How to Color Correct Images in Photoshop Using Camera Raw

How to Color Correct Images in Photoshop Using Camera Raw

A side by side before and after comparison is shown.
Camera Raw is great for non destructive color correction.

 Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

This has happened to all of us. You open an image in Photoshop and exclaim: “Oh no! The image is underexposed” or “The image is overexposed! Now what?”

The answer, if you use Photoshop for color correction, is to not use Adjustment Layers or the Adjustments menu — Image > Adjustments. The answer is to use the Camera Raw Filter.

In this “How To” we are going to correct an underexposed image using a couple of features in Photoshop’s Filter Menu: Create a Smart Filter, Add Lens Correction and then correct the color using the Camera Raw filter.

Let’s get started.

How to Create a Smart Filter in Photoshop

The Convert for Smart Filter menu item in the Filters menu uis shown.
Creating a Smart Filter.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

The first step in the process is not to dig right in and go to work. Any changes you make to the image by going this route will be “baked in” meaning you won’t be able to fix things later on. Instead, you select the image layer and then select Filter > Convert For Smart Filters. The advantage here is you can always return to the filter and “tweak it” because Smart Filters are non-destructive. 

How to Apply Lens Correction to a Photoshop Image

The lens Correction options are shown. A Nikon Camera lens setting is selected.
Apply Lens Correction to an image.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

No matter how much you spend on equipment, any camera lens will apply a bit of distortion to the image. Photoshop recognizes this and lets you fix the image by removing any lens distortion. The image I am using was shot using my trusty Nikon D200 that came with an AF-S Nikkor 18-200 mm 13556 lens. That lens data may seem like a mouthful but it is actually printed on the lens itself.

With the image selected, choose Filter > Lens Correction. Making sure the Auto Correction tab is selected, the first step is to select the Camera Make. In the Camera Model pop down I selected NIKON D200. Next I selected my lens from the Lens Model pop down. Once I found my lens- 18.0-200.0 mm f3.5-5.6 — I noticed things squared off in the corners and I clicked OK to accept the change.

When the window closed my Smart Filters Layer was now sporting a Lens Correction filter. If I need to change the camera or the lens all I need to do is to double click the Filter to open the Lens Correction dialog box.

How to Open the Camera Raw Filter Dialog Box in Photoshop

The Camera Raw filter dialog box is shown.
The Camera Raw Dialog Box.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

The next step is to select Filter > Camera Raw Filter. This will open a rather comprehensive window. Along the top are a number of tools you can use to do everything from zoom in on the image and set the White Balance to adding a Graduated Filter to the image.

Over on the right side you see a histogram. That graph tells me tonal range of the pixels in the image are clustered on the dark side of the tones. This graph also tells me my strategy here is to re-distribute them across the range from the left (blacks) to the right (whites.)

Under the Histogram are a series of tools, which allow to you to perform quite a few sophisticated image manipulations. Select a tool and the sliders change to reflect the tool’s purpose. We will be using the Basic tool, which is the default. 

How to Use the Camera Raw White Balance Tool in Photoshop

The White Blance icon is circled in red in the upper left corner of the image.
Setting the White Balance.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

The key word here is “Balance.” This tool identifies a neutral gray that you pick and uses it as the mid point. The neat thing about this tool is you can keep clicking it until you achieve the result you are looking for. In this image I sampled the foam and the snow a few times to achieve the result. This is also a great tool for removing a color cast

How to Use the Camera Raw Temperature and Tint Sliders in Photoshop

The Temerature and Hue sliders are moved to remove color casts in the image.
Use Temperature and Tint to adjust image color.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

The best way of thinking of Temperature is to think of “Red Hot” and “Ice Cold.” Moving the slider to the right increases yellow and moving it to the left increases Blue. Tint adds Green on the left and Cyan on the right. Small changes are best and let your eye be the judge of what looks best. 

How to Add Detail to the Camera Raw Image in Photoshop

The sliders in the White Balance area are surrounded with a red box and the Split View icon is circled in red.
Final image adjustments.

  Tom Green, Lifewire, 2018

The next step is to use the sliders under the White Balance area to make global adjustments to the image. What you want to do here is to bring up more detail in the image. In the case of this image I adjusted the sliders to bring up the detail in the foreground. Again, use your eye as the guide as to when to stop.

To compare where I started with where I am, I clicked the Before/After button. It looks like a Y in the bottom right corner of the window, to see the changes.

One other aspect of this step is to keep an eye on the Histogram. You should notice the graph has now spread across the tones.

At this point you can click OK to accept the changes and return to Photoshop. If you still feel the need to make further adjustments, all you need to do is to double-click the Camera Raw Filter in the Smart Filters layer. You will open the Camera Raw window and the settings will be those where you left off.