The basic Raw conversion tools supported by Camera Raw in Adobe’s popular Photoshop Elements image editor enable digital photographers to make a wide range of adjustments to image files. However, some functions are withheld and only made available to photographers who use the professional Photoshop CS/CS2 application. We’ll devote this article to covering these additional functions.


The basic Raw conversion tools supported by Camera Raw in Adobe’s popular Photoshop Elements image editor enable digital photographers to make a wide range of adjustments to image files. However, some functions are withheld and only made available to photographers who use the professional Photoshop CS/CS2 application. We’ll devote this article to covering these additional functions.

If you compare the Camera Raw interface in Photoshop CS2 with the Photoshop Elements interface you’ll see that CS2 has additional buttons in the Tool palette above the image preview pane and more workflow settings below it. There are also three extra control tabs in the pane below the histogram. Otherwise the two interfaces are essentially identical.

The Tool Palette
The Camera Raw tool palette in Photoshop CS2 contains three tools that are unique to Photoshop: Colour Sampler, Crop and Straighten.

The Colour Sampler eyedropper lets you sample up to nine different colours in the image and provides a readout of the RGB colours for each sample in the panel above the image pane. You can use this tool to monitor hue and intensity changes within an image to determine its dynamic range. It can also help you to ensure colour accuracy is maintained through a series of shots of the same subject.

The Crop tool includes a drop-down menu that lets you apply a free-form crop to part of the image, choose a crop from a selection of different aspect ratios or define a custom aspect ratio. The same menu is used for clearing a crop. Cropped areas are always displayed in the context of the whole image but the crop is applied to previews and thumbnails as well as to the image when it’s opened in Photoshop.

The Straighten tool is a huge time-saver for anyone who has difficulties keeping horizons straight in scenic shots. As well as straightening the image by rotation, it also applies a rectangular crop. Two options are provided in a dropdown menu: Normal, which maintains a maximum image size in the crop and Custom, which lets you specify an aspect ratio. You can clear the crop/straightening via the same menu.

Workflow Settings
Located below the image pane are four workflow settings: Space, Depth, Size and Resolution. The Depth setting, which lets you choose whether to produce an 8-bit/channel or 16-bit/channel image, is the only one replicated in Photoshop Elements. Above it, the Space drop-down menu contains four options: Adobe RGB (1998), Colormatch RGB, Pro Photo RGB and sRGB IEC61966. The latter is the standard sRGB setting for monitors, printers and other display devices.

The Size menu provides a quick way to resample images via pre-sets in a drop-down menu. The actual sizes offered depend on the camera used for the shot. They usually equate to the camera’s native resolution, upsampling to 133%, 166% or 200% and downsampling to 66% or 50%. You can also input your own custom settings.

Resolution lets you specify the resolution at which Raw files will be converted without changing the number of pixels in the converted image. Settings applied by this control can be over-ridden with the Image Size control in Photoshop.

Image Controls
The image controls are found below the histogram, just as they are in Photoshop Elements. However, three new tabs (Lens, Curve and Calibrate) have been added to the Adjust and Detail tabs that are replicated in Elements. Adjustments in the Lens tab allow you to counteract two lens-related problems: chromatic aberration and vignetting. Two sliders are provided for adjusting chromatic aberration: one covering red/cyan fringing and the other blue/yellow fringing. Both can be useful for removing coloured fringes, especially from wide-angle shots.

Vignetting is caused by a failure of the lens to disperse light evenly across the entire sensor. It’s recognizable by a darkening towards the corners of the image and is common when shooting at wide lens apertures. Two sliders are provided: Amount, which controls the degree to which lightening or darkening is applied to the corners of the image, and Midpoint, which controls the area where the adjustment is applied. Moving the slider left reduces the area, while moving it right increases it.

The Curve tab shares some functions with the Curves control in Photoshop but actually works as a kind of fine-tuner for the sliders in the Adjust tab. It’s useful for making subtle adjustments to image tones. A drop-down menu above the graph accesses three pre-set curves: Linear, Medium Contrast (the default) and Strong Contrast, plus a Custom setting that lets you make your own adjustments.

The graph combines a histogram tonal display overlaid by an adjustable diagonal line (the Curve). When you hold down the Ctrl key and mouse over the image, a point appears on the Curve showing where the pixels under the cursor are located. Clicking the left mouse button fixes it on the Curve in that spot. (To delete a point, hit Ctrl and click or drag it over another point.) You can move from one point to another by using Ctrl-Tab and Ctrl-Shift or enter numeric values for Curve points in the Input and Output boxes below the graph.

The Calibrate tab lets you adjust Camera Raw to compensate for any variations between the built-in profiles created by Adobe and your own camera. This tab comes with one default profile, which varies with different versions of Camera Raw as Adobe updates the application. Seven sliders are provided for hue and saturation adjustments. Describing the calibration process would require an entire feature article – which we’re happy to produce if enough readers request it. However, for most cameras the only choice will be the default ACR camera profile. This makes an excellent starting point for all Camera Raw adjustments.

Between the histogram and the Image Controls lies a Settings box that lets you apply any saved Camera Raw adjustments to current images. The drop-down menu in the box has four options: Image Settings, Camera Raw Defaults, Previous Conversion and Custom. Image Settings lets you access settings that have been applied to images which have been previously converted in Camera Raw. For images that are opened for the first time, these settings will be the same as Camera Raw Defaults. If you’re unhappy with a previous conversion, selecting Camera Raw Defaults lets you return to square one.

Choosing Previous Conversion lets you apply the settings from the last image you converted to the current image. It’s a kind of variation on batch processing and can be handy when you have a group of shots that require similar (though not identical) adjustments. Custom simply shows the current settings you have applied. However, by toggling between Custom and Image Settings you can see what’s changed since you first opened the image in Camera Raw.

If you click on the arrow to the right of the menu box you call up a menu that allows you to load, save of delete settings. The default setting in this menu is Use Auto Adjustments but you can also reset Camera Raw Defaults or set Preferences that allow you to decide how and if your Raw edits are saved.

The Preferences dialog box has two dropdown menu boxes: Save image settings in: and Apply sharpening to:. The first lets you choose to save edit settings in the Camera Raw database or in individual ‘sidecar .xmp’ files that are attached to the images, regardless of where they are moved. Saving edits in the Camera Raw database indexes the images by file content so, if the file name is changed, the edits can still be located. However, if you burn images to a disk or shift them to a different hard drive, the edits will be lost.

Apply sharpening to:. Lets you choose whether to apply sharpening to the previews and the converted image or just the previews. Selecting Preview images only gives you the option of applying sharpening in Photoshop but still seeing a sharp image in Camera Raw. It’s generally considered the best choice.

Below these boxes is the Camera Raw Cache dialog box, which lets you choose where to hold the adjusted data for the most recently-edited Raw files. With most Raw files averaging 5MB, the default 1GB size setting is adequate for about 200 image files, which should be enough for most photographers. Note that no data is stored exclusively in the Camera Raw Cache so purging it periodically can speed up previewing operations.

The bottom dialog box deals with DNG File Handling. Adobe’s DNG format is an open, non-proprietary Raw file standard that has yet to be adopted by major camera manufacturers, but provides some real advantages for photographers. This is another topic that would require a complete feature article to cover.