Basic Raw adjustments

Learn how to convert a Raw file to produce a stunning final image

Converting a Raw file can seem a complex process thanks to the range of controls and tools at your fingertips, and if you’ve never done it before, it can even seem like an intimidating process. Remember though that Raw files are non-destructive — so any changes you make can always be undone, regardless of whether the image is saved or not.

In this step-by-step basic Raw conversion guide, we’ll show you how to make a series of adjustments to the Raw file that will add depth, punch, set white balance, recover lost detail and produce an mage that’s streets ahead of an equivalent JPEG file.

We’ll be making our changes in Photoshop CS6’s Adobe Camera Raw interface, but the controls are mirrored pretty much in Elements, while it’s possible to have these controls covered to mirror other Raw converters.

Using the Basic tab to convert Raw files


With our image opened in ACR the first thing we’ll adjust is the white balance. At the moment the mage looks too cod for the scene, and while this would be hard to correct with a GPEG file, it’s easy with a Raw file. With the Basic tab selected, click on Custom and from the drop-down fast of presets, select Shade. This has warmed the shot up nicely but to fine-tune it you can use the Temperature skier to manually adjust for a cooler or warmer look. Below that is the Tint slider, allowing you to compensate for magenta or green casts, but here we’ll leave it on +10.


Overall exposure is pretty balanced but well lighten it slightly by increasing the Exposure to +0.20. On some images you may need to increase or decrease this, though we wouldn’t recommend further than +/-2.

In some high-contrast scenes, you may have problems with blown highlights or shadows. Clicking on the Highlight Clipping Warning (or О on your keyboard), and we’ve got a relatively bright patch round the sun. Using the Highlights slider, we can recover some of this lost detail but we don’t want to go too far as contrast can be lest and it can look unnatural. Here we’ve set Highlights to -17. If you’ve got dark areas that have gone to black (hit U on your keyboard to bring up the Shadow Clipping Warning), then it’s possible to recover this lost detail with the Shadow slider — here we’ll increase it to +23.

The Whites and Blacks sliders alow you to adjust white and black dipping — clipping occurs when a pixels colour values are higher or lower than the range that can be represented ши the image. This means over-bright values are dipped to output white, and over-dark values ant dipped to output black, but here well leave both values at 0.


With the main colour and exposure adjustments made, we can now fine-tune each to really finish the shot off. First, the Contrast slider (the amount of brightness between the lightest and darkest areas of an image). If your image is looking flat or you want to add definition, adding contrast is a great starting point, but here we’ll add a subtle amount of +11. Well now make some bigger changes with the final three sliders.

Clarity is a greet tool that boosts local contrast between adjacent light and dark areas as well as sharpening detail that avoids adding unwanted halo effects and boosting midtone contrast. Alternatively, reduce Clarity to produce a mere dream-like quality. Here well increase it to +20.

We’ll increase Vibrance to +15.

Finally. Saturation This has a global effect on colour intensity and while it can be tempting to push the slider quite a bit, it can make the image look unnatural. We’ll finish the image off by increasing the Saturation to +10.

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