Since many people are now getting in to using RAW modes on their dSLRs I thought it would be helpful to provide a brief tutorial on using Photoshop CS2's ACR (Adobe Camera RAW). I find the smooth operation of ACR to produce a very effective workflow and it is also close to the fastest of all the products (over twice as fast as C1, for example).
First before detailing the workflow, I should say something about shooting the shots to start with. I always try to shoot with good color balance. In the studio I always use Custom White balance. I also try to get spot on exposures. To facilitate these two goals, I use a Black/Gray/White target that I include in a few shots at the beginning of each light set. I use the camera's histogram and the target to zero in on the exposure. Then on the shot that gets the optimum exposure, I set the Custom white balance using that shot as the reference.
Naturally you could change the WB in the RAW conversion process, but if you are already very close, then you preserve more data for other manipulations.
Now for the workflow!
A. Speedy - get a bunch of images for the model or whatever worflow:
0. Transfer images to a folder on my working hard drive (Breezesys's Downloader Pro used for this). Burn a CD or DVD backup as the shoot backup. Obviously if in a super hurry one can skip the CD/DVD burn step for right now.
1. Open the RAW photos in CS2 Bridge.
2. Select all the photos in a given light set (the ones taken under about the same light). You can use the Bridge options to apply color ratings or star ratings to a batch of photos and then select that batch. I show that in the screen shot below to get just a subset for my screen shots.
3. Open the set in the RAW Converter.
Note that the first shot is my reference shot.
4. Select one of the photos that is representative of the set. Often this will be the first photo which in my normal workflow of shooting has a black/gray/white target in it.
5. Make any adjustments with the sliders and then the Curves tab. What what adjustments should be made? Well here is the straightforward, simple answer to that question.
a. Set the white point first. The white point is set with the Exposure slider. Just hold down the Alt key (I'm giving the windows keyboard key) and then slide the slider back and forth. As you first move the slider, you'll see all black. If you see colors, then you are clipping highlights in that color. So slide left till you get all black. I generally just slide as far right as I can and still keep things all black. But if I have speculars that I don't mind clipping, I'll go a bit further. The further right, the more information you will ultimately have in your shadows. What you have just done is to set the white point for your photo.
b. Now set the black point. Use the Shadow slider to do this. Use the ALT key method here also. Start all the way to the left. You should see all white. Now move right till black or colors begin to show. This is the point where you are clipping. Watch the histogram as you do this and you'll see what is happening to the shadow areas.
c. Now use the brightness and contrast sliders to set the mid tones. This is just done to taste. Look at the photo and slide for the best midtones and contrast.
d. Now adjust the White balance if you need to. You can use the white balance eye dropper if you want and click it on gray. Then if you want a little warmer, slide the WB slider slightly to the right.
Okay, you've now adjusted your reference photo.
6. Hit the Select All button
7. Hit the Synchronize button
Those RAW settings are now applied to all images in the batch and they will start to change before your eyes.
8. Do a Save, and then choose JPG and any other details.
It is all done. The photos will now be saved out and are ready for the model, wedding party, etc, or for any final post processing in Photoshop.
How long does the above take? I can usually run through a set of 200 photos in about 5-10 minutes with the above process.
Important NOTE: If you want to save the RAW settings, but don't plan on outputting the photos at this point, be sure to click on DONE which will save the RAW settings for future use for each photo. If you press Cancel, you are throwing away the settings.
But what if you want to crop? Well, then right after step 7, just click on any photo and then use the crop tool on it, and then click on the next, and so forth.
Is that my only workflow? No. When I come back later and want to work with any particular image, then I just double click on it in Bridge and it opens up in RAW and I can further tweak the settings if I want and then take it directly into Photoshop as a 16bit image and work from there. By the way, hold down the shift key when you double click, the image will open directly in Photoshop and be converted on the fly.
B. Slower workflow when speed is not the essence:
Same as above, but after step 7, I then work through the stream of photos and crop/straighten them and if needed do minor tweaks (rarely needed, because I shoot very consistently within a lighting set).
C. Gang method.
Same as method A, but in step 2, I load all the images from a shoot, not just those in a single light set.
Then in step 4 I select the representative sample, for tweaking and tweak it. Then in step 6 and 7 instead of select all, I select only those from the lighting set of the sample, and then do the Synchronize for the selected. I then repeat for each lighting set. Finally I do step 8 for the whole set.
In reality when I don't need any immediate JPGs, I skip step 8 and just press DONE. By doing that it saves to each image the settings that I've synchronized, so that later when I open the image in PS the settings are applied at that point, and thus I have no intermediate TIFS or JPGS to deal with.
Other notes. I don't generally sharpen in RAW. But if I was outputting a batch of photos to JPG to send to someone, then I would use the RAW sharpening.
PS: I'm sorry for no spaces between paragraphs and steps. They were there when I first typed it in, but when I needed to edit, they all went away and I didn't have the energy to put them back. Sorry!