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Transcript for Multiple Raw Conversions

for Improved Image Quality -- Part I

Narration by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS4 Used in this Tutorial

Hello, I am Ron Bigelow, and I would like to welcome you to my Multiple Raw Conversions for improved image quality video series. Let’s get started on this interesting technique right away by opening a raw file by pressing Control+o on a PC or Command+o on a Mac.

Now, the first thing that I would like you to do is look at the histogram. Notice that the left end of the histogram is cut off. This means that we are clipping the shadows. Clicking the Shadow clipping warning shows which shadows are being clipped. We are clipping some of the shadows in the foreground as can be seen with the blue color that marks the clipped areas. So, with the default Camera Raw settings, we can not capture the full dynamic range of the image. Some of you might have used multiple raw conversions in the past to increase the dynamic range of an image. We could use this approach. We could create one raw conversion to capture the light tones and another conversion to capture the dark tones.

On the other hand, with all of the controls that Camera Raw has today, this usually isn’t necessary. We can easily remove the shadow clipping by adjusting the Blacks slider. The blue that indicates the clipping has disappeared, and the histogram no longer shows any clipped tones. So, let’s turn off the Shadow clipping warning.

Does this mean that there is no longer any need for multiple conversions? Absolutely not! We can use multiple conversions to improve the quality of our images. Let’s take a look at how this can be done.

To start off, we need to closely examine the image and determine our goals for the image. This image was taken while I was hiking up a mountain trail. The sun was low in the sky, the shadows were long, and the sky was beautiful in the late afternoon light. The overall feeling of the scene was one of a beautiful moodiness. However, with the default settings in Camera Raw, this doesn't come across. The reason for this is that the exposure was set to guarantee sufficient detail in the shadows. As a result, the sky, and to a lesser extent the valley, appear much too light. Consequently, the goal for the editing should be to restore the proper feeling for this image.

So, how do we do this? Well, an analysis shows that the image is really composed of two parts. The first part is the foreground which consists primarily of the two mountain ridges. The second part is the background which consists of the valley and the sky. The important point here is that these two components of the image require completely different editing. The foreground is already fairly dark which creates a moody feel – just what we want. So, we do a little bit of fine tuning of the foreground, but we do not do very much. Conversely, the background needs a stronger edit. For starters, we need to significantly darken the background. Then, we need to increase the contrast and the saturation.

The problem that we run into is that it is very difficult to create one conversion that will meet both the needs of the foreground and the background. Let me show you what I mean.

Let’s start our editing by clicking on the Tone Curve image adjustment tab. Then, we click on Point. Next, let’s choose the linear curve in order to get rid of the points on the curve. Now, let’s use the curve to darken the sky. Grabbing the curve and pulling it down quite a bit really helps the sky. In fact, this edit pretty much achieved all three of our goals for the sky: it darkened the sky, increased the contrast, and increased the saturation. On the other hand, look what it did to the foreground. Almost all of it has dropped into black with no detail.

Let’s pull up on the lower curve to see if we can save the shadows. Okay, we have pulled the shadows out of pure black, but they look murky. We have clearly lost much of the shadow detail. Watch what happens when we go back to the default settings. You can clearly see the detail in the foreground rock. When we move back to our edits, we see how much detail we have lost. So, let’s add some contrast to the shadows by adding a couple of points on the curve to see if we get some of that lost detail back.

Alright, that looks like an improvement. Look at the near rock. Here is the default. Here is with our edits. We have managed to get our shadow detail back. So, we are just fine. Right? Actually, no! Look at the detail in the middle tones at the edge of the farther ridge and in the valley. The tones have that muddy look and suffer a loss of detail. Again, taking a look at the default settings shows the detail. Going back to our edits shows how much detail we have lost in the middle tones.

Now, it is time for a reality check, and the reality is very simple. Whenever you create a curve edit, some tones are stretched out which increases contrast. The tones that are stretched out are the ones where we have increased the slope of the curve. Other tones are compressed which reduces contrast and results in a loss of tones. The tones that are compressed are the ones where we decreased the slope of the curve. In simple language, this means that a curve can make certain tones look better but will degrade other tones. Now, in some images, particularly those that only require mild curves, the loss of tonal quality in some tonal areas isn’t really noticeable. However, the stronger the curve, the more this becomes an issue. For us, the loss of tonal detail in the middle tones due to the curve is a major problem.

So, what do we do? The answer is easy. We can resolve our dilemma by using two different raw conversions. One conversion will use edits that are optimized for the foreground. The other conversion will use edits that are optimized for the background.

Now, before we go any further, I want to address one issue. Some of you are probably thinking, “Why go through the hassle of two raw conversions? We could just do a single conversion that keeps the detail in the foreground. Then, we could use a curve to darken the sky in Photoshop”.

You could edit the image this way, but doing it this way will result in a lower quality image than using two conversions. In fact, that is really a main reason for using multiple conversions. Using multiple conversions will result in a higher quality image. Now, I do not want you to have to take my word on this. So, toward the end of this video series, we are going to come back to this issue and compare a curve edit made in Camera Raw with a curve edit made in Photoshop. We will actually be able to see the difference in image quality.

For now, we need to get back to our image and start our edits for our first conversion. We can start by going back to the Camera Raw default settings and clicking on the Basic image adjustment tab.

We are now exactly where we started when we first opened this image.

So, are you ready to start the editing? To carry out the editing, we have to go to the next video in the series.