Ophrys Photography

Wildlife photography by John Devries, Kent UK. Inspirational images from nature.
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Photoshop CS3 Tutorial - RAW workflow update

In this tutorial, I will not be giving an illustrated example of how to do a RAW conversion, as that is adequately covered in the CS2 tutorial . What I will do instead is concentrate on the new features in CS3 and provide notes on using each of the sliders in the most important dialogue boxes.

Photoshop CS3 uses a much-improved version of Bridge, which loads thumbnails and previews much quicker than CS2 Bridge. However, I still prefer using Breezebrowser to import images from the CF card reader as previews load near instantly, and you can then start a slideshow straight away to view , score and sort/delete your work. The slideshow applies sharpening and makes an excellent guess at how the image will look after conversion to enable easy assessment. Once the few selected best images are copied into a file, I close Breezebrowser as it has then done it's job. I still have a backup, as the images are now both on the computer's hard disc and on the memory card. The actual RAW converter within Photoshop CS3 is far more sophisticated (and considerable quicker) than that found in Breezebrowser, so I prefer to use this for the next stages.

Optional step1. Next I open Bridge and go to Tools > Create metadata template. I then enter all my copyright information, which will be embeded in the image and is viewable later on in File Info (in Photoshop). Once a template is generated it can be saved, and thereafter it can be applied to all selected images in a file very quickly and simply using Tools > Append metadata (and select your saved template).

Optional step 2 At this time I also add keywords, using the keyword pallet (bottom right of the screen in Bridge) which enables you to quickly find all images with designated keywords such as birds > herons for example.

Recommended step 3
Perform a batch rename on your files to something meaningful that won't be duplicated when your camera file numbering runs out of file numbers and starts again at zero.

To do this, select the thumbnails that you want to rename (Edit> Select all) or select images individually by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on them. Then click on Tools > Batch rename. The Batch rename dialogue box will appear. Here you can choose the destination folder and naming template formats. I use :

Text : e.g. green woodpecker ( lower case, no spaces)
Sequence number: e.g. 1 (if there are already green woodpecker files in the folder, Photoshop will cleverly offer you the next number in the sequence as a starting point automatically.
Three digits :
I also check the preserve current filename in XMP data in case I need to refer to this for some reason.

My files now take on the appearance of : greenwoodpecker037.cr2 for example and I will file them under British birds> woodpeckers > green woodpecker on my computer C: drive in the My pictures folder. A unique number such as this is far more descriptive than the original camera file number:- There is one more use of doing this batch rename. When you open a file in Photoshop and edit it, you will want to save the file as a TIFF. Rather than retype the name again, Photoshop offers you the same descriptive filename with the suffix changed from .cr2 to .tiff to save with. This saves a lot of retyping - great.

RAW conversion

The RAW converter may be launched from within Bridge by right clicking on an image and selecting "Open in camera RAW". It can also be launched in Photoshop by double clicking on an image or thumbnail (in Bridge). It is best to do the former method, as you can carry out batch RAW conversions in Bridge while you work on an image in Photoshop - provided that your computer is sufficiently speedy.

Before starting a RAW adjustment, I suggest that you first do a couple of things :

Firstly, at the bottom of the RAW conversion box, you will see some blue text, where it specifies the output image colour space, size and resolution. If you right click on this text, you can specify your requirements. I set mine to sRGB colour space and 300 ppi and leave size untouched.

Next hold down Ctr+K and the camera RAW preferences box will appear. I like to select "Apply sharpening to preview images only" as it is useful to see a sharpened preview, but it is much better to sharpen as the final step in Photoshop. Also I select "Save image settings in sidecar .xmp files". This saves all my RAW adjustments in a tiny file that follows the main image around (like a motorbike and sidecar!) if you move it to another location.

OK we are now ready to start.

In the above example, I have opened up an image of a blackbird and the General tab is open. (Denoted by a camera aperture symbol).

