurate" selected and adjust the settings as needed.

Step Twelve

The final step! Save the processed image as a JPEG using the "Save for Web" option, adjusting the quality slider as needed. Ensure what I have ticked in my screenshot is ticked to store an image suitable for the web!

Step Thirteen

All done! This is the resultant image from the screenshots above.

I hope you have found this short guide informative and helpful. This image certainly shows how powerful RAW can be at saving less than perfect images.