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The Basic Panel

The Basic panel (which you display by pressing Command-Option-1) is the primary location for general adjustments for tone and color corrections. With 11 sliders, a dropdown menu, and two active buttons, it ranks as the second-most complicated set of adjustments, but it ranks at the top in terms of importance (see Figure 4-9).

Figure 4-9. The Basic panel with the White Balance dropdown menu


The White Balance Adjustments

White Balance adjustments are so important they are placed at the top of the Basic panel. The White Balance adjustments the following:

White Balance. At the top resides the White Balance setting with its dropdown menu. In general, the most useful setting is As Shot. By enabling this setting you allow Camera Raw to attempt to decode the white balance data stored when you camera-captured the image. Camera Raw may not exactly match the camera’s numbers or its rendering of that white balance, but it does a pretty good job of accessing most cameras’ white balance metadata. The Fluorescent dropdown is also helpful because it will often give a more useful starting point than As Shot, if the shot was taken under fluorescent lights.

Keep in mind that the moment you adjust the White Balance slider, the readout in the menu will change to Custom, indicating you’ve overridden the As Shot settings.

The White Balance adjustments are split between Temperature and Tint. New to Camera Raw 4 are interface hints—blue and yellow in the Temperature slider and green and magenta in the Tint slider:

  • Temperature. The Temperature control lets you specify the color temperature of the lighting in Kelvins, thereby setting the blue-yellow color balance. Lowering the color temperature makes the image bluer to compensate for the more yellow light; raising the color temperature makes the image more yellow, to compensate for the bluer light. (If this seems counterintuitive, remember that we think of higher color temperatures as bluer and lower ones as more yellow—the trick is to keep in mind that the Temperature control compensates for the color temperature of the light, so if you tell Camera Raw the light is bluer, it makes the image more yellow.)

    Tip

    When the Temperature field is selected, the up and down arrow keys adjust the color temperature in increments of 50 Kelvins. Adding Shift adjusts the temperature in increments of 500 Kelvins.


  • Tint. The Tint control lets you fine-tune the color balance along the axis that’s perpendicular to the one controlled by the Temperature slider—in practice, it’s closer to a green-magenta control than anything else. Negative values add green; positive ones add magenta. The up and down arrow keys change the tint in increments of 1. Pressing Shift at the same time changes the tint in increments of 10.

If you are not using the White Balance tool to set the white balance, the sliders give you the ability to adjust either by numbers or by eye.

Auto button. One of the more startling changes for Camera Raw 4 (which was foretold by the Camera Raw 3.7 update) was the removal of per/adjustment multiple Auto checkboxes. Now we have a single Auto button, which does its work evaluating the statistics of the image’s histogram while attempting to produce an optimal distribution of values throughout the image. Can it be wrong? Yes—and it often is in subtle ways. However, this single Auto adjustment is superior to Camera Raw 3’s multiple settings and brings with it the needed compatibility with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

When you’re first looking at an image that may pose significant adjustment challenges, it’s useful to let Auto take a crack at the adjustments. It may not be correct in all its “guesses,” but it’s often right in at least a couple. And remember, since Camera Raw is a parametric editor (and has multiple undo) you don’t risk anything other than a bit of time by trying.

Tip

Camera Raw, just like Photoshop, has multiple undo. There is no setting to change the undo count, but we’ve gone back a hundred steps (more than we need, as we have very short memories). To access multiple undo, use the keyboard shortcut Command/Option Z to go back more than one undo. To go forward use Command/Shift Z.


Default button. The Default button (grayed out in Figure 4-8, since all the settings are at their defaults) provides a simple method of returning to the Camera Raw Default rendering or your chosen update.

The Tone Adjustment Sliders

Once the White Balance adjustments are made, the general rule is to begin adjusting the tones of your image. The Tone adjustments you can make in the Basic panel include the following:

Exposure. The Exposure slider controls the mapping of the highlight tone values in the image to those in your designated working space, but it’s first and foremost a white-clipping adjustment. Remember—half of the captured data is in the brightest stop, so Exposure is a highly critical adjustment!

Tip

When the Exposure field is selected, the up and down arrows change the exposure in increments of 0.05 of a stop. Adding Shift changes the exposure in increments of 0.5 of a stop.


Large increases in exposure value (more than about 0.75 of a stop) will increase shadow noise and may even make some posterization visible in the shadows, simply because large positive exposure values stretch the relatively few bits devoted to describing the shadows further up the tone scale. If you deliberately underexpose to hold highlight detail, your shadows won’t be as good as they could be.

Holding down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key while adjusting Exposure gives you a live view of the area in the image that is getting clipped. White pixels indicate highlight clipping, and colored pixels indicate clipping in one or two channels.

Recovery. This deceptive slider can have a major impact on the extreme highlights of your image. Unlike most raw converters, Camera Raw offers “highlight recovery.” Most raw converters treat as white all pixels where one channel has clipped highlights, since they lack complete color information, but Camera Raw can recover a surprising amount of highlight detail from even a single channel. It does, however, maintain pure white (that is, clipped in all channels) pixels as white (unlike most converters that turn clipped pixels gray), and darkens the rest of the image using special algorithms to maintain the nonwhite pixels’ color. Use of Recovery generally entails interactive adjustments of both Exposure as well as other tone mapping controls. It is one of the adjustments often correctly guessed by the Auto adjustment.

See the sidebar “How Much Highlight Detail Can I Recover?” in Chapter 2 for more technical details and see Figure 2-13 for a real-world example.

