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How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing Feature Image

Inside Photoshop, there are an awful lot of tools for you to use to get the very most out of your images. Some of these tools (while not simple) have very specific functions that you use for specific tasks (Unsharp Mask for example). The Photoshop Camera Raw Filter is different.

This filter opens up the use of the (almost) full functionality of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) anywhere in your Photoshop workflow. If you’ve ever used ACR (or Lightroom) to process a raw file, you know exactly how feature-packed this tool is.

Using the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
The Camera Raw Filter is a powerful tool that allows you access to the features of ACR anytime in your workflow.

In normal cases, you would use ACR to process your photos at the beginning of your workflow during raw processing, but the Camera Raw Filter opens up these tools to you anytime you may want them.

This article will outline how to use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter, show you some instances where you might want to use it, and give you some tips to get the most out of it.

What is the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter?

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing
Lightroom is great for processing your raw files (so is ACR), but what if you could use these tools inside Photoshop?

At its most basic, the Photoshop Camera Raw filter allows you to use the functions of the ACR interface at any time within Photoshop. This allows you to make any adjustments within ACR at any time during your workflow instead of just limiting its usage to the raw processing stage.

While it would be possible to import your working file into Lightroom to make the same sets of adjustments, doing this in Photoshop saves you from that cumbersome step. It allows you the use of these tools without any extra effort.

Finding the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
You can find the Camera Raw Filter under the filter menu.

To find the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter, simply choose Filter->Camera Raw Filter and the dialog box will pop up.

Before you do this, you may want to stamp all layers by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Alt+e (Cmd+Shift+Alt+e). This will combine all of your layers into a new layer from which you can work.

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing
The top layer here is stamped from the two layers below it.

What it doesn’t allow

White Balance – Because you are not working from a raw file, you lose a lot of the functionality of the white balance setting in ACR. You will still be able to make drastic changes to the coloring of your images with this tool. It will be the same, for example, as adjusting a JPG in Lightroom.

Crop tool – You also lose the crop and rotate tools that you would have access to when working on RAW files.

There are others, but these are the most important to take note of.

Missing options in the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
In the various menus of the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter, you will find there are a few options missing that you would see in ACR.

It’s also important to realize that because you are not working with a raw file at this stage, you won’t have the same versatility that you would with a raw file in ACR.

Instead, the process will be more akin to working on a JPG file in Lightroom or ACR. This means you will have less information to work with, such as, dynamic range.

This is all fine and to be expected. However, it illustrates the importance of getting things as close to right as possible while in the raw stage of post-processing.

How can it be used?

With all of the power of ACR behind the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, there is no way to make anything resembling a complete list of what you could do with it. But here are a few potential uses that I find myself using often.

  • Fine-tune adjustments after raw
  • Make certain adjustments easier than in Photoshop
  • Make quick, extreme adjustments for certain parts of your image
  • Quick and easy vignetting
  • Final tweaks before finishing your image

1. Fine-tuning adjustments after raw

Fine tuning adjustments with the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
Once in Photoshop, and after a bit of healing work, I decided that I wanted to make the image a touch cooler and reduce the vibrancy as well. To not lose the healing work, I used the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter to make a quick adjustment.

If you’re like me, you mostly make decisions about adjustments on the spot. This is fine when you process your raw file and move it into Photoshop immediately. However, if you leave it for a day or two before you come to it, you might find that you no longer like the decisions you made.

Of course, you could always go back into Lightroom and start again, but what happens if you have already started making adjustments to your image?

Chances are, you don’t want to lose those. A quick and easy solution is to stamp the layers to a new layer and run the Camera Raw Filter. Once there, you can make any adjustments you might want and click Okay.

This works great if you want to make quick adjustments to things like the overall exposure, contrast or vibrancy in an image. I will often come back to a file after a few days to find that I want to reduce the highlights and whites before I get started properly.

2. Make trickier adjustments

Clarity slider with the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
I find the Clarity tool in ACR tricky to replicate in Photoshop. Here, I darkened the background and cranked up the clarity with the Camera Raw Filter. I also used a Layer Mask to keep the changes off of the subject.

Photoshop might be all-powerful on its own, but ACR (and Lightroom by extension) do make a  few things easier. For example, the Clarity slider is a tricky tool to replicate in Photoshop. Using the Photoshop camera raw filter to make these adjustments is easier and can save you a lot of time.

