‘The Power of Raw – Bringing Your Image to Life’ – Michael Pilkington of Aspect 2i

 ‘The Power of Raw – Bringing Your Image to Life’ – Michael Pilkington of Aspect 2i


Michael lifted the lid on Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and explained what all those ‘sliders’ did in a way that made sense of the labels Adobe, for some bewildering reason, gave them. Seeing the ‘sliders’ in the way Michael described them made much more sense and instead of ‘playing with them’ you can be much more intentional in your approach to editing in ACR or Lightroom.

For editing purposes ACR is essentially the same as the Develop Module in Lightroom. Michael’s way of approaching his editing is by addressing the histogram – the distribution of light in the image – and his first step is to make sure that there is no ‘clipping’ in the left (black) and right (white) extremes of the histogram.

His big tip was for the ‘whites’ slider, see this as ‘light’. Use the white slider to add light where it is needed in the image. For the mid-tones use the ‘exposure’ slider to address this area of an image. Also understand that when each slider is moved then it nudges the distribution of light in the adjacent and other areas of the histogram.

For editing Michael decides what he needs to do to turn the image from a flat two-dimensional image into one that appears more like the three-dimensional scene that was in front of him when he took the photo. In the example he used he started by adding light (white slider). To do this he had to use the exposure slider to make the image darker therefore giving his space for the white slider to add the light where he wanted it. But he also has to reduce the highlights with his highlight slider so that he did not burn out his ‘whites’. This is because when each slider is moved it affects other sliders and it is a case of adjusting and readjusting to see how the image looks.

He then moves on to look at the shadows and how to manipulate them to bring out that three-dimensional affect. He then approaches the mid-tones to add ‘depth’ and to do this he using the ‘clarity’ slider. If you thought ‘clarity’ was sharpening then you are mistaken. Clarity is adding contrast into the mid-tones, separating the lighter and darker tones in the mid-tones.

These were all global adjustments he was using. For more targeted adjustment in the image he used an ‘adjustment brush’ and as he was wanting to add light to this part of the image by using the ‘white’ slider – white slider equals light.

To finish off the image he used adjustment brushes to darken top, bottom and sides to help focus the attention to the central area of the image.

Michael then worked on another image – a Michael Kenna-esque snow scene in Japan shooting into the sun – with a large clipped white area where the sun was. The trick here to deal with such a large area of clippings was to use the Curve section and pull down the top right end of the tone curve 255 (pure white) to something in the region of 245. Once this is done then he worked on the image similar to how he did before.

He also had a good approach to colour saturation. Instead of going into the Hue Saturation Luminance section he brought down the ‘exposure’ which raised saturation. This also increased the darkness of the image so he increased the light by using the white slider. With just adjusting two sliders he effectively increase the colour of the image.

He also had two very good tips: A good tip when editing your image is that you should always work on a white background so that you can better judge the tones in an image you are editing. Another really good tip is when calibrating your monitor (do it regularly) is to set the monitor’s luminance to 90 (candles per meter squared) rather than the 120 the calibrator suggests.

Michael ended his talk with black and white infra-red images. The use of infra-red is more than crazy high key, high contrast shot but emphasised texture in rocks, stones, trees and enhanced skies. The images were impressive. He has an e-book available on Aspect2i website and if you want to attend his Adobe Camera Raw course you can enrol here:

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Oxford Photographic Society