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Camera Raw interface

Manage the colors of a RAW file in Camera Raw

Updated on October 28, 2019


Lightroom and Camera Raw share the same module for developing Raw files. So we will now study how to manage colors with Adobe demo software, from assigning the camera's ICC profile automatically or manually to converting to a neutral color space, through white balance....

Color management in Camera Raw or Lightroom (Adobe) is done in three main steps :



Assign an ICC profile or color space in Camera Raw

Any color file to display the "right" colors needs to be assigned the right CCI profile. Since the file is opened outside the box, this assignment can only take place in the development software, whatever it may be. Camera Raw automatically assigns the ICC profile of your camera but it is possible to take control of this tap. This is all the more interesting if you have your own custom ICC profiles as we will see.

Automatic assignment of the camera's ICC profile

This allocation is therefore done automatically. Camera Raw reads the EXIF data of the file to know the name of the camera. If the camera is part of the CR database, the picture opens (Fig. below) :

  ICC profile of the camera that appears in Camera Raw
  When you see the name of your box in the title bar of Camera Raw it is good that it has just assigned the ICC profile of your box to your photo.


Remark !  If your box is not part of the Adobe Camera Raw database, if the box is too recent or if you have not updated your ACR, you simply won't be able to open it in this application !

Manual assignment of the camera's ICC profile

But in Camera Raw, it is possible, once the automatic assignment is made, to change the default ICC profile to another one. There are two categories :

  • The variants of the default profile: they are more or less saturated (to make a long story short!) but remain generic profiles,
  • Custom ICC profiles.  

1 - Default profile and variants (Adobe ICC Profiles)

In most cases, Adobe has created several versions of ICC profiles for each box. The default ICC profile is called Adobe Standard. Then, Adobe said this profile to create some variants of it, always correcting defects in the same way but with more or less saturated renderings essentially. They are called Camera Portrait, Landscape, etc. The Standard Camera profile is supposed to be the closest to the Jpeg rendering of the box. 


2 - Custom profiles  

Custom camera ICC profiles are, with one exception, in the same place once they are installed on your computer (these are profiles in DNG format). They will have the name you gave them or the name given to them by the external service provider if you had them done. Just choose the one you want from the list.



Step Two : White Balance

To choose your ICC profile correctly, normally, you would have to do a white balance on a chart that follows on the sample photo. Here's why...

White balance to neutralize shades... 

We sometimes ignore it, but what is commonly called white balance plays on two very different parameters. The color temperature that gives the photo its warm or cold character and its shade (green/magenta). Just as the first is almost a matter of taste and is easy to "correct", the second is sneaky and therefore complicated to correct with the naked eye. The famous white balance eyedroppers are a great help. Still it must be done on a "real" white, that is to say a white not only for our eye but also for this eyedropper !


  Photos with a dominant green or magenta
  Shade predominance : greenish on the left and magenta on the right.

Predominance is important in this example but it is very difficult to fix when it is just played 5 points close. One pipette measurement on a calibrated chart of good quality (TrueColors or Refcard 5) does the trick !

... and incidentally color temperature

Here we are in the known... and in a matter of taste more often than not. Except when it comes to reproducing a work of art where it is essential to balance the whites on a white chart, a simple stroke of eyedropper on a white object in real life on the photographic scene will be more than enough to neutralize the hues and color temperature. 

White balance in Camera Raw
  Before clicking on the "white" wall, at least to the naked eye ! the photo looks very "warm" hence very yellowish/orange. So warm we can't even see if there's a shade predominance !
Make the white balance in Camera Raw with the eyedropper
  After clicking on the wall (white in real life!), the overall predominance is neutralized as well as the shade, at the same time. I would agree to rewarm this photo a little bit before delivering it... It it not a painting to reproduce for the Louvres museum, but just a very beautiful hotel where people need to feel welcome hence... warm. Technical perfection is sometimes a bit "cold"!



Color conversion

Once you have applied your optimizations and settings to your RAW file, you will be able to open it in Photoshop or other software using the "Open Image" button. But before that, you will have to choose your destination color space and the number of bits of your image output. This is done at the very bottom of the Camera Raw window (figure below) :

Choose the destination color space in Camera Raw
  I don't go into the details of the choice here and I invite you to read, among other things, my pages "Choose your working space" and "Choose your color space between sRGB, Adobe RGB and ProPhoto", but you will have the choice between four possibilities in this software, from the sRGB standard to the very tight ProPhoto or even more in the latest versions of Camera Raw :

  Until version 14.0 of Photoshop CC, you only had 4 possibilities of destination color spaces as I point out above but this has just changed with update 14.1. It is now possible to choose from all the profiles on your computer ! If you have installed a DON RGB, MLISSA RGB or BEST RGB, you can now convert your RAW file directly into these color spaces.


Several points


 It is therefore possible to develop the same RAW file several times with different color spaces, really as if the photo had been taken in sRGB or ProPhoto. It is therefore very easy to adapt its color flow to each photo according to its needs. If you open a photo for the Internet, taken in foggy weather or to be printed on matte paper, the sRGB will do very well. On the other hand, if you have photographed a poppy in full sun and you want to make a beautiful print on glossy paper, the ProPhoto is essential in order not to risk desaturating some of the red petals.

 It is possible to have more choices than the only and classic sRGB and Adobe RGB that we have on our boxes, even pros. If the Adobe RGB was interesting in 1998 (it represented the common space of all American offset printers), it is very small compared to the gamut of recent inkjet printers on Glossy paper.

My advice ! Choose the sRGB with full knowledge of the facts and if you need more "space", choose the ProPhoto. In 2019, I don't really see the point of choosing Adobe RGB when you work in RAW and want more space than sRGB.


- Choose