Looking to learn everything there is to know about Photoshop’s Camera Raw filter? Well, have no fear, because the ultimate guide to the CR filter is here!
If you’ve only just started out post-processing your images in Photoshop, you may worry that the CR filter is a little too advanced – but that’s a mistake. In fact, the CR filter can be a game-changer for even the most inexperienced of photographers.
In other words, you don’t have to be a Photoshop expert to use this powerful tool. And that’s where this guide comes in. We’re going to break down everything you need to know about the CR filter in a way that’s easy to understand. Specifically, we discuss:
What the filter actually is
How to access the filter
A handful of ways to use it in your post-processing workflow
So if you’re ready to start using Photoshop’s CR filter like a pro, then let’s dive right in!
What is the Photoshop Camera Raw filter?
At its most basic, this filter allows you to use the functions of the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) interface within Photoshop. You can essentially make adjustments within ACR at any time during your workflow, rather than limiting its usage to the RAW processing stage only.
It’s worth noting that if you were to import your working file into Lightroom to make the same adjustments, it would be a cumbersome step. But with the Camera Raw filter in Photoshop, you can use these tools without any extra effort.
To find the filter, simply select Filter>Camera Raw Filter, and the dialog box will pop up. However, before you do this, you may want to stamp all the layers by pressing Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+Alt/Opt+E. This will combine all of your layers into a new layer from which you can work.
Camera Raw filter limitations
While the Camera Raw filter is a great tool, there are some limitations you need to be aware of.
For example, you’ll lose some functionality of the white balance adjustment in ACR because you’re not working from a RAW file. You can still make drastic changes to the temperature of your images with this tool, but it won’t be as versatile as when you’re working on a RAW file in ACR. You’ll also lose the Crop and Rotate tools that you normally have access to when working on RAW files.
It’s also important to realize that because you’re not working with a RAW file at this stage, you won’t have the same versatility that you would when editing in ACR. Instead, the process will be more like editing a JPEG file in Lightroom or ACR. This means you’ll have less information to work with.
Bottom line: If you want to make the most of the Camera Raw filter, you need to get things as close to perfect as possible in the RAW stage of post-processing. That way, you’ll have plenty of information to work with – and, consequently, added versatility – when you use the filter in Photoshop.
How can the Camera Raw filter be used?
The CR filter is packed with tools – so much so that there’s no way to make anything resembling a complete list of its uses. But here are a few ways I use the filter:
To fine-tune adjustments after RAW processing
To apply certain adjustments that are difficult to do in Photoshop’s main interface
To make quick adjustments that apply to certain parts of the image
To apply quick and easy vignetting
To make final tweaks before finishing your image
Now let’s take an in-depth look at each approach:
1. Fine-tune adjustments after RAW processing
If you’re anything like me, you like to make decisions on the spot when you’re processing your RAW files. But have you ever come back to a photo after a day or two and realized that you no longer like the adjustments you made? It happens to the best of us.
The problem is, what do you do when you’ve already started making adjustments to your image? You don’t want to lose all your hard work. Well, here’s a quick and easy solution: stamp the layers to a new layer and run the Camera Raw filter. You can make any adjustments you want, and it won’t affect your original work.
This trick works great for quick edits like exposure, contrast, and vibrancy. Sometimes, you might find that you want to reduce the highlights or whites before diving into more extensive editing. (I use this technique all the time!)
2. Make trickier adjustments
Photoshop might be all-powerful on its own, but ACR (and Lightroom by extension) does make a few things easier. For example, the Clarity slider is tricky to replicate in Photoshop. Using the Photoshop Camera Raw filter to make Clarity adjustments is easier and can save 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 is especially useful if you’re not yet fully familiar or comfortable with Photoshop’s Curves and Levels adjustments.
3. Apply local adjustments
When I’m using the Photoshop Camera Raw filter, one of my favorite techniques is to make targeted adjustments to specific areas, like the background. Once I’ve got the adjustments dialed in, I can use a layer mask to ensure they only affect the parts of the image I want.
