Editing a Photo Using the Basic Panel in Adobe Camera Raw

  • Thread starter WendyMay
  • Start date


May 11, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #1

In today’s post, I’m going to edit a photo I took yesterday up in the Sugarloaf area of Maine. We had mixed sun and clouds during much of the day, which led to some challenging situations. I think the photo I’ve chosen as an example for this post is good – it’s overexposed due to the slow shutter speed I chose to capture movement in the water, which will lend itself well to the adjustments the basic panel in Camera Raw offers.

Now, I want you to know that I’m not going to stray from the basic panel. For the purposes of this post, I want to see how much better this one panel can make my photograph look. I may change views a few times, but that’s not going to affect the editing of the image.

Original Image​

The first thing I’m going to do is to open my collection of photos in Adobe Bridge. Once I’ve got them all showing as thumbnails, I’m going to open the photograph I’d like to edit by clicking the “Open in Camera Raw” icon in the upper toolbar. Once I’ve got it open, I can see what I’m working with inside of Camera Raw.

NOTE: If you’d like a larger view of any example image in this post, simply right click on it and choose “Open Image In New Tab.”


As you can see from looking at the above screenshot, we’ve got a serious overexposure problem. The reason this photo is overexposed is because I was alternating shutter speed settings in an attempt to capture some water movement. Since I was using a wide angle lens and was shooting with a slow shutter speed at 10mm, I wasn’t able to close down the aperture enough (due to the large minimum aperture) to stop all that light from getting to my camera’s sensor. I continued to shoot because, since I was capturing raw images, I knew I would have the ability to quiet down all that light later on in Camera Raw. Raw images have a much larger dynamic range that JPEGs do. It’s a challenging situation, but with some clever edits, I think the photo will come out okay.

Adjusting White Balance​

If you take a look at my post that talks about white balance in photography, you’ll find that my photo’s white balance is off as well. When shooting in raw, cameras don’t compensate for what type of light is being received by the sensor. They simply capture what they think is available, whether it looks good or not. There are a multitude of methods to correct off white balance, but in this case, since Camera Raw offers some presets, I can get a guide as to what’s going on. But in the end, I’m going to use my eye and instinct of what I know looks good.

Since it was cloudy when I took this shot, I’m going to switch the drop-down selection from “As Shot” to the “Cloudy” preset, just to give me an indication of what Camera Raw would like to do with the image.


As suspected, Camera Raw warms up the photo by moving the white balance slider to the right. Since I knew I’m going to make a few more edits down the line that will dampen down the orange, I’m going to warm it up a bit more.

I do want to let you in on something – don’t ever think that once you make an edit in Camera Raw, you should, for some reason, keep that edit. As you go down the line, moving sliders here and there, you’ll often need to go back and re-evaluate previous decisions. I may discover that I need to adjust my white balance once or twice more, after I make some exposure and color edits.

Since “Tint” looks good in this photo, I’m going to leave it alone. If I found that the color was oddly green or magenta in some way, I could use that slider to adjust.

Adjusting Exposure​

As I mentioned above, exposure is the big issue with this photograph. With that in mind, I know I’m going to have to move the “Exposure” slider to the left a good bit. Before I do that though, I like to click the “Auto” link, just to see what Camera Raw wants to do. By doing this, Camera Raw automatically adjust the sliders below to what it considers the correct settings. If the image looks good after clicking this, many folks leave things alone and move on. Since I’m going for a more dramatic outcome, I know I’m going to have to click the “Default” link to get the settings back to where they were. I’m merely clicking auto for guidance and curiosity.


If you look at the histogram in the above screenshot, you’ll see that it’s still leaning to the right. Apparently, Camera Raw didn’t lessen the exposure as much as it should have. Once I click default to reset the sliders, I can manually adjust exposure and straighten out the histogram to make it more balanced. If you’re not sure how histograms work when it comes to photography, you should check out my post on the topic.


As you can see in the screenshot above, the exposure looks much better. The histogram is more balanced, but we’ve got a few warnings in it. If you look at the arrows on either side if the upper corners of the histogram, you’ll see that we’ve got a “shadow clipping warning” and a “highlight clipping warning.” These are evidenced by the vertical blue and white lines on the dark and light sides of the histogram. If I click one of these (the highlight warning is more visible), we can see what’s blown out. Obviously, the sky is way too white. Since I’m aware of this, I’m going to leave things as is.


If this were a different type of photo, I may adjust for the areas that are clipped.

Adjusting Contrast​

Contrast is a tricky beast. What is does is, with greater contrast, makes your highlights brighter and your shadows darker. Lesser contrast does the opposite. It sort of dulls things out. So setting contrast with too much gusto may force you to make reactive changes later down the line. It’s good that the folks at Adobe decided to place the “Contrast” slider above the highlight and shadow sliders, because if we can adjust contrast now, we can make minor edits later on.

