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Photography

The Camera Raw Filter: The Power of Raw Processing, The Precision of Photoshop Masks

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
This post is part of a series called Adjustment Layers.

In Adobe Photoshop, the Camera Raw filter allows you to use the tools in Camera Raw to filter a layer in Photoshop. This filter works with all types of image files and video files. It even works for layers that you draw, type, or paint on. In short, the Camera Raw filter brings its powerful slider adjustments and convenient tools to a whole new range of applications. This tutorial will introduce you to the Camera Raw filter and how to make non-destructive adjustments with it. 

Parametric Adjustments for Raster Images

Before you work with raw image files in a raster image editor like Photoshop you must first process them through a parametric image editor like the Camera Raw Plugin or Adobe Lightroom. The parametric editor translates the raw sensor information into a pixel-based format Photoshop can read, like TIFF, JPEG, or PSD. Only then are you able to open them in Photoshop and work on pixel-level edits.

The Camera Raw filter is not a replacement for the Camera Raw plugin that is used to initially process Raw images. It does not turn a non-raw image into a raw image. A few of the options are not available when you use the filter. You will still get the highest quality adjustments if you do the majority of adjustments before opening a file in Photoshop. 

The Camera Raw filter does let you to bring back the same useful Camera Raw tools at a later point in your workflow. The filter has some great features:

  • Non-destructive image adjustments if applying to a Smart Object

  • Available to use on non-raw files such as JPEG, TIFF, and video files

  • Can be used on one individual layer or multiple layers

Convert to Smart Object

Select the layer (or layers) to which you want to apply the filter. Right-click on the layer name and choose Convert to Smart Object from the context menu. This conversion will turn your layer into a Smart Object and allow you to readjust the filter settings later. Click on the Filter menu again and choose Camera Raw Filter. This action will bring up the Camera Raw interface.

Using the Camera Raw Filter

Once in the Camera Raw interface, you have almost all of the tools that you normally have in Camera Raw but the possibilities are endless because you have so many tools, adjustment sliders, and presets with which to work. Use the Camera Raw filter wherever you are more familiar with the tools and sliders available in Camera Raw. This way you will make your image adjustments faster and be happier with the results.

After you have applied the adjustments in the Camera Raw interface, click on the OK button in the bottom right. This button will apply the adjustments and bring you back to the Photoshop interface.

Let's look at a couple of my favorite tools that don’t have equivalents in Photoshop to provide several examples of where you can use the Camera Raw filter.

White Balance Tool

The white balance tool in Camera Raw is excellent. Photoshop simply doesn't have a white balance tool this easy to use.

Once you are in the Camera Raw interface, select the White Balance Tool from the upper left. You will see your cursor change into an eyedropper. Look for a neutral grey area of the image and click on it. Camera Raw will assess that spot and you will see the color balance change accordingly.

The Adobe Camera Raw interface

You can fine tune the white balance further using the sliders to right in the Basic panel. Once the white balance looks correct, click on the OK button in the bottom right.

You will find yourself back in Photoshop. Look at the Layers panel and note that the Camera Raw Filter has been applied. You can click on the Eyeball icon to turn off the layer to see how the image looked before the adjustment. Then click it again to view with the filter applied.

Photoshop creates a layer mask for Smart Filters. The mask allows you to selectively apply the filter to areas of the image. Choose the Brush tool and select black as the paint color. Make certain the layer mask is selected. Now paint the areas where you want to remove the filter. You can paint with shades of grey, or lower the Opacity, to fine tune the effects of layer on the image.

A look at the Layer Mask on the Smart Filter

Gradient Tool

While there is a tool to create adjustment in Photoshop, I prefer the Gradient tool in Camera Raw.

With your photo open in the Camera Raw Filter interface, choose the Gradient tool from the top left. My example image is too light on the left side, so I will drag an adjustment gradient from the left into the image. I can see it darkening my photo as I drag it. When I have it to the spot that I want, I will stop dragging and release the mouse button.

Using the Gradient Tool in Camera Raw

The sliders make adjustments to the gradient. Most often, I decrease or increase exposure with the gradient to make subtle adjustments. Once the gradient adjustment looks good, click on the OK button in the bottom right.

Make it Permanent and Reduce File Size

This step is completely optional but sometimes file size and storage space considerations are important. I don’t normally do this step because I like to be able to go back and make changes later but saving small amounts of data in each file can add up to a significant amount when done hundreds or thousands of times.

After you have applied the Camera Raw filter and are pleased with the results, select the Smart Object layer with the filter by clicking on it. Then right-click and choose Rasterize Layer from the context menu. This action will ‘bake’ the changes you made into the file: it will convert the adjustment layer from math into pixels. It also discards some of the Smart Object information and decreases the file size. It's a one-way change.

Rasterizing a lay in Adobe Photoshop

Video and the Camera Raw Filter

When I’m working with video, I love the Camera Raw Filter. I don’t use the Camera Raw plugin at the beginning of my video workflow so the Camera Raw Filter allows me to use all the tools that I am familiar with to make adjustments to video.

Open a video in Photoshop and scrub the playhead to a frame that is typical of the clip you are working on. Then, click on the layer with the video to select it and right-click on the layer name and choose Convert to Smart Object from the context menu. Click on the Filter menu again and choose Camera Raw Filter. This action will bring up the Camera Raw interface where you can adjust your video using the same tools that you use to adjust your still photos.

Once you have made all the adjustments that you need to, click Ok and you will be brought back to the Photoshop interface. Preview your video clip and look for portions of the clip that need further adjustment. If something does need more adjusting, just double click on the Camera Raw Filter name in the Layers panel. Because we applied the filter to a smart object, we can readjust the filter anytime we need to.

Conclusion

The Camera Raw filter brings its powerful slider adjustments and convenient tools to a whole new range of applications. I demonstrated how to use the Camera Raw filter to make non-destructive adjustments to still images, videos, and many other Photoshop layers. Now you’re ready to apply the Camera Raw filter to your Photoshop layers and enjoy the benefits of working with Camera Raw.

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