This approach works great for textured backgrounds because I can tweak the clarity and contrast to my heart’s content without worrying about messing up the subject. With a well-crafted layer mask, I can rest assured that my edits won’t bleed into areas where they’re not wanted.
4. Adding vignettes
There are tons of ways to create a vignette in Photoshop. In my opinion, however, the Vignette tool – offered in the Camera Raw filter – is by far the easiest, fastest, and most intuitive to use.
Simply head into the Effects panel, find the Post Crop Vignetting option, then adjust the sliders until you produce an effect you like!
By taking this approach, you can create a subtle – or, if you prefer, an extreme – vignette in just a few seconds. Also, if any part of the vignette is interfering with your subject, you can always mask it out later using Photoshop’s sophisticated masking options.
5. Make final tweaks
Another handy way to apply the Photoshop Camera Raw filter? Use it to add final tweaks to your finished images.
Once you’ve edited your image in Photoshop, you can run the filter and see if there are any additional adjustments you’d like to make. Tiny shifts to the file’s exposure, contrast, clarity, and vibrance can all help give an image a little extra polish. Sure, you can apply these adjustments in Photoshop, but the CR filter – with its array of easy-to-use sliders – is faster and more intuitive.
Remember: By this point in your workflow, your image should be mostly finished. Aim to keep any adjustments at this stage small and subtle, especially since you’re not working with a RAW file.
Just the beginning
With a tool like the Photoshop Camera Raw filter at your disposal, you can apply all sorts of adjustments with relative ease.
For the most part, if you can do it in Adobe Camera Raw (or in Lightroom’s Develop module), you can do it with the CR filter inside Photoshop. Feel free to use it however you need to achieve the results that you want.
Final tip: Use Smart Objects
Using Photoshop Camera Raw filter as a Smart Object might just be the missing piece of the puzzle in your workflow. It can be a game-changer for your post-processing style, giving you the flexibility to come back and tweak any adjustments that you’ve made.
Setting up a Smart Object is simple: just right-click on the layer that you want to work with and choose Convert to Smart Object.
From there, run the Camera Raw filter as normal. Make any adjustments you want, and once you’re happy, click OK. In the Layers palette, under the layer you’re working on, you’ll see the name of the filter below the Smart Filters box. If you double-click on it, you’ll be taken back to the Camera Raw filter dialog box where you can adjust any of the settings you’ve previously tweaked.
This technique is incredibly useful if you tend to second-guess your decisions later on. Smart Objects give you the freedom to make changes without having to start all over again.
Of course, Smart Objects may not work for every photographer’s workflow. If you like to use a lot of stamped layers, you may have already created and worked on a new stamped layer by the time you see something you want to modify. In this situation, any adjustments made to a Smart Object would not be visible.
But in general, using Smart Objects can make a huge difference to your workflow. They provide flexibility and save you time in the long run, allowing you to focus on the creative process. Give it a try and see how it works for you!
The Photoshop Camera Raw filter: final words
If you’re looking to up your image editing game, the Camera Raw filter is essential. This powerful tool seamlessly integrates Adobe Camera Raw into Photoshop, allowing you to make adjustments to your images at any point in your workflow without the need to switch between programs.
While it may not be as good as the original Adobe Camera Raw application when it comes to white balance adjustments or cropping, the Camera Raw filter still offers a wide range of functionality that can help you achieve the perfect look for your photos.
So, next time you’re editing an image in Photoshop, why not give the Camera Raw filter a shot? You might be surprised at just how much it can enhance your editing capabilities!
Remember, photography is all about experimentation and trying out new techniques. Don’t be afraid to play around with the Camera Raw filter and see what kind of results you can achieve. Who knows, you might even discover a new editing trick or two along the way!
Go ahead and give it a try. Your photos (and your viewers) will thank you for it. Happy editing!