Fill Light. Fill Light has been given an almost magical reverence by Camera Raw 4 users for its ability to draw out shadow detail, but it does have its limits. First off, it’s one of Camera Raw’s most processor-intensive algorithms, so on slow machines it can be seen to drag when first making an adjustment. This is because under the hood it is producing a blurred mask of the image, on the fly, in order to adjust the shadows in the image. After the mask is generated (which isn’t done until the slider is first moved above 0), slider adjustments should be swifter.

Because of this soft edge mask, overuse can also lead to visible halos on areas of extreme high-contrast edges. Despite these minor potential shortcomings, Fill Light remains an absolutely critical tool for modifying the tone mapping in your image.

Blacks. The Blacks slider is the black clipping control. It works much like the black input slider in Photoshop’s Levels, letting you darken the shadows to set the black level. But since the Blacks slider operates on the linear-gamma data, small moves tend to make bigger changes than the black input slider in Levels. In earlier versions of Camera Raw, the former “Shadows” slider was something of a blunt instrument, but in more recent versions it has a much gentler effect. That said, you may find the default value of 5 a little too aggressive. You can alter the Camera Raw Default to a lower number; we often use 3 as a default instead of 5.

The adjustments between the low numbers of 1–5 can have a tremendous impact at each increment while at higher numbers the changes smooth out. For this reason it’s often useful to zoom into the deep shadow areas of your image and hold down the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key to see what effect even small units of adjustments will have on your image. Black pixels indicate shadow clipping, and colored pixels indicate clipping in one or two channels.

When the Blacks field is selected, the up and down arrow keys change the shadows in increments of 1. Adding Shift changes the shadows in increments of 10.

Brightness. Camera Raw’s Brightness control is a nonlinear adjustment that works very much like the gray input slider in Levels. It lets you redistribute the midtone values without clipping the highlights or shadows. Note, however, that when you raise Brightness to values greater than 100, you can drive 8-bit highlight values to 255, which looks a lot like highlight clipping, but if you check the 16-bit values after conversion, you’ll probably find that they aren’t clipped.

The up and down arrow keys change the brightness in increments of 1. Adding Shift changes the brightness in increments of 10.

Contrast. The Contrast slider also differs from the Photoshop adjustment of the same name. While Photoshop’s Contrast is a linear shift, Camera Raw’s Contrast applies an S-curve to the data, leaving the extreme shadows and highlights alone. Increasing the Contrast value from the default setting of +25 lightens values above the midtones and darkens values below the midtones, while reducing the Contrast value from the default does the reverse. Note that the midpoint around which Contrast adds the S-curve is determined by the Brightness value.

The up and down arrow keys change the contrast in increments of 1. Adding Shift changes the contrast in increments of 10.

Both Brightness and Contrast are rough-tuning adjustments that can often be further and better tuned by using the Tone Curve panel adjustments. However, they live on the Basic panel to offer you the ability to do those rough adjustments in combination with the main levels distribution adjustments of Exposure and Blacks. We’ll offer examples of how to work interactively with Exposure and Blacks as well as Brightness and Contrast in the next chapter.

Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation

In Lightroom, the adjustments named Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation fall under the heading of “Presence”—and that’s a pretty good description of what these adjustments are capable of. Subtle use of these adjustments can add a degree of presence to an image that can’t be accomplished easily with other tools or adjustments (unless you count the 24 sliders in HSL/Grayscale). But while the HSL adjustments are scalpels, these tools are more “basic cutting tools,” which is why we find them residing in the Basic panel.

Clarity. The word really says it all—Clarity is like a lens-cleaning filter. It works in a mysterious way, using an adaptive image adjustment that is mask based (like the Fill Light adjustment) in that it creates a mask of the image and uses it to add midtone contrast. So why is it in the Basic panel?

Other than the fact it’s a “basic” adjustment you’ll wish to use often, it’s more of a tone adjustment for the midtones. Clarity is a distant relative of Photoshop’s Unsharp Mask filter. In fact, it uses an algorithm very much like Unsharp Mask set to a small amount but a large radius of sharpening that results in local area contrast increases. The adjustment is very image dependent; it uses the image itself to determine the area over which it will adjust contrast. And the adjustments are tapered off the bright highlights and deep shadows so they concentrate on the midtones.

If you wish to roughly duplicate the steps in Photoshop, here’s the recipe. Take an image and duplicate the background layer and apply an Unsharp Mask filter set to an Amount of 15% and a Radius of 100. Then in the layer’s Blend If options (double-click the layer icon), select This Layer and split the highlight and shadows sliders to set the blend range so that shadows blend from 0/100 and the highlights blend from 127/255. That will get you a similar result in Photoshop. Then compare that with the effort it takes to merely adjust a slider in Camera Raw. Considering this adjustment is parametric and done on the fly, it’s a remarkable reinvention of an old technique in a new parametric wrapper. We’ll have examples in the next chapter, but for now keep in mind that almost every image can do with at least a small dose of Clarity.

Vibrance. While Vibrance is similar to Saturation, it works with a twist—it increases the saturation of unsaturated colors more than it adjusts already saturated colors. An additional twist is that Vibrance will adjust all colors except for skin tones, which means it’s safe to use on skin (Saturation would likely result in less-than-desirable saturation boosts to shots of people). For those of you who recall Pixmantic and Raw Shooter Pro (RSP), this control will be familiar. The Vibrance setting in Camera Raw, though inspired by RSP, has been completely rewritten in order to work in the Camera Raw pipeline.

Saturation. The Saturation slider acts like a gentler version of the Saturation slider in Photoshop’s Hue/Saturation adjustment. It offers somewhat finer adjustments than Hue/Saturation. But HSL/Grayscale has saturation controls broken down by not six but eight separate hues. So while Saturation can be a useful tool for boosting overall saturation, it does run the risk of potentially causing saturation clipping. Please use sparingly.

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