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Detail TabLens Correction TabHSL TabBasic TabTone Curve Tab

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Workflow - Adobe Camera Raw/Lightroom

Joe Kegley | E-Mail | Updated 01-16-2011

Camera Raw Dialog

Camera Raw Dialog

Lightroom Develop Module

Lightroom Develop Module

The next tab on this page is a high-level example of my typical camera raw workflow. Steps 2, 3, and 10, are used on every initial edit. The relevance of the remaining steps depends on the individual needs of the particular file. Realize that editing in camera raw is non-destructive so it is ok to re-adjust a previous setting. In fact, it is often necessary to do so. Adjusting a particular slider in one tab may affect tonal or color qualities which need to be re-adjusted in another tab. Because editing a raw file in Camera Raw is non-destructive, it's ok to oscillate back and forth between tabs and sliders. That's why you want to do as much of your editing as possible in Camera Raw.

Although I use Adobe Camera Raw hosted by Photoshop CS5, one should note these same adjustments are available within camera raw hosted by Adobe Lightroom 3 (and with a few exceptions Adobe Photoshop Elements 9). Realize I don't represent the other photographers on WildlifeSouth. Everyone has their own individual style and workflow.

Adobe Camera Raw 6.3 Versus Lightroom 3.3 Develop module

Adobe Photoshop CS5 shares the same camera raw processing engine as Adobe's Photoshop Lightroom 3.3 Develop module... Camera Raw 6.3. The main difference is the presentation of the editing controls (see the above images). Camera Raw uses tabs while Lightroom's Develop module uses expanding panels to access the editing controls. The same functionality exists between Lightroom's Develop module and Camera Raw 6.3 within Photoshop.

Camera Raw Preferences and Workflow Setup

Camera Raw Tool Bar

Camera Raw Preferences (located within the series of buttons at the top left of the dialog)

To setup Camera Raw Preferences, click the Preferences icon in the upper left corner of the Camera Raw dialog (marked above) or press "Ctrl K". I accept most of the defaults, but I make sure the "Apply auto tone adjustments" check box is unchecked. I want to see exactly what my camera captured then adjust from that point.

Camera Raw Workflow Link

Camera Raw Workflow Link (located at the bottom center of the dialog)

Below the image preview in Camera Raw is some text that looks like a web link. Click the link to access the Workflow Options. This is where you set the Color Space and Bit Depth.

A common photography configuration sets the Color Space to Adobe RGB and Depth to 16 bits/channel within the Adobe Camera Raw Workflow Options. Adobe RGB and the ProPhoto RGB color space are popular for printing and have a larger color gamut than sRGB. The sRGB color space is better suited for displaying images on a computer such as email or a website. Many browsers default to the sRGB color space and/or can't display other color spaces. Should you need sRGB (for web images) you can change the color space during output with Photoshop. Working with Depth set to 16bits/channel lets you use the most data available during editing.

If you want the most flexibility during editing you should also check the "Open in Photoshop as Smart Objects" checkbox. By opening as a Smart Object, you can come back and adjust any of the Camera Raw settings during your Photoshop workflow. Holding the "Shift" key down toggles between the "Open Image" and "Open Object" button within the Camera Raw interface should you wish to open an image instead.

Lightroom Develop Module Preferences and Setup

There's not much to setup for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3's Develop module. There are no color management settings to adjust for this module. The Develop module is designed to use a ProPhoto RGB color space with a bit depth of 16 bits for editing raw files. So that's what you'll be using if working with raw data.

One setting you might want to change is the "Camera Raw Cache" located in the Preferences dialog under the File Handling tab. To open the Preferences dialog click the "Edit" menu item then select "Preferences..." The default value is 1 GB which is somewhat small. The Camera Raw Cache stores the processed raw data used to build the Develop module preview. The larger the cache, the more preprocessed raw data, which in turn means less time waiting for the Develop module to generate a preview (assuming the raw data has been previewed at least once and stored in the cache). Below I have changed the cache from 1 to 30GB.

Lightroom Camera Raw Cache

Lightroom Camera Raw Cache (Edit/Preferences... then choose the File Handling tab)

One final note, if you are using Lightroom and expect to export images to Adobe Photoshop for further adjustments, you might want to set your color profile in Photoshop to ProPhoto RGB to match Lightroom's color space.