From my experience, I know that adjusting the contrast too much to the right here will really overcompensate for any lack of contrast in my photo, so I’m going to move it over just a tiny bit.


Adjusting Highlights & Shadows​

If we look at the screenshot with the red sky above, you’ll notice that, beyond the overblown highlights in that area, nothing else is very offensive. Since that’s the case, I’m going to leave the highlight slider as it stands.

Regarding shadows, we got a lot of details hiding out in trees and far rock line. If I move the shadow slider to the right and increase visibility to +75, all that detail becomes apparent. I think it looks a lot better with the detail in view.


Adjusting Whites & Blacks​

In Adobe Camera Raw, you’ll find that adjusting whites and blacks oftentimes gives you the same results as adjusting highlights and shadows. In my case though, I decided to move the white slider to the left (-45) to give the distant leaves on the trees some more detail and the black slider to -15 to offer some contrast that I lost by increasing the visibility of the shadows. This really is a case of looking at the photo and editing as you see fit. This type of creativity and exploration is part of what makes this type of work so much fun.


Adjusting Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation​

As I’m editing, I’m noticing that my image is looking a bit too warm for my taste. I’m going to head back up to the “Temperature” slider and lower the setting from 7200 to 6400. This will give my photo a more realistic look. I want to do this now because the next three edits are going to magnify anything I’ve already done.

The “Clarity” tool in Camera Raw is one of my favorite. By moving the slider to the right, it can make a ho-hum photo look so much better. In my case, I increase the clarity to +25 and the edges of the leaves and the rocks in the river come alive.

The “Vibrance” and “Saturation” sliders are related. One adds color at a slower rate to your photo and the next adds it faster. I rarely use the saturation slider because, in general, adding some vibrance is all I need. And even then, I need to be careful I don’t go overboard. It’s not too difficult to throw a photo out of the realm of looking “normal.” In my case, I increased the vibrance to +25.

After adjusting these last few settings, I decided to bring the white balance temperature down from 6400 to 5700. As I said above, you may need to revisit some previous setting to achieve the results you’re looking for.


Comparing Before & After Shots​

I’m going to write an entire post about how to compare before and after shots, but for the purposes of what I’m attempting to accomplish here, I’ll tell you that by hitting “Q” on your keyboard, you’ll have the ability to cycle through various before and after comparison combinations. The first time I did this, I was blown away with its coolness. Now, I merely use it as another tool. It is fun though.

My favorite view is the split screen comparison view. It really gives me what I’m after as it relates to seeing if my changes make the photo look better or worse than it did originally.


I think I did a good job. My goal was to lessen the exposure of this image and bring back some color so the photo is usable. By limiting myself to the “Basic” panel, I knew I wasn’t going to add any neat effects or make the photo look drastically different. All I wanted to do was to correct the deficiencies the camera produced.

Final Image​

Here is the final image. I think it looks pretty good. Later on, I may go back in and edit with some of the other panels, but for now, this is a totally workable photo to use where I wish.


If you’ve enjoyed today’s post and found it helpful, please share it with a friend. Thanks!


May 11, 2021
Reaction Score
  • #2

Easiest Way to Use the Basic Panel in Camera Raw​

If I had to guess, I’d say the most popular goal most people around the world have when using Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop is to make their pictures look better. Period. Nine out of ten people I know in this business do just that. There’s a reason Adobe offers a “Photography” plan in their lineup and there’s also a reason why it’s extremely popular. Folks simply have a desire to transform what they capture with their cameras into something beautiful. As we all know, regular wedding, portrait, vacation or any other types of photo doesn’t make a jaw drop right out of the camera. It takes some editing work before that happens. What I’m here to tell you today is that the editing work isn’t very difficult to achieve at all. Actually, it’s extremely easy.

I wrote a post a while back that talked about the Basic panel in Adobe Camera Raw. I went through all the sliders and described what they do. I also offered my general workflow for you to, sort of, imitate. I hope that post helped you out if you read it. In today’s post, I’d like to take another look at the Basic panel in this application and simplify the process a bit. I know that once you get the hang of pushing some sliders around, it’s really a no-brainer, but what about speeding the process up? Below, I’m going to offer a few tips that can take some of the pain and repetitiveness out of doing the same, or just about the same, thing to every single photo you edit. There are ways to make your workflow as efficient as possible and I’ll show all of them to you below. By the way, while I’ll be using Camera Raw for this tutorial, feel free to use Lightroom if you’re into that. The Basic panels in these two applications is virtually identical.

