Adobe Camera RAW

Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) is an image editor for editing RAW files. It works hand in hand with Photoshop and Adobe Bridge. It shares the same processing technology with Lightroom.

What follows does not describe everything that can be done in any detail as this would require a separate course! If you are familiar with Lightroom, you will find you already know most of what can be done with ACR. The first three sections identify the layout and range of possibilities with ACR. My Workflow gives a more detailed walkthrough of the tools which I most commonly use when preparing an image for editing in Photoshop.

The Adobe Camera RAW Interface

Image Pane: This displays the image being edited and occupies the largest part of the ACR interface.

Filmstrip: This displays the image or images that are available for editing.

Panels: These give access to all of ACR’s editing capabilities.

Toolbar: This gives access to a number of different tools.

Other areas provide a range of tools. Some give information  eg Histogram, camera settings used etc. Others give access to various operations eg opening files, setting zoom levels etc.


At the top of the Panels section are Auto and B&W buttons which are self-explanatory.

The Profiles section gives access to a variety of colour and monochrome profiles which can be applied to any image.

* Basic: This contains a variety of tools for tonal and colour adjustments

Curve: This tool allows for tonal adjustments. It is very similar to the Curve tool in Photoshop.

* Detail: This is where sharpening and noise reduction can be applied.

Color Mixer: This allows colour adjustments to Hue, Saturation and Lightness.

Colour Grading: Use this to adjust the colour in shadow, midtone and highlight areas. (Previously known as Split Toning)

* Optics: Apply lens corrections and remove chromatic aberrations.

* Geometry: This offers a variety of tools for straightening images and applying perspective adjustments.

Effects:  Allows the addition of grain and basic vignettes.

Calibration: Select the ‘process’ used by ACR to decipher the raw file format. This is best set to the current version.This can be useful if you are revisiting older images which used an earlier process. There are also controls for tinting shadows and adjusting the hue and saturation of the three primary colours – red, green and blue.

* The asterisked panels are those which I most commonly use for adjustments to the entire image when I prepare a base image for opening in Photoshop. I may use other tools later for more targeted adjustments in my editing workflow.

The eye icon to the right of each panel indicates whether any adjustments have been made using the tools within that panel.

It’s possible to remove panels from the display by right-clicking anywhere in the Panels and selecting ‘Edit Panels to Show’. 


Edit: Select this to use the adjustment panels.

Crop & Rotate: This is self-explanatory. Several preset aspect ratios are offered. By choosing ‘Custom’, it’s possible to create your own aspect ratios.  There are also controls for flipping the image horizontally or vertically.

Spot Removal: This is intended for the replacement of small areas such as sensor spots, blurry birds, telegraph lines and so on. I rarely, if ever, use this as Photoshop offers many more (and better) tools for this purpose.

Selective Adjustment Tools:

These three tools allow selective adjustments to be made. When selected, a new panel will open with a wide variety of adjustment tools. Range masks using Colour or Luminosity can also be used to narrow the range of your selections. It’s also possible to add to or erase from the selection by using brushes.

  • Adjustment Brush: Select an area of the image by ‘painting’ freehand with a brush.
  • Graduated Filter: Applies a filter delineated by two parallel lines connected by a perpendicular line. The area on the outside of the line with the green dot can be adjusted. The size of the gap between the parallel lines determines the amount of feathering which will be applied.  The area on the outside of the line with the red dot will not be affected. The filter can be moved and/or rotated. 
  • Radial Filter: Applies an elliptical filter. 

Red Eye Removal: Self-explanatory. (See Module 5, Brush Tools for a detailed explanation.)

Snapshots: You can create a snapshot at any point in the editing process. By doing so, it is always possible to return to that precise point at any time.

Presets: Many presets are available to add in to Lightroom. Some are free, many are not. They can be useful in creating a consistent ‘look’ across different photographs. In general, I don’t find them very helpful. They’re a bit like trawling through Netflix looking for something worth watching. I have, however, created a User Preset which removes Chromatic Aberration, applies Lens Correction and applies some RAW sharpening. This preset is applied automatically every time an image is opened in ACR.

To create your own presets:

  • Open an image in ACR.
  • Carry out any adjustments you wish to be part of the preset.
  • Click the Presets tool.
  • Click the Create Preset button at the top right of the dialogue.
  • Enter a Name for your preset.
  • Check only those boxes which will be included in the Preset.
  • Click OK.

To apply this preset at any time, click the Presets tool and click your preset. You can also set it up so it is applied automatically every time you open an image.

  • Click the cog wheel to open ACR preferences.
  • Click the Raw Defaults tab.
  • Select your Preset using the dropdown to the right of the word ‘Global’.
  • Click OK.