Next Tab >

Adobe Camera Raw 6.3 / Lightroom 3 Workflow

  1. Spot Removal Tool (to remove dust spots when necessary, for more advanced retouching use Photoshop)
  2. Basic Tab
    • White Balance (general ballpark adjustment)
    • Exposure (white point)
    • Blacks (black point)
    • Recovery
    • Fill light
    • Brightness (general ballpark adjustment)
    • Contrast (leave at default or general ballpark adjustment)
    • Clarity (adjust to the right to increase detail, adjust to the left to add artistic glow at the expense of detail)
  3. Tone Curve Tab (globally fine tune tonal adjustment, Targeted Adjustment Tool works with this tab)
  4. Basic Tab (again)
    • White Balance again (fine tune adjustment, adjust for color cast, counter large exposure adjustments)
    • Vibrance (general ballpark adjustment)
    • Saturation (general ballpark adjustment, though better to use Vibrance slider and HSL tab instead)
  5. HSL Tab (Hue/Saturation/Luminance - when needed to globally fine tune colors, Targeted Adjustment Tool works with this tab)
  6. Adjustment Brush/Graduated Filter (for localized adjustments of exposure and saturation, for more advanced selections use Photoshop instead)
  7. Lens Correction Tab (profile or manual sub-tab to correct distortion and chromatic aberration)
  8. Detail Tab (color noise adjustment when necessary, conservative capture sharpening - just enough - typically just the default value)
  9. Crop and/or Straighten (you may want to do this later in your workflow within Photoshop)
  10. Open in Photoshop (for advanced retouching, advanced targeted local adjustments, and output). If you're using Lightroom you may wish to save the file after editing in Photoshop then output via Lightroom.


White Balance - I rarely use the white balance tool (eyedropper) in Camera Raw except with people photographs in which case I might adjust skin tones. For most nature photography I find the white balance sliders the easiest method to adjust the warm or cool feel I want the image to have. Also note I use the "Temperature" slider much more than the "Tint" slider. The "Temperature" slider adjusts the warm/cool ambience of your image.

With Lightroom 3 there is an added feature which makes the white balance tool a little more user friendly. If you hover over your photo with the white balance tool you get to see a preview of what the white balance will look like in the Navigator panel should you select that point. I believe this could be very useful for nature photographers.

Exposure Clipping - Although you can turn on clipping previews by clicking the black and white triangles at the top of the right sidebar (and I do have them turned on), I prefer to view clipping by holding the "Alt" key while making adjustments to the "Exposure", "Recovery", and "Blacks" sliders.

Split Toning, Effect, and Camera Calibration Tabs - As of this writing, I don't use the Split Toning, Effects, or Camera Calibration tabs found in the camera raw application. Maybe I should use them, but so far I haven't had a need for them.

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Adobe Camera Raw 6.3 Shortcuts

The following are the 16 Camera Raw shortcuts I find most helpful. Below those are useful Camera Raw shortcuts arranged by the user interface. There are a lot more shortcuts available than I have listed, in fact the number of keyboard shortcuts can be overwhelming, but these are the ones I use. The shortcuts listed are for a Windows OS, for Mac users substitute Command for Ctrl and Option for Alt.

16 Most Helpful Camera Raw Shortcuts

  1. "Z" - for Zoom Tool.
  2. "F" - toggles full screen on and off.
  3. "Spacebar" - hold "Spacebar" to temporarily change cursor to Hand Tool.
  4. "Alt" - hold "Alt" to temporarily change cursor to zoom out when using Zoom or Hand Tool.
  5. "Ctrl" - hold "Ctrl" to temporarily change cursor to zoom in when using Hand Tool.
  6. "Ctrl 0" - to fit to screen.
  7. "Ctrl Alt 0" - to zoom to 100%.
  8. "Double Click Hand Tool" - to fit to screen.
  9. "Double Click Zoom Tool" - to zoom to 100%.
  10. "Right Click" - image to see context menu of size presets when using Zoom or Hand tool.
  11. "Ctrl +" - to zoom in.
  12. "Ctrl -" - to zoom out.
  13. "P" - toggles preview on and off.
  14. "Ctrl Z" - to Undo/Redo.
  15. "Alt" - to toggle between Cancel and Reset button in the lower right.
  16. "Shift" - to toggle between Open Image and Open Object button in the lower right.

Tool Bar

  1. "Z" - for Zoom Tool.
  2. "H" - for Hand Tool.
  3. "I" - for White Balance Tool.
  4. "S" - for Color Sampler Tool.
  5. "C" - for Crop Tool.
  6. "A" - for the Straighten Tool.
  7. "B" - for Spot Removal Tool.
  8. "E" - for Red Eye Removal Tool.
  9. "K" - for Adjustment Brush Tool.
  10. "T" - for Targeted Adjustment Tool.
  11. "G" - for Graduated Filter Tool.
  12. "Esc" - removes crop selection.
  13. "Shift" - hold "Shift" to temporarily to change cursor to White Balance Tool.
  14. "Spacebar" - hold "Spacebar" to temporarily change cursor to Hand Tool.
  15. "Alt" - hold "Alt" to temporarily change cursor to zoom out when using Zoom or Hand Tool.
  16. "Ctrl" - hold "Ctrl" to temporarily change cursor to zoom in when using the Hand Tool.
  17. "Right Click" - image to see context menu of white balance presets when using the White Balance Tool.
  18. "Right Click" - image to see context menu of available aspect ratios when using Crop Tool.
  19. "Right Click" - image to see context menu of available tabs panels for Targeted Adjustment Tool.