Let's work through the sliders one by one in the order that they appear in the converter :

General tab -

White Balance/Tint /Auto/Default

Just as in CS2, set the white balance either by eye using the temperature slider (my usual method), or by using the white balance tool on a neutral grey area of the image.
Adjust the green> cyan tint if necessary (it rarely needs changing)
CS3 can do a reasonable job using auto settings on some images, and makes a right pigs ear of it on others. So just click on auto and default and use the best-looking image as your starting point.

Exposure slider

Holding down the Alt key, drag the exposure slider left or right. You will notice that the screen goes black, and only the over-exposed (clipped) pixels are visible. Move the slider back to the left until the clipped pixels just disappear. On some images with very heavily-saturated colours or in one which is seriously over-exposed, it might not be possible to eliminate this clipping entirely.

Recovery slider

This is the first of the new CS3 sliders - and it can work miracles if you over-expose the highlights a bit - say in the feathers of a white swan. Just slide the slider to the right (while holding down the Alt key again) until the last remaining specks of over-exposure disappear from the image. It might not be possible to eliminate them entirely. Aim to use moderate adjustments, but don't worry if your image looks dark at this stage, as all will come right when we come to use the Brightness slider.

The white point has now accurately been set.

Fill Light

This is another new slider, and brightens the mid tones and shadows- similar to using fill-flash or a reflector at the time of capturing the image. It cannot replace using real fill-flash of course, but can lift darker parts of an image revealing both detail (and if you overdo it) - digital noise. It is not always necessary to use fill light, but can lift some images dramatically.

Blacks slider

Next we set the shadow black point. Hold down the Alt key again, and slide the blacks slider until clipping just starts to occur - indicated by black or coloured outlines starting to appear on the white background .Sometimes it is advantageous to clip the blacks a little to give the image a nice degree of punch, but not to the extent that important shadow detail is lost.

The black and white points are now set. You will now have all or most of the dynamic range of the image recorded. As you move the other sliders, the histogram will move about within the confines of these set levels.


Next, adjust the brightness slider until the image looks good again.


This is a basic contrast adjustment, but is much better than using the equivalent in Photoshop after RAW conversion. If the contrast level is set too high, you may not be able to achieve the maximum amount of shadow or highlight detail in the image.


This is another fantastic new slider for CS3. It increases mid-tone contrast with a sophisticated algorithm which gives the appearance of sharpening (clarity) the image. I recommend that you view at 100% when you make the adjustments. I find most images benefit from about 20-30% as a starting point.


This is another superb addition to CS3. It behaves in a very similar fashion to the saturation slider, but targets under-saturated colours rather than acting on all colours - which could already be nearing saturation. Vibrance is good for increasing colour saturation in an image without exaggerating skin tones for example. I find it works wonderfully in landscapes with water, as it brings out the blue hues wonderfully without looking overdone as it can do in Saturation. Most images benefit from a starting setting of around 10-12.


As found in other versions of Photoshop, and controls the degree of saturation of all colours equally in an image.

Tone curve Tab - Point and Parametric

The point tab acts rather like curves in Photoshop - and enables you to either select points on the tone curve and adjust them to taste (or use some presets such as linear/medium/strong contrast).
I have never really got on with curves, but I do like the parametric option where you can make adjustments to the highlights, lights, darks and shadows individually to optimize the tones in the image. This is rather similar to using the shadow/highlight tool in photoshop - but is a good deal more intuitive.

Detail tab

This addresses sharpening and noise reduction

If you followed my advice and set the camera raw preferences to sharpen the preview only, then the sharpening adjustments will only affect the preview image and should be set to taste. I suggest Amount 95, Radius 1.0, Detail 25 , Masking 0 as being generally OK for previewing images.

Noise reduction

There are two basic sliders, and if you are going to use Noise reduction software such as Neat image or Noise Ninja at a later stage, you may want to leave these set to 0.