Example Photo​

To make this as realistic as possible, I’ve decided to use a photo of a bride sitting on some steps. Unrealistically, this isn’t a RAW file, it’s actually a JPEG. That’s fine because many of the same steps can be taken between the two formats. Here, take a look at the before shot.


If you look at the picture, you can see that the bottom portion is pretty much wasted. You can’t see any detail down there. Also, while the area around the bride’s head is okay, the rest of the photo can use some contrast. Below, I’m going to show some very helpful tips for dealing with contrast while editing photographs in applications such as Camera Raw.

The Auto Button​

The best part about Camera Raw and Lightroom is that there is a beautiful Auto button sitting right in the Basic panel. Honestly, with the advances in technology these days, we should be taking advantage of anything that say “auto” on it, if it’s available. Of course, we’re not going to stop there, but using these types of features can be a time saver if considered as a part of the workflow. They can quickly set the tone sliders to their starting positions.


Let’s see how the sliders move if I click the Auto button.


As you can see, the Temperature sliders were left untouched as were the Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation ones. So, in essence, what I’ve done by clicking this nice shortcut was to adjust the Tone Controls.

Let’s now take a look at the photo to see the result of this action.


Looking at the image above, we can see that it’s slightly brighter and that the lower steps are a bit more visible. I’d like to go further in this direction and reveal the lower steps even more.

For this post, I’m going to leave the temperature alone. I’ve already discussed this topic in other posts, so I don’t want to waste anyone’s time here.

What Is White Balance In Photography?

Can You Fix Photo White Balance With Adobe Camera Raw?

Adjusting White Balance of Multiple Photos In Adobe Camera Raw

Working on Some Tonal Corrections​

In this section, I’m going to describe the corrections I apply to the center slider area. I’ll try to be as clear as I can be.

Exposure: I’m happy with the exposure. I don’t think it needs to be adjusted at all. I’ll leave it at the value Camera Raw set it to of +35.

Contrast: Since too much contrast can actually add saturation to an image, I’m going to reduce the contrast to a value of -15. With this move, my goal is to, sort of, flatten out the photo a bit. Don’t worry, I’m going to add the contrast back with the sliders below. What I won’t be adding back is any unnecessary color.

Highlights: The model in this photo is wearing a white dress. In many photos of this type, the details of the dress become washed out from the light. To reduce the washed out look and to reclaim some of the dress’ detail, I’ll lower the value of this slider to -70.

Shadows: A problem I noticed early on with this photo was the shadows in its lower portion. They were hiding some of the detail in that area. A quick and easy way of cleaning that up is to push the Shadows slider all the way to the right for a value of +100. Doing this will reveal the steps in their entirety.

Whites: This white value is fine at the auto-adjusted value of +16. I don’t see any reason to move it from where Camera Raw thought it should be.

Blacks: This is the most valuable player with this photo. To get back some of the contrast I lost above, I can push this slider to the left quite a bit. I’m given this liberty because I reduced the contrast value above and increased the shadows one. I’ll push this slider to the left for a value of -65.

Let’s see what the photo looks like now.


Wow, that looks great. Look at all the new detail in the lower steps. Actually, all of the steps look better.

Clarity, Vibrance & Saturation​

We’re almost done here. At this point, I’d like to tackle the last three sliders. I’ll cover each one below like I did above.

Clarity: Since this slider ads depth by increasing the contrast of midtones, and this is what I want to do, I’ll raise this value to +40. Doing this will add dimension to the image.

Vibrance: This is saturation’s little sister. The further you push this slider to the right, the less effective it is, which reduces clipping. I do want to add some saturation to the photo in certain areas, such as the model’s skin, but not to other areas. With this in mind, I’ll increase this value to +30.

Saturation: This is a powerful slider to push. Many editors don’t ever push it to the right. Lots, however, push it to the left. Since this photo already has too much saturation, I’ll nudge it to the left for a reduced value of -20.

Now, let’s take a look at the photo again.


That’s one perfectly edited photograph. It’s a wonder because it was all done just in the Basic panel using the Auto feature for much of the heavy lifting. I didn’t need to think about much at all. Basically, Camera Raw set the stage and told me where to go. All I did was continue on and think about if I wanted more or less of the values it already set. Very nice.

It’s even more clear if you look at a before and after shot. Check out the bottom of the photo where the change is most pronounced.



And there you have it. If you go through this process just a few times, you’ll really get the hang of it. After that, you’ll fly through your edits in no time. In this post, I hope I clearly explained how to use the Auto feature in the Basic panel of both Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom to more efficiently make your edits. If you have any questions or concerns regarding what I shared above, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!