Spot Removal and Adjustment Brush Tool specifics

  1. "Click and Drag" - to change brush size for Spot Removal Tool.
  2. "[" and "]" - to change brush size for Spot Removal Tool and Adjustment Brush.
  3. "Shift [" and "Shift ]" to change Adjustment Brush feather amount.
  4. "Right Click and Drag" - left or right to change Adjustment Brush size.
  5. "Shift-Right Click and Drag" - left or right to change Adjustment Brush feather amount.
  6. "Alt" - to temporarily toggle between Add and Erase modes for Adjustment Brush.
  7. "Alt [" and "Alt ]" - to temporarily increase or decrease brush size.

Adjustment Panels

  1. "Ctrl Alt 1" - for Basic Panel.
  2. "Ctrl Alt 2" - for Tone Curve Panel.
  3. "Ctrl Alt 3" - for Detail Panel.
  4. "Ctrl Alt 4" - for HSL Panel.
  5. "Ctrl Alt 6" - for Lens Correction Panel.
  6. "Tab" - scrolls through adjustment sliders on selected tab.
  7. "Arrow Up/Arrow Down" - adjusts selected slider.
  8. "Alt" - holding down "Alt" while adjusting the "Exposure", "Recovery", or "Blacks" sliders to show clipping.
  9. "Alt" - holding down "Alt" while adjusting the Sharpening sliders removes color so you can judge texture.
  10. "Ctrl" and "Click" - to add point to Point Curve.
  11. "Arrow Keys" - to adjust selected point position on Tone Curve.

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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Shortcuts (Develop Module)

The shortcuts listed below are for a Windows OS, for Mac users substitute Command for Ctrl and Option for Alt.

Basic Shortcuts

  1. "Space" or "Z" - Toggle between Loupe and 100% Zoom.
  2. "Ctrl +" - Zoom in.
  3. "Ctrl -" - Zoom out.
  4. "," - Cycle forward through Basic Panel settings.
  5. "." - Cycle backward through Basic Panel settings.
  6. "+" - Increase selected panel slider by 5.
  7. "-" - Decrease selected panel slider by 5.
  8. "Shift +" - Increase selected panel slider by 20.
  9. "Shift -" - Decrease selected panel slider by 20.
  10. "Double Click" - Double click slider name to reset the slider.
  11. "Double Click" - Double click group name to reset all the sliders in that group.
  12. "J" - Toggle show clipping.
  13. "Alt" and "drag" - Show clipping while dragging the Exposure, Recovery, and Blacks sliders.
  14. "Ctrl ]" - Rotate image clockwise.
  15. "Ctrl [" - Rotate image counter-clockwise.
  16. "\" - Toggle between before and after your adjustment.
  17. "Y" - View before and after (left/right).
  18. "Shift Y" - View before and after in a split screen.
  19. "Alt Y" - View before and after (top/bottom).
  20. "Ctrl J" - Open Develop view options.
  21. "V" - Covert to grayscale.
  22. "Ctrl Shift C" - Copy Develop settings.
  23. "Ctrl Shift V" - Paste Develop settings.
  24. "Ctrl E" - Edit in Photoshop.

Tool Strip

  1. "W" - Select White Balance tool.
  2. "R" - Select Crop tool.
    • "A" - Constrain aspect ratio when Crop tool is selected.
    • "Alt" and "drag" - Crop from the center of the photo.
    • "O" - Cycle through grid overlays for Crop tool.
    • "X" - Swap between portrait and landscape orientation after the crop has been selected.
  3. "Q" - Select the Spot Removal tool.
    • "[" and "]" - Decrease and increase brush size.
  4. "M" - Select the Graduated Filter tool.
  5. "K" - Select the Adjustment Brush.
    • "[" and "]" - Decrease and increase brush size.
    • "Shift [" and "Shift ]" - Decrease and increase brush feathering.
    • "/" - Switch between local adjustment brush A and B when Adjustment Brush is selected.
    • "Alt" and "drag" - Temporarily switch between brush A and B when Adjustment Brush is selected.
    • "Shift" and "drag" - Paint a horizontal or vertical line.
    • "Drag Adjustment Pin" - Drag left or right to decrease or Increase amount of adjustment.
    • "H" - Show/hide local adjustment pin.
    • "O" - Show/hide local adjustment mask overlay.

Targeted Adjustment Tool (click and drag on image to adjust selected parameter)

  1. "Ctrl Alt Shift T" - Select Targeted Adjustment tool for Curve Tone.
  2. "Ctrl Alt Shift H" - Select Targeted Adjustment tool for Hue.
  3. "Ctrl Alt Shift S" - Select Targeted Adjustment tool for Saturation.
  4. "Ctrl Alt Shift L" - Select Targeted Adjustment tool for Luminance.
  5. "Ctrl Alt Shift G" - Select Targeted Adjustment tool for Grayscale Mix.
  6. "Ctrl Alt Shift N" - Deselect Targeted Adjustment tool.

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