Image Processing

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Today’s Question: It’s clear to me that when I shoot a JPEG in camera the JPEG image is created from the RAW capture with the camera’s internal “formula”.  But what “formula” is being used with either the Image Processor in Photoshop or in the Save Image approach in Adobe Camera Raw? And can that formula be adjusted?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “formula” used to create a JPEG image from a RAW capture when using Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, or Lightroom is essentially the “Adobe Camera Raw” formula. And yes, you can most certainly adjust that formula at least in terms of refining the settings for RAW processing for the photo before creating the JPEG image.

More Detail: I think one of the things that photographers don’t always realize about a RAW capture is that there isn’t a single “correct” method for processing that RAW capture. Obviously there is a degree of artistic interpretation the photographer can apply, but in addition different software will interpret the same RAW capture in different ways.

Thus, the software you’re using to process RAW captures will generally produce a different (and sometimes very different) result compared to the preview you see on the camera’s LCD display. The underlying software algorithms are different from one RAW processor to the next, the available controls may be different, and of course you may apply the various adjustments in different ways.

When a RAW capture is processed in Lightroom or Photoshop, the underlying “engine” for processing that RAW capture is Adobe Camera Raw. Thus, the result you will see when you create a derivative image (such as a JPEG file) based on a RAW capture will depend upon the underlying settings for Adobe Camera Raw. That may translate into the adjustments you’ve applied in the Develop module in Lightroom, the settings you’ve applied in Adobe Camera Raw, or simply the default settings if you haven’t actually modified the adjustments for the image yet.

You can adjust the settings by first applying adjustments in Lightroom or in Adobe Camera Raw, though you obviously can’t change the underlying algorithms within these applications. But by applying adjustments in Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw before creating a derivative image using Lightroom, Adobe Bridge, or Photoshop, the derivative image you create as part of that process will reflect the adjustments you applied to the original RAW capture.