For many well-exposed images, some colour noise reduction and a tiny amount of luminance noise reduction is often all that is required. To make adjustments use the following procedure:

Select a zoom value of 200% to make the noise obvious and easy to see. (Bottom left of the RAW converter - click on the little down arrow above the "save image" box and click 100%).

Set both the luminance slider and the color slider to 0. Then adjust the color slider until the colour noise in the image just disappears. Then apply just a little luminance reduction in order to reduce the appearance of granularity in the image background. If you overdo it, you will loose detail and your image will start to look "plasticky". Settings vary according to how high the Iso was set to in-camera for the selected image, but I frequently find myself using settings of around 15 for color and 6 for luminance as a guideline.

Other Tabs

I don't use the remaining tabs in the RAW converter very often, but here are a few notes against some of them:

The HSL/grey scale tab

Allows you to individually change a range of colours hue/saturation/luminence (brightness). Can be useful to emphasize an individual colour in an image.
If you want to work in grey scale (black and white) This is a great place to do it. Just click to "Convert to grey scale" and adjust the sliders to make the image look as you would like. This removes the necessity to carry out conversions in the channel mixer in Photoshop - which used to be the favoured method.

Split toning

I have no use for split toning - so I never use this

Lens correction and vignetting

Only really useful when using cheaper lenses that leave coloured fringing or cause vignetting (darkening in the corners). Some wide angle lenses used on a full frame camera can cause vignetting - which is removed effectively using the sliders.

Camera calibration

Only of use if your camera routinely outputs colour biases. I have not found any use for this function.


Once you have a set of RAW settings that you want to be able to save and routinely access, you can select and apply them into here. I have a set of saved presets that I use as my starting point for all images, and start correcting from there. This can save a lot of time.

When all adjustments are completed, either click Done to apply the settings, or click Open image to open in the image editor ( Photoshop CS3) or click Save if you just want to save the image as a TIFF or DNG file without editing it further. You might need to set CS3 as your editor in your preferences.

Saving time by doing batch conversions

If you have taken a series of shots under identical conditions (say, you let rip with the motordrive and have a sequence of ten similar shots for example), you can save a lot of time by doing a batch conversion

In Bridge, select all the images that you want to batch-process (by holding down Ctrl as you click on each image). Then right click > Open in camera RAW.

All the selected images will appear in a vertical column down the left side of the screen and the first image will appear in the preview window. You now have a choice of working in two different ways. You can either click "Select all" and as you make changes to RAW settings they will automatically be applied to all the images selected. The disadvantage of this method is that you have to wait for the changes to be applied after each change you make. I find it much better to select just one image, make all the necessary adjustments and as the last step, click "select all" and then "synchronize" .

The synchronize dialogue box will then appear, and you can either synchronize all settings or just the ones you would like to apply. You would not usually want to apply a level or crop setting to all images, so I tend to leave these un ticked, but check all the rest.

You then have the usual options to save the image or open them all in CS3 or simply apply the settings and close. Phew - we are done!

If all this sounds like a lot of work compared to working with jpegs, then you are probably right, but you simply could not achieve the end result that RAW processing archives if you just let the camera's on-board system decide on what parameters to apply to each image. If you blow highlights in a jpeg, they are lost forever for example - blow them in a RAW, and you stand a much better chance of recovering them. Also, many of the post processing adjustments that are normally required in Photoshop for a jpeg (Levels/hue and saturation/colour balance/shadow -highlight /curves etc) are no longer necessary as you have made those adjustments in the RAW conversion process. Once converted, I mainly use Photoshop to clone/heal spots (although that can also be done in RAW now), sharpen or reduce noise in Neat image and I am done.

Finally, if you only want to view your images on your computer screen, why bother to convert them at all ? If you use the slideshow in Bridge (or better still - Breezebrowser) you can see your images fullscreen without converting them. You can then just convert those images that you want to print out or e.mail or display on the web etc.

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