Another example is the use of the Highlights, Whites, Darks, and Blacks sliders to make quick, intuitive global contrast adjustments. Using these tools in this way is useful if you’re not yet fully familiar or comfortable with options like curves adjustments.

3. Local adjustments

Radial filter in the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter.
Here, the shirt sleeve was still to bright for my taste, so I used the radial filter as a local adjustment to bring it down a bit

A common way I use the Photoshop camera raw filter is to make adjustments specific to a target area (such as a background).

After the adjustments are made, you can then use a layer mask to ensure that the adjustments are only affecting the areas that you want.

This method suits textured backdrops well because you can adjust the clarity and contrast to your heart’s content knowing that your subject won’t be affected once you make the layer mask.

4. Vignettes

The vignette tool in the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter
ACR’s vignette tool is easy, fast and intuitive and hard to beat in Photoshop unless you need absolute control.

There are tonnes of ways to create a vignette in Photoshop, but in my opinion, the vignette tool within the ACR is by far the easiest, fastest and most intuitive to use. By doing it this way, you can create a subtle (or extreme if you prefer) vignette in just a few seconds. It is also easy to mask out (as per the previous section) any part of the vignette that might be interfering with your subject.

5. Final tweaks

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing
With a finished image, you can always load up the Camera Raw Filter and see if there’s any small tweaks (like the ones here) to help the image.

Another useful trick for the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter is to use it to make a set of final tweaks to your finished images.

Once you’ve completed your image, you can run the filter and see if there’s any further small adjustments you’d like to make. Tiny adjustments to exposure, contrast (via all the sliders) clarity and vibrance can all help to give your finished images just a little more polish.

At this point, your images should be good to go, so do try to keep any adjustments at this stage small and subtle.

Just the beginning

Finishing an image using the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter
With the exception of a bit of skin work (maybe five minutes) and some sharpening at the end, this image’s Photoshop workflow was completed otherwise entirely with the Camera Raw Filter. Hopefully you can see just how useful a tool it is.

With a tool like the Photoshop camera raw filter, there are so, so many options for you to use in your images.

If you can do it in ACR (with a few minor exceptions), you can do it with this filter inside Photoshop. Feel free to use it in any way that you need to that gets the results that you want.

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing
Side-by-side comparison of the starting image and the final image.

Smart objects

Depending on your workflow and your style of post-processing, using the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter as a Smart Object might be a good choice for you.

Smart Objects allow you to come back to any adjustment you have made (with certain tools) and tweak them.

Using the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter as a Smart Object.
To setup a Smart Object, right click the layer that you want to use and choose Convert to Smart Object.

To work with Smart Objects, right-click the layer that you will run the Camera Raw Filter on and click Convert to Smart Object.

Now run the Camera Raw Filter and make any adjustments that you want to and press okay.

In the Layers Palette, and under the layer that you are working on, you will now see the name of the filter below the box titled Smart Filters. If you double click this, you will be taken back to the Camera Raw Filter dialog box where you can adjust any of the settings that you have tweaked.

This is a useful technique for any time you think you might second guess your decisions a bit later on.

How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing
With the layer converted to a Smart Object, you can apply your filter. To alter the adjustments, simply double click on the name of the filter in the layers palette.

Having said that, Smart Objects won’t suit every photographer’s workflow.

For example, I like to use a lot of stamped layers in my workflow and by the time I might see something I want to modify, I’ve already created and worked on a new stamped layer above it.

Any adjustments made to a Smart Object in this situation, would not be visible.


How to Use the Photoshop Camera Raw Filter for Better Photo Editing

I will admit, that the way that the Camera Raw Filter was used in this example was extreme and bit over the top, but by using it in this manner, I hope you can see just how powerful an option it is for various adjustments in Photoshop.

The Photoshop camera raw filter is a very powerful tool that you can use while post processing your images for a great many different effects. Add to that the fact that anyone who shoots in raw format is already familiar with the interface, it makes using the filter quick and painless to make any number of adjustments. I have discussed only a few ways that you can use this filter in your images, but if you have any other suggestions on how you use it, please leave it in the comments below for other readers to benefit from.

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John McIntire
John McIntire

is a portrait photographer currently living in the UK. He studied commercial photography and is always looking to improve. Admittedly a lighting nerd through and through, John offers lighting workshops and one-to-one tuition to photographers of all skill levels in Yorkshire.

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