Camera Raw Workflow; Get The Best Print Quality From Digital Camera Images Page 2

The last action I always make in Camera Raw is to set output to 16 bit. The reason is that I find nearly every image requires some additional adjustment after conversion.

Optimize Gamut

Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0 Enhance/Lighting/Levels dialog is the same as it is in the full version of Photoshop and provides the most accurate Histogram and the ability to precisely optimize (tighten) the gamut of an image.

Step Three--Post Conversion Processing
From experience I have found the Histogram display in Camera Raw is not all that accurate, so to avoid gamut clipping I never tighten the Exposure adjustment very much in Camera Raw. The first thing I do after clicking OK in Camera Raw and opening the image in the Photoshop Elements work space is to open Enhance/Adjust Lighting/Levels and finish optimizing the gamut by discarding any space in the Histogram not filled with image information. That is really the only function necessary to adjust a digital camera raw image file that has to be done in Standard Edit, unless you want a larger final image size for making big prints. Because I often make 12x18" prints on 13x19" paper, I use the Image/File Size dialog to increase the size. I have found increasing print size at this step in processing, and when done to a 16-bit image file, produces a smoother result than if it is done after editing at 8 bit depth.

The remainder of the image adjustment to get to an ideal result for printing is most efficiently and effectively done in Quick Fix. Just click on its tab at the upper right of the Photoshop Elements screen. Before you begin go to View at the bottom left to display and select Before and After with either a portrait or landscape preview image. With one exception, the Auto functions have never provided me with an ideally adjusted image, so I recommend unchecking the Auto boxes to start fine-tuning your image with the sliders in the Lighting box in the Quick Fix dialog at the right of your screen. The three Lighting sliders are functionally named. So, if the Before preview display does not show enough shadow detail, move the node to the right until it does. Then if the highlights are a bit burned out go to the Darken Highlights slider and move the node to the right. Very often, if these two adjustments are made to both open the shadows and to obtain better highlight detail, the image may seem a little flat. So, move the Midtone Contrast slider node a little to the right. After you have obtained more contrast punch in the image, you may need to return to the Highlight and Shadow sliders to re-adjust one or the other to obtain a desirable balance in the internal contrast in your photograph. I think with a little trial-and-error experience you will find you can achieve an ideal balance that will result in a brilliant print of your photograph.

Quick Fix

Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0 Quick Fix has several distinct advantages that make color correction and image quality adjustment of digital camera raw files both an easy and efficient process. The ability to configure the preview to display both a before and after screen is particularly effective for anyone new to digital photo editing, and is advantageous to experienced Photoshop users as well. The manual Lighting adjustment sliders are effective in obtaining just the desired amount of shadow and highlight detail, as well as adjusting the contrast of the midtone values to obtain brilliance and effective tone separation. And although only Saturation and Hue sliders are available with 16-bit image files, being able to make color adjustments is usually sufficient to get an optimal result. The sharpening that can be added in Quick Fix provides an easy adjustment if the screen preview image is enlarged to 100 percent for accurate visual adjustment. It produces a smooth sharpening without artifacts.

After getting the lighting/contrast just right, very often the image colors lack intensity, so usually I find I need to increase Saturation. Occasionally, if Color Temperature was not set just right in Camera Raw, or you forgot to set it at all, you can use the Hue slider to make a minor adjustment of the color balance of the image to correct if it is too cool or warm. That leaves the Sharpen adjustment slider at the bottom of the Quick Fix tool window. After using Quick Fix numerous times to color correct and edit digital camera raw files, I find the one Auto function that works quite reliably is Sharpen. Give it a try--if you're not satisfied you can always click the Cancel button in the Sharpen window and set the slider manually.

Print/Screen Match

Adobe includes simplified application color management support. This includes the ability to use Elements to control color in printing rather than having the printer driver perform the function. This allows confirming the Source profile as well as manually choosing the Print Space profile, and then bypassing the printer driver's internal color controls and auto-adjustments. This is done by printing with color management turned Off or "No Color Adjustment" in the printer driver dialog.

Step Four--Finishing Up And Saving
With all of the Quick Fix adjustments completed, it is time to return to Standard Edit by clicking on the tab at the top right of the Photoshop Elements window. The first thing to do once in the Standard Edit work space is to go to the menu Image/Mode/Convert and go to 8 Bits/Channel to reduce the bit depth from 16 bit. Then, any post-correction editing can be applied that is not supported in 16-bit mode. This might include some filter effects as well as cleaning up dust and scratches or using Transform to make perspective corrections. With all of your work done on the image you can Save As, changing the file name if desired and selecting the file format for archiving like TIFF or Photoshop .PSD.

Step Five--Printing
Unless you extend the precise control of the workflow into the printing stage, much of the effort invested in obtaining an ideal refined on-screen photo image may be wasted. The reason is that the default printing options available in printer drivers usually include automatic adjustments to the data the printer driver receives, and which it then sends to the printer. The reason for this is the printer manufacturers assume correctly that many users will send image files to the printer that are significantly less than optimal, that are not fully or carefully color corrected. So, to avoid making a bad print, the printer driver adjusts the image to what it "senses" is ideal, which if the file is already optimal often applies algorithms and limiters, which reduce contrast, saturation, and brightness. This can produce a disappointing result.

Adobe's Photoshop, however, provides an alternative, allowing Elements to control color sent to the printer via a "switch" to turn off printer color management. To actuate Photoshop Elements to control color sent to the printer you need to pay attention to the bottom of the Elements Print dialog Color Management section. Where it says Print Space: click on the up/down arrows so the system profile folder pops up, and then go down the list and select the profile file for the printer you are using and that identifies the media (paper type) on which you are printing. In the box below Print Space choose the Intent: using the drop-down dialog select Perceptual. Then you can click on the Print button.

When the printer driver dialog window appears select the media (paper) you are using as well as print quality mode (resolution). Then go to the Color Control or Color Management section and select Off (No Color Adjustment). Now you can click Print to send your image to the printer which, following this workflow, should be very satisfying indeed.

Color Space

The profile sRGB was configured and adopted over a decade ago to serve as an easy, cheap substitute for color management. It was derived from the mean average of what a typical CRT computer monitor was capable of reproducing in a range of colors. In other words, sRGB is a definition of color based on the lowest common denominator of a range of colors a typical computer monitor could reproduce over a decade ago. By limiting the color range supported using sRGB to the lowest common denominator, it assured files saved from sRGB space would be reproduced similarly by most average monitors. Adobe RGB (1998) is the recommended color space profile for use as Photoshop's work space for doing photographic processing and editing. The range of color variation defined by Adobe RGB is close to the range reproduced by scanned Ektachrome film and captured by a contemporary digital camera sensor, and is significantly "larger." This supports a greater range of color variations than sRGB. If you save a photo image from sRGB the range of colors will be approximately 30 percent less than if the image was saved from Adobe RGB. One color expert commenting on sRGB, I recall, described the color aptly as "cartoon color."