More Tools: This opens a menu with many options, most of which are self-explanatory.

My Workflow – Example

Step 1 – Opening an Image

Normally, I will double-click an image in Adobe Bridge. This will be loaded directly in to ACR. Photoshop will also be loaded if it’s not already open.

This is the original, unedited RAW file used in this example workflow.

Step 2 – Assess the Image

When the image is loaded I will study it and consider the end result I am looking for. I may have already thought about this when I captured the image but it’s always worth revisiting in the light of what was actually captured. I consider the adjustments I’ll need to make and how I will set about making them. Although nothing actually happens in this step, it is perhaps the most important step as it informs everything else that happens.

Where this image is concerned there is clearly a need to straighten things up and to introduce more contrast.

Step 3 – Global Adjustments

Optics Panel: I tick ‘Remove Chromatic Aberrations’ and Lens Correction. All lenses have a degree of built-in distortion. When you apply lens correction, ACR will load a profile for the lens used. This will correct the distortion to a greater or lesser extent. Although there is also an option to adjust this manually, I rarely use it.

Details Panel: This is where I will apply some RAW sharpening. The settings I use are Sharpening: 59, Radius: 1.4, Detail: 25, Masking: 40. These are fairly arbitrary values but they seem to cover most situations. I will change them if they are obviously inappropriate. Click the little arrow just above the right-hand end of the Sharpening slider to open up the detailed settings.

Both of these global adjustments are set automatically via a User Preset which is applied when the RAW file is loaded.

Although nothing much appears to have changed with these Global adjustments,  this is not the case. The full-size image sections opposite show the effect of the sharpening which was applied.

Step 4 – Transform

The Geometry Panel offers a variety of tools to straighten images and to apply a range of perspective adjustments. My goto choice is the Guided Tool which can adjust verticals and horizontals in one operation. This tool is most useful for buildings which may be off the straight, lean in on each side or lean back slightly. The tool allows up to four straight lines to be ‘drawn’ directly on your image. Once at least two lines are added,  the lines drawn are adjusted so they are parallel to the sides of the frame. The content of the image is transformed relative to these lines.

A number of other tools are available as sliders in the Geometry panel. These can be used separately or in conjunction with the Guided Tool and are fairly self-explanatory. The best way to get the result you wish is to experiment!

In the example opposite, four lines have been added to straighten the image both horizontally and vertically.

When you add a line, it is positioned by dragging one of the circles which appear at either end. The circle will enlarge slightly when it is selected making it easy to place the line very precisely. Although the entire operation can be done by eye, it is most effective when there are obvious lines to follow in your image.

This is the transformed image. As you can see, both the horizontal and vertical lines have been straightened.

Step 5 – Tonal Adjustments

The Basic Panel has several tools which I use for adjustments to tone.

Set Black and White points: This can be done automatically by holding SHIFT and double-clicking the markers in the Black and White sliders. This will not always produce the desired effect. For example, even a relatively small area of very bright highlights may fool ACR and the White Point will be set at -100. When this happens, leave the slider at -100, hold down the ALT key and click on the white slider marker. Your image will look almost entirely black at this stage. Keep holding down the ALT key and start sliding the slider slowly towards the right until you begin to see pixels beginning to appear in other areas of your image. Release the mouse and ALT key at that  point. (The same is true of the Black Point but in reverse.) You might also find that there times when it’s best to adjust the black and white points by eye!

Highlights and Shadows: I will usually adjust both of these. The nature of the adjustment depends entirely on the image concerned and the effect I’m looking for. Move the sliders to the left to darken highlights/shadows, move to the right to brighten.

In the example opposite, the black and white points have been set. No adjustments to highlights and shadows were needed.

The image might benefit from some colour adjustment but I would do this in Photoshop.

Step 6 – Open As Object

I always open the image as a Smart Object in Photoshop. This can be done by either selecting ‘Open as Object’ from the ‘Open’ dropdown or by holding SHIFT and clicking Open. It’s also possible to make ‘Open as Object’ the default action by setting this in ACR Preferences, Workflow tab.

The advantage of opening an image as a Smart Object is that this is a non-destructive method and in effect you will still be working with a RAW file. This will be developed and explained further in Modules 8 and 9.


As you will have noticed, I use very few of ACR’s editing tools in the preparation of my base Photoshop image. This is because edits made at this stage are global ones, affecting the entire image. Although ACR has tools that allow adjustments to be made to different areas of an image, these are not so powerful or varied as Photoshop’s selection tools. Nor do they create selections or masks which can be used and re-used in different ways. As a result, I prefer to use Photoshop to select targeted areas of my images. Of course, I may use ACR as well as Photoshop to adjust these selections. Again, these ideas will be developed and explained further in Modules 8 and 9.