GETTING STARTED WITH ACR
(Note: ACR and Lightroom are the same software, different facade. If you are using Lightroom, no problem. This will all still apply, things will simply look a little different design-wise.)
This is a brief description of the basic tools to use with your RAW image file in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR). ACR is part of Photoshop and when you open your RAW image file, it opens here.
I will go into further general details and overall feelings about ACR below.
Starting in the upper left corner and working our way across and down, I will tell you what each tool is.
A. Zoom tool. When you are clicked on your zoom tool and your F. button is clicked on, you are essentially at your "base" page. From here you can make global adjustments using the sliders to the right.
B. Crop tool. Click on this to activate the crop tool. Right-click to see various preset crop-ratios or to custom make your own.
C. Horizon Straighten tool. This tool works in conjunction with the crop tool. Line this up and click and drag across the horizon, and it straightens and kicks you into crop mode. Select the desired crop ratio and hit enter to crop. You can always come back into crop mode and change or adjust these actions.
D. Brush tool. This is a powerful tool that allows you to go in and selectively brush areas to achieve any of the same changes that you are able to do globally, but locally.
E. Preview button. Click this on and off to see the effects of your adjustments on that particular page. It does not show before/after effects to adjustments made on other pages - only the one that is active at the moment.
F. Basic. This is your primary homepage to make global adjustments to your image.
G. Lens corrections. This is where you can quickly and easily make lens correction adjustments to correct image distortion, vignette, chromatic aberration, and more.
H. Camera calibration. Come here to quickly make your image "Camera Neutral" to get to the most neutral starting point.
I. Color profile and size. Click here to set your color space to Prophoto RGB, 16 bit. This is the largest color space to work in and is preferable for optimal workflow, allowing for the preservation of the largest number of colors in the image.
My General Feelings Regarding ACR
What you do in-the-field, in-camera, is build the foundation to an image. Imagine you are creating a sculpture. The in-camera work is the blending and mixing of the perfect ingredients to later sculpt. You do not shape the image in-camera, you simply set yourself up for the perfect foundation. Now, in ACR, you will begin to form the shape of the sculpture. Do not be overly aggressive here. Think more subtly. Begin to form the shape and move the image in the direction of your vision. Subtle moves here will become clearer and more evident in our next phase in Photoshop, where the shape will fully take place and be completed. (If you are doing all developing/shaping of the image at this stage, then your moves may be a bit more pronounced. Don't over do it. Think many small adjustments vs. few big adjustments.)
A Typical Series of Events for an Image in ACR
I typically now start my ACR work by going to (H) and setting the Camera Profile to "Camera Neutral". I only recently discovered this (remember, the learning never stops and there is no destination!) and I think it is a great place to start. It gets you to the most neutral point, which is what I am looking for. You can see what a difference it is from the preset version set by Adobe.
Next, go to (G) and click on "Enable Lens Profile Corrections" on the "Profile" tab - adjust sliders below to taste. I often leave them at 100 and 100. Then, click on the "Color" tab and click on "Remove Chromatic Aberration". This has really become as simple as pushing a button and moving on, whereas a few years back, you could spend hours on this. ACR has become a very powerful tool toward making dynamic photographs.
Click on (F) and get back to your home base. Now, I'd generally straighten my horizon and crop. Traditionally, I am horrible at getting straight horizons in-camera and have used this for nearly every image I work on. With Virtual Horizon capabilities now in-camera, my horizons are getting much better, but now is the time to straighten and crop - if you are decisive. I usually have a very good idea of what image ratio I am after and don't want to waste my time working on pixels that will eventually be deleted. If you are indecisive, maybe you'd want to save a crop for later. Up to you. If you want to do it now, click on (C), click and drag the line across the horizon. It then kicks you into crop mode. Right click and choose the image-ratio you like, or make a new custom one, and then hit "enter" to activate it. Click on (A) and (F) and get back to home base.
Now you are ready to make global adjustments using the sliders under your (F), (G), and (H) sliders. Remember, don't be too aggressive - unless you have to be. If you have parts of your image that are overly dark-to-black, then sure, you may have to be aggressive on sliding up your shadows. But, when at all possible, the work here is more subtle. Work on your white balance. Adjust your "Exposure", "Highlights", and "Shadows" sliders. There is no secret formula to all of this - work to visual taste.
Shadow and Highlight Clipping Tool
Another tool that you should be familiar with is the "Shadow clipping warning" and the "Highlight clipping warning". In the upper right and part of the histogram, there are the 2 buttons in the upper 2 corners. Click on these to see if you are clipping either your shadows and highlights.
In the above image, the buttons are clicked ON but there are no clippings of either shadows or highlights, which is optimal.
And in this image, there is clipping of the highlights and the program shows it to you in red, making it very visible which areas of the image are, in this case, blown out and overexposed.
The Brush Tool
Okay, you have made a number of adjustments globally - you have corrected lens corrections, chromatic aberrations, have made some global adjustments to the entire image regarding highlights, shadows, and overall exposure. Now, if desired, you can click on (D) on your brush tool and go in and make local adjustments. This is a very powerful tool. Everything you can do globally, you can also do locally. You can bring down the exposure in one area and up in another, or adjust the white balance to one part and not another. Very powerful stuff.
Before any brush adjustments.
After 2 brush adjustments - the first to bring the "Exposure" and "Highlights" down in the sky, and the other to bring the "Exposure" up in the water.
You can click "Show Mask" ON in the lower center, so it shows you exactly where the mask is. You can add more to the mask, erase from it, make it a color - you can do many things here! The best thing is to play around with it and to begin to see the endless possibilities.
I use the brush tool quite a lot. Not on every single image, but more often than not. I also like to use it to bring "Clarity" to certain areas like the pier in this image, or to decrease the "Clarity" in the soft silky water. There are times when being able to change the white balance, say in the sky to warm, versus changing it to cooler in the water, is exactly what you need to subtly lay down in this phase of things.
From here, click on (A) and (F) to get back to home base. Determine if you want to make any other global adjustments. Make sure (I) is set to Prophoto RGB and 16-bit, and now you're ready to OPEN your image into Photoshop.
ACR is a very powerful tool and a great place to begin shape your image.
OPTIMAL COLOR SETTINGS IN PHOTOSHOP
Okay, you have opened your image in Photoshop, now what? Well, first you've got to setup your color settings so they are working optimally for you.
Click on "Edit" and "Color Settings"...
Make your RGB working space: Prophoto RGB and your Gray working space: Gray Gamma 1.8. I have my "Ask when Opening" options clicked ON so I know when something is a mix-match and can stay on top of things. Hit OK and you're done with that.
When I move the image into Photoshop, I use layers, selecting, and a number of different kinds of masks. I use Nik Software and recommend them highly. They are also available for Lightroom. I love using Nik Software tools, primarily Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro. Both of these programs are very easy and intuitive, and allows for the photographer to work visually and aesthetically - just the way I like! Nik has video tutorials online and you could literally watch an hour of those and get in there and start playing.
You don't have to go back to school or spend really any money to learn image developing. Go to Youtube and do a search and there's a TON of free tutorials for Lightroom, Photoshop, NIK, and every other software. Watch some of those and get started! Terry White is a good instructor with endless hours of help to assist you. I also like PHLEARN - they often have some fun and interesting techniques to learn. There's many many more.
If you want one-on-one personalized help with Editing and Developing, I now have my Developing & Mentoring Services available and this is an excellent option - though it’s not free. ;)
There's no destination to get to, just enjoy where you are currently at with your photography and LOVE THE PROCESS!