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Camera Raw is a Beast! But Did You Know It Could Do This to Jpegs?

May 4th 2014 12:02 PM

There’s a manipulative beast living within your editing software and there’s a decent chance you’re not fully aware of what it can do. Now, I’ll come straight out and say that the majority of you are somewhat familiar with the flexibility and power, and all other merits associated with a RAW file. Furthermore, you are likely familiar with Adobe Camera Raw. Surprisingly, I see people open up RAW images in Photoshop and do the most minor adjustments in Camera Raw, then get to applying whatever other adjustment layers and such within Photoshop itself. This is, in my opinion, something to reconsider.

[REWIND: Great Tip To Recover Shadow Detail In Photoshop]

Camera Raw’s interface looks somewhat archaic compared to Photoshop’s aesthetic, and I think it’s a reason it often gets overlooked – people associate it with being very technically demanding. It shouldn’t be so. I do a lot in Camera Raw – it’s powerful and actually easy to use. If you’re somewhat versed in editing in Photoshop anyway, you’re already familiar with the processes presented in Camera Raw. From brushes, to graduated filters, to white balance adjustmentsit’s all there, and easy to do. So yes, use it. However, there’s something I’ve used for the past while which a friend of mine showed me when I was on one of my rants about Camera Raw, which has fundamentally altered how I adjust my images, and how I view JPEGs.

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Under the Filter menu, there’s an option for Camera Raw filter. This is probably my dirty little secret tool (yes yes, not a secret, but I know a lot of people don’t use it), and what this allows me to do is re-open a Camera Raw window with whatever file I’m working on. 

Why would you need this? Sure, you may have just edited in Camera Raw when you imported your RAW files – but it allows you to use Camera Raw on even JPEGS. Not only that, it allows you to pull detail out of JPEGs to a level I never knew was possible until someone showed me. Understand this key point, that Camera Raw uses entirely different algorithms to manipulate a file than Photoshop, and it’s those differences which make it possible to take a JPEG to a new level. This is an example of before and after in Camera Raw from a video (below).

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photoshop-camera-raw-lightroom-editing-tutorial-how-to-photography-3

My post yesterday was on a Phlearn tutorial on how to pull hidden detail out of the shadows and it’s effective. The same friend of mine who taught me about this filter told me I should’ve mentioned it, so here it is. I was going to put together a whole slew of images and explanatory examples, but I think this video I found does a beautiful job showing you just what’s possible.

Lastly:

There’s not much to really say or add to this. I should interject however, and stress, that a good edit does not a good photo make (necesssarily); I’m not advocating this be used in a cavalier manner to replace good shooting. No. Get it right in camera whenever possible as there’s no substitute for that. Oh, and shoot RAW. Really.

About

Kishore is a photographer and writer based in Miami, though he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. With a passion for beauty and aviation photography his work is all at once focused and eclectic. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Comments [15]

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  1. Ron Bates

    This is very nice, I had no idea about this! I just learned this http://www.paintshoppro.com/en/pages/camera-raw/  and practiced it a bit, but I also learned something more today from your article, thanks!

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  2. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for posting

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  3. Emmanuel

    Hey Kishore, I wanted to thank you for this amazing tip ! Thanks to you, I’ll be able to edit some old jpg (you know that time you didn’t see what was that fuss about raw files ? No ? Well, I do). ;)
    Just tried it, with some smart objects on my layer and well, that was quite convincing ! Not as good as raw files of course but your post made me understood I could go further with some old files.
    Keep up the good work (and cheers from France). :)

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Hi Emmanuel. apologies for not replying sooner. I can’t take all the credit for the info but I’m glad you found it useful. I really do love this method and I’ll be doing some more informative posts around these topics. Don’t be a stranger. Cheers from Miami!

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  4. fotosiamo

    I do use this from time to time. A good tip is to convert that layer into a Smart Object so it becomes “nondestructive” and you can edit and re-edit that layer in the Camera Raw Edit or any other filters including Liquify.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Joe, he does use this technique for the second image in his demonstration, he opens the smart object in Camera Raw to demonstrate the ability to “go back to” the RAW editing interface.

      I am indeed surprised that so few people know you can edit JPGs using the Camera Raw interface. We’ve been able to do this since ACR was first introduced, it’s just one of the preferences in the ACR preferences panel which you can access from both Bridge and Photoshop. Turn on that preference, and ACR takes on a role very similar to Lightroom- you can edit JPGs and RAW photos side by side in the same panel, with the same sliders, …just with more quality in the RAW file, and less in the JPG.

      Being able to re-access the ACR interface from within Photoshop is also not that new, however the use of smart objects to re-access true non-destructive RAW editing is indeed relatively new. (I forget which version of CS it came out with first?)

      =Matt=

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  5. Geert

    Rasterize layers does not make a jpg (compression) and I think it doesn’t do a bit conversion either. It just rasterize vector data to pixels. Try this on a actual jpg file and the result would be different.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I suspected as much, GEERT. What I did learn from this however is that by rasterizing, you can “zero out” your ACR sliders if for whatever reason you’d like to “double down” on the processing of a photo.

      If anything, this is more of a testament to the recoverability of Nikon NEF files, than anything else.

      =Matt=

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  6. Tim

    The question is can this kind of detail be extracted from an OOC JPEG file, or just from using the RAW file in this manner. He never showed an actual exported JPEG file that he processed in ACR.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Indeed, Tim, your suspicions would be correct. A JPG file is a JPG file, if you capture it in JPG.

      I would say, however, that if you’re going to shoot in JPG, turn your contrast down, WAY down, and turn up your “Active D-Lighting” or “Auto Lighting Optimizer”, whatever your camera has. This will generate JPG files that have almost the same amount of overall highlight and shadow detail as a RAW file! Of course everything you do to the image after that will be destructive, and is therefore not really a good idea to begin with. But in many of my articles regarding SOOC JPGs, you can see how I might use this to my advantage in general shooting, even if I wind up shooting in RAW!

      =Matt=

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  7. Herm Tjioe

    I found this by lurking around and decided to just hack away. I was blown away by the amount of manipulation I can extract that I can’t possibly do with JPEGs. Even localized portion of an image can be highlighted with ease.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Herm, it’s really the JPEG manipulation that blew me away, as I honestly, until my friend taught me this, had never thought to edit a JPEG this way. I didn’t think it was possible to pull out of them the detail this shows. Cheers

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  8. David Justice

    If you use Adobe Bridge with Photoshop, you can actually select all your photos and use the Camera Raw menu by selecting all the images you want to edit in bridge, right clicking, and selecting Open in Camera Raw. It’s just like using Lightroom. All the photo previews will be on the left, and you have an awesome menu and all the accessibility of Lightroom.

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  9. Mike

    I think a lot of photographers don’t use ACR because they do these types of edits in Lightroom then bring into PS to only do things LR doesn’t do.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      I think there is some real validity in what you’ve said Mike. We tend to do most of our stuff in LR from the get go here, but that being said, it’s pretty amazing.

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