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Tutorial Two(b): an alternative workflow for photojournalists

Bridge and Camera Raw (Adobe Photoshop 2022 for Macintosh)

By Ross Collins, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Camera RAW

Most photographers are aware that DSLR and other digital cameras can record images in two common ways. The first, JPG format, is standard domain of compact, or point-and-shoot cameras for casual snapshots. These cameras automatically process the raw data provided by a sensor to produce and image that’s smaller (because it is a “lossy” format that throws out pixels), color-corrected, sharpened, and looks pretty good right out of the camera.

File sizes.The second format, Camera Raw, often is not available on compact or smartphone cameras. But it is standard on Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras and most hybrids. Images obtained in Raw contain every pixel of sensor data unmassaged by software. But often they look uglier until pulled into an image editor such as Photoshop and “processed” into a form you can use. And they're a lot larger. How much? Take a look at my comparisons on left: CR2 is the Camera Raw format for Canon. Many professionals used to use Camera Raw only for critical images, because dealing with these take time and a lot of space on a camera’s memory card. Nowadays, though, we have a lot more computer space, and of course we can buy multiple large memory cards, so it's more common to shoot Raw for everything. It just gives you so much more to work with. But you can still shoot jpgs for less critical images, and you can still do a lot with that format as well. Or you can shoot both at the same time, handy if you want to upload sometimes directly to social media.

Camera Raw in Bridge

Both Photoshop and Bridge have options to bring photographs into the Camera Raw manipulation software. But here’s the thing a lot of people don’t know: you don’t have to use Camera Raw in Bridge (or Photoshop) only to edit RAW images! In fact, you can use it to edit JPG (or TIFF, for that matter, another format), as an alternative to Photoshop’s standard photo editing options.

Why would you want to do this? Some photographers choose it because they think it's easier, faster, and does a better job. I don’t know about that last one, but I do happen to think it’s easier and faster, and so I nearly always begin my photo editing in Bridge Raw. You may wish to do that as well. Here's a workflow procedure I often use. (This is based on a variety of tutorials, including my book Photocommunication Across Media (Routledge/Focal Press, 2018) and Adobe's helpful tutorials.)

Note that Adobe Lightroom is a popular alternative to Photoshop that works a lot like Bridge. We don't learn Lightroom in this class, but if you're interested in that option take a look at some online comparisons. Note: Bridge is a free download from Adobe.

Camera raw icon.1. First you need to open your jpg (or other format) in Camera Raw. If you double-click on a Raw (In Canon a CR2 file extension, but will vary with manufacturer) image in Bridge, it will automatically open in Camera Raw. A jpg will not. An easy way to open a jpg in Raw is to choose the image in Bridge, and then under the File pulldown, choose Open in Camera Raw. Or even easier, you can merely click on the tiny aperture icon at top left of Bridge menu bar, as circled in the illustration (hover over tools for descriptions). You may wish to begin by seeing how well Bridge does without any help at all. At the top of the panels on right, just below the histogram, is Edit, and Auto. Click on Auto. Tah-dah! Usually Bridge Auto actually does improve your photo, though you may have to work with it a bit using the sliders as indicated below.

2. The sample photo below opened in Camera Raw is typical of those taken with the digital camera’s white balance set on Auto. It’s not quite right. In this case, the photo was taken in a hazy, partially cloudy day, so it’s a little blue. We’ll start by fixing the color balance.

Camera raw original.3. Note a great thing about Camera Raw in Bridge is that all your adjustments are right there in a handy slider toolbox at the right. White Balance is at the top of the Basic category (you may have to scroll to see options). Apparently Adobe developers considered that to be the first thing you’d want to correct, because if you have a photo that’s not color corrected, it’s more difficult to get a good read on exposure (darkness/lightness). While I don’t instinctively jump to white balance as Job One, perhaps I should. So let’s. Auto White Balance often doesn't work for me, nor do the other white balance sliders available if you have a Raw format file open. I often tweak the sliders as I like my photos a bit on the warm side.

4. Choosing Auto options, you might begin by wondering if the Camera Raw software is smarter than your eye. Depends; photo adjustment is an art, really, and what looks good to you may not look good to the next shooter. But you can use technology to aid art.

The histogram at top shows distribution of colors and tones. The dark triangle icons at top can be toggled on to warn us of clipping in either the highlight and shadow areas. “Clipping” in digital photography is what we used to call blown highlights or blocked-up shadows. That is, paper white or ink black with no detail, no ability to see anything in the light and dark areas.

The ideal photograph contains detail in both highlight and shadow areas, with the exception of a few spectral highlights—the glint off chrome, for example—and black shadows—the keyhole in the door. We do need a little jet black and paper white to give the photo snap. But not too much. Note the example below, showing the clipping (blown out highlights) in the background. We want to try to minimize this. Most photographers do it by sight, though, without so much need to consult a histogram.

Clipping example.Slider notes: You can go back to the default setting by double-clicking on the slider. To Undo an action, choose the Command + z keystroke combination. To move back to the default sliders choose the top icon on the right.

5. Let’s move on to Exposure. We may already see that and the sliders below it changed if we chose the Edit/Auto toggle at top. Note that under Profile Bridge gives you a pile of options ("Browse Profiles," icon on right) most mass media photographers will find basically useless, but I suppose Adobe thought it had to keep up with smartphone editing options.

We can use the Exposure slider to lighten or darken the entire scene. I first try the Auto adjust, but I often find it is a little too light for me. So I slide the exposure a bit to the left (or right) as needed. It improved the photo of the punts (boats) on the Cam River above, but I still have a large area of blown out highlight in foreground water.

