on 17 August 2010
Primary objectives of a photographer's work flow in digital imaging are to optimize editing flexibility, do so non-destructively and maximize image quality. There are technical reasons, well explained in this book, why it is best to accomplish as much image adjustment as possible at the raw processing stage in order to achieve these objectives. Therefore it has been a long-standing technical objective at Adobe to gradually build and expand the versatility and capability of Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) to give photographers more and better tools for maximizing image adjustment potential at the raw processing stage. As a result, the application has matured a lot over the years and the authors of this book have been very closely associated with this evolution (people and processes) from the beginning. It is no surprise, therefore, that Jeff Schewe has written what I would call the "definitive guide" to ACR 6, and indeed to a number of processes and applications closely enmeshed with it.
The book is divided into several logical stages of exposition, which altogether end-up giving the reader a very deep and comprehensive knowledge of what the program does, how to operate every detail of it, and strategies for using the program to successfully address a variety of common and not-so-common image adjustment challenges we deal with when crafting fine photographs, be it for the web or for print. The final chapters cover associated aspects of the imaging process - for example Chapter 6 on Adobe Bridge being a mini-book in its own right which provides the most comprehensive exposition of this application I've ever seen. Even as a very experienced user of ACR, I couldn't help but be amazed at what ACR can achieve in the hands of competent users, as shown on page 39, where a seemingly hopeless image many would most likely trash, comes out actually looking quite fine. Apart from these acrobatic rescue missions, what's truly determinative is how informed use of ACR can make acceptable photos into excellent photos. People who buy and read this book will vastly shorten the learning curve to become competent users and to improve their photos in ways they may not have thought possible.
Typically, when a new version of this or the other imaging applications in the Adobe suite get published, they host not only a short-list of new features which grab the marketing headlines, but also a slew of improvements under the hood and very helpful tweaks to existing features which add-up to a package of enhancements justifying the upgrade. An important function of books such as this is to cover all of these features in some depth, and Jeff Schewe has done so remarkably well in this volume.
The first two chapters are an absolutely essential discussion of the structure of the raw digital image, why to shoot in raw format and why to maximize image editing in ACR before doing anything in Photoshop. Both the qualities and limitations of working in raw are very well addressed here.
Chapter 3 provides an overview of how ACR integrates with other related Adobe applications (Bridge, Photoshop, the DNG converter), dealing with the advantages of hosting ACR in Bridge, aspects of metadata, the practicality of parametric editing, the DNG advantage, how your computer's operating system affects whether to manage ACR from Bridge or from Photoshop, and other such considerations users should know about.
Chapter 4 includes over 100 pages of material explaining the purpose and operation of every tool, option and control in the application. Space constraints prevent me from going into a detailed description of everything you'll find here, so I'll just mention several topics which I think most readers would really appreciate.
Sharpening is a very critical process to do correctly for making a good photograph: images need to be "right-sharpened" relative to their content, and the use of sharpening controls to achieve this is something which challenges all beginners and even some intermediate users. Pages 85 to 89 in this chapter, complemented by a more extensive discussion in the next chapter (pages 236 to 246) tells us everything we need to know about how to sharpen a digital image correctly in ACR - after reading this, the only requisite is practice.
Noise reduction is one of the functions which the ACR team has vastly improved in ACR 6 relative what existed in previous versions. Along with that improvement comes new controls and practices and the ways to make the best use of them. That too is well explained here.
"Black and white" remains very popular with many photographers for its sheer graphic qualities. The exposition of how to convert color images to outstanding "black and white" gets readers up-to-speed on ACR's extensive capabilites in this area, including imaginative effects such as split-toning and mixed color/grayscale interpretations, without the need for other programs. While I would have liked to see a bit more expansive discussion of these grayscale tools, what's here is good enough to launch users into a well-guided path of personal exploration with their own images.
Pages 99 to112 (and later pages 176-191) contain a very important discussion on how to set-up and implement lens correction algorithms in ACR. All camera lenses produce images with minor or not-so-minor lens-related imperfections which can be corrected in post-capture processing. This latest version of ACR includes much expanded capability to do this, and accordingly Jeff has allocated a lot of space to providing a clear, detailed explanation of what these features do and how to use them, in order to maximize the efficiency of one's image processing.
Pages 126-129 and later 166-169 provide really fundamental information users need to know about how to make the right choices (for their purposes) of program settings, preferences and presets. This is complemented on pages 132-136 with equally important pointers on workflow and image saving options which users should know about before they start down the path of processing large numbers of images.
There is an excellent in-depth discussion of the Adjustment Brush and the use of the Graduated Filter on pages 150-164, showing how to convert a blah image into a very interesting one. It shows intelligent and time-efficient use of these features to do localized image edits that make all the difference in the world to the impact of the final image.
Turning to Chapter Five, having now explained what the tools are and how to use them, this is where the authors become truly "hands-on" guiding readers step by step through the editing of a series of images, each of which presents a different, but frequently encountered set of issues needing their own editing strategies. Key examples include how to "tame" images with excessive dynamic range (too bright and too dark in the same photo), and how to enhance images that are dull and flat. The book takes us through how to evaluate what the images need, and then how to do the needful. In over 70 pages, there is a lot of "meat" in this chapter. Between a reading of chapters 4 and 5, readers will develop a pretty clear idea of how to approach an image editing workflow in terms of "what to do when" - an issue which perplexes just about every newcomer to digital image processing - and more experienced users can often be reminded a thing or two about workflow logic as well.
Again, space prevents me from describing all the content in this chapter, but I must mention a couple of topics - they are significantly enhanced features, and one of which is "all the rage" in imaging circles these days. Page 227 shows how ACR can handle keystoning, a very common technical problem encountered photographing buildings and monuments which automatically used to send us to Photoshop, but perhaps now less frequently. Pages 251-159 present what Jeff calls "poor man's HDR" (high dynamic range), I guess because he shows us here how we can use a combination of Bridge, ACR and Photoshop (all bundled in the same package) to expand the dynamic range included in a photograph without buying other applications. It's a good exposition which photographers should digest BEFORE even making the images which will enter the process.
Chapters 6 onward are not ACR-specific, but they move into a lot of depth on workflow tools and related applications relevant to the use of ACR. For example the multiple uses of Adobe Bridge described here may surprise many people - such as how to produce very sharp-looking photographic web galleries, much like those produced from Lightroom. The book concludes with a rich compendium of information on automated file handling procedures, metadata, tethered shooting, process automation and much more.
This is all truly valuable, well-presented content. Very highly recommended.