Adobe Camera Raw 101: A Basic Overview, And Why You Should Make It Part of Your Workflow

This post is an introduction to editing RAW files in Adobe Camera Raw, and assumes that you have a working knowledge of the difference between RAW and JPEG files. If you need help with understanding the difference between RAW and JPEG, please read this post!


If you shoot in RAW, you will need to convert your RAW files in order to edit them in Photoshop since RAW files are not directly editable.
On its most basic level, ACR allows you to open and view your RAW files, make adjustments, and then save your RAW files as a TIF, DNG, JPEG, etc.
After saving your image and then opening it as a TIF (or whatever file type you choose to edit) you will then have the option to apply actions, overlays, and more advanced hand edits.
Photoshop CS and CC come with Adobe Camera Raw (also known as ACR). If you have Photoshop Elements, you will need to download ACR separately in order to convert your RAW files. This tutorial is geared towards CC and CS users, but for PSE users, the steps will be similar, so please follow along.


To open your image in ACR, simply open Photoshop, then select File>Open, and then locate your image on your computer or hard drive. When you select the RAW file and press Open, ACR will automatically start:

On first glance ACR may seem extremely basic, especially compared to Photoshop, but I guarantee you that ACR doesn't get nearly enough credit! You can make so many adjustments and quickly fine-tune your image in ACR, which will help you get even more out of things like actions and overlays.

If you are at all familiar with Adobe Lightroom, you will see that Lightroom and ACR share many similarities and are nearly identical in many ways.


At the top of the ACR screen, you will see a panel with some basic adjustment tools:

Here is a list of some of the most commonly used tools in this panel, along with their keyboard shortcuts:
Zoom Tool - Z: allows you to zoom in close on an image for editing details
Hand Tool - H: lets you move the image around on your screen using your mouse or track pad, rather than using the scroll bars

White Balance Tool - I: use the dropper to select a neutral gray to automatically set the white balance

Crop Tool - C: crops the entire image

Straighten Tool - A: for leveling your image

Spot Removal Tool - B: handy for removing sensor dust and minor blemishes

Adjustment Brush - K: allows you to create a brush to make local adjustments to exposure, contrast, saturation, etc.
Graduated Filter - G: creates a graduated, horizontal or vertical filter

Radial Filter - J: creates a round filter

Rotate Image 90 degrees left - L

Rotate Image 90 degrees right - R

In order to view your adjustments as you are making them, make sure the box beside Preview is checked:


On the right side of the ACR screen, under the histogram, you will see the adjustments panel, with an icon/tab indicating each separate panel. Here is a brief explanation of what each panel will do to your image:

Basic - Adjust white balance. You can either adjust the white balance automatically, or you can move the temperature/tint sliders. You can also manually adjust exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, etc.:

Tone Curve - allows you to manually and specifically adjust the overall tonal values of the image. Here I have applied an S-curve to bring up the contrast, as well as flatten out the blacks:

Detail - This panel allows you to sharpen your image, as well as reduce digital by adjusting the luminance:

HSL (Hue/Saturation/Lightness) | Grayscale - Here you can adjust each color channel individually, or you can convert to Grayscale and adjust the channels in your black and white images:

Split-Toning - This feature allows you to assign different color values to the highlights and shadows. For this image, I have applied a yellow hue to the highlights and a blue hue to the shadows:

Lens Corrections - If you experience fall-off (heavy vignetting and shadows at the edges of your image) with your lens, you can correct this in the Lens Corrections panel. Simply select your lens manufacturer and the type of lens you are using, and ACR will correct the distortion:

Effects - Add grain to your image, or add a subtle vignette:

Camera Calibration - Much like the Lens Corrections panel, Camera Calibration allows you to adjust the colors in your image based on the type of camera you are using. You can also manually adjust the Shadows, Red, Green and Blue Primary Channels.

Presets - If you make a set of adjustments that you are happy with and would like to revisit them later, you can do so here by selecting Save Settings and following the prompts to save the settings as a .xmp preset:

To apply the changes, select Load Settings, and choose the .xmp preset you just created.


When you have applied all of the adjustments you wish to make, you can either save your image as a TIF, JPEG, etc. (Save Image), or close ACR and open your image and edit in the Photoshop workspace (Open Copy).

By selecting Done, ACR will close and any adjustments you made will be saved, but your RAW file will not be converted.


Do you have any questions about this tutorial? We love to hear from you! Please be sure to stop by our private Pretty Photoshop Actions Facebook Group for even more insider tips and info!

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