6. How to adjust highlights and shadows? You can try to darken highlights a bit with the Highlights or the Whites slider. The shadow areas can be lightened using the Blacks or Shadows slider. Dragging to the right seems to make the color more saturated—a principle also used in color printing. We add black to snap up (saturate) the other colors. This can improve a flat photo. But we still have a problem with those blown highlights, and the Highlights or Whites slider acts on the whole image instead of just that part.

Camera raw three.7. Another way to do this is to use the Graduated Filter tool Bridge 2020) from the tools on the far right. This brings a sort of window shade (filter) over the part of your image to gradually adjust. It usually defaults to an exposure of -2 (darkening), but you can adjust the sliders. Choose the Hand tool or go back to the basic set of sliders (left icon on slider panel) to accept.

I leave the instructions above because many of us work with Bridge versions not quite up to date, but in 2020 Bridge has enhanced the masking feature. To use, choose the little circle at top right edge ("mask tool") and choose what you'd like to mask. It will default to a ruby-colored mask. You can add or subtract from the mask until you cover the area you wish to adjust. Then choose adjustment sliders as needed. I will admit that I do this in Photoshop instead of in Bridge, but the option exists here as well. Note the Adjustment Brush as described in Step 8 also now makes a ruby-colored mask.

8. So I think that looks better on the water, but now it's darkened the punts (those boats in the foreground). Another, more precise way to adjust exposure is to choose the Adjustment Brush tool and paint the area you want to adjust. After brushing choose sliders to make adjustments. Use the bracket keys to change brush size. I changed the exposure to lighten, adjusted the Flow and Size settings, then just dragged or clicked over the areas I wanted to fix. Choose Create New Adjustment to add more. Iif there's an area you'd like to avoid painting, toggle on the Eraser mode and return that area to the original.

The sliders icon at very top right will bring us back to the default sliders.

8. Clarity is one cool slider, man. It’s kind of like Photoshop's Unsharp Mask, except it doesn’t work in the same way, so you don’t have the possibility of sharpening to annoying graininess. You can use it to sharpen or remove haze, as I did in this image. I find it particularly handy to remove the haze of shooting through window glass. You actually can drag the slider the other way to soften—this is helpful for people’s faces, on which you don’t want to emphasize every little fine wrinkle the way the new HD TVs cruelly tend to do. Dehaze works like clarity but is a bit more aggressive. Both will also boost saturation a bit and dehaze in particular darkens shadows, but you can control that with the saturation slider.

Camaera Raw four.9. I'm not generally a big fan of the Saturation slider, as I think it too easily gives you artificial-looking colors, but Vibrance can really snap up a dull image like this one. I also don't use Curves, as it works the same as Curves in Photoshop (see Tutorial two), and I'd prefer to do that work there.

10. I'd just like to make that guy in the blue shirt pop out a bit more. One way to do that is to choose the Color Mixer icon from the slider box (HSL/grayscale in former versions of Bridge). In the ensuing slider set, choose the Luminance tab. The blue slider's values should help brighten up that shirt. You can try a combination to achieve the effect you're looking for, either brighter or darker. I also toned down the orange just a bit to add some wood detail in the punts. Try the Saturation tab and sliders to enhance those colors even more. (Note: You can also turn your photo into black-and-white from the Convert to Grayscale icon.)

11. You can reduce the noise (grain) in photos taken in dim light at high ISO settings by choosing the Detail icon, and under Noise Reduction sliding Luminance. But note it also softens the image. The Sharpening sliders work in a way similar to the Unsharp Mask in Photoshop. To better see the effect, You can zoom in on the image by choosing the Zoom tool at upper left (magnifying glass icon) and dragging a marquee around the area you want to zoom to.

12. Contrast.

Contrast is the difference between the dark and light areas of a photo. A contrasty photo is normally taken in sunlight or strong spotlight. A flat photo is normally taken on a cloudy day or under florescent light. (See Ross’s Qualities of Light tutorial). While I don't so often work with contrast after dealing with the aspects above, you just might want a contrastier (or less likely, a flatter) photo.

The Contrast slider (from Basic set of sliders) is one way to achieve that, although not as persnickety as the Curve slider set. You can choose the curve and either adjust contrast on your own or choose a Point curve option. As often is the case, the software may well be smarter than its users.

Before and after work in camera raw.13. Final touches.

Crop and straighten in Camera Raw, if necessary. Choose the crop tool, second icon at far right.Toggle off Constrain Aspect Ratio to crop freely. Rotate and flip are also available under this slider set.

After you’re done, you can choose Open Image to open image in Photoshop, or Done to save changes without opening. If you want to save changes to your Raw file but keep your original, choose Save Image… and save with a new filename. Note the DNG (Digital Negative) file extension option saves the image in raw form, but in a non-proprietary and widely supported format for storing raw data. It's recommended for achival preservation, as a manufacturer may drop support for a proprietary format.

Scale and straighten in Bridge Camera Raw.

Photos of buildings or those taken with a wider-angle lens often show distortion: the building appears to be leaning backwards (if you point the camera up) or sideways. As well, a horizon line may not be straight. We can fix the horizon line in Photoshop using the tutorial link below. Or we can do it in Bridge Raw. To use Bridge, choose the Geometry slider set. You may choose auto options or the Manual tab. Choose the sliders to straighten the image as necessary, the rotate slider for the horizon line. You'll have to Scale the image after, meaning some cropping, but the image will be in more correct perspective, as illustrated below.

Adjusting perspective and straightening.

Quick tip! Straighten a horizon line in Photoshop.


Choose one of your own photos. Go through the workflow as described above in Bridge. Saving a before and after copy each with a different filename. Submit the before and the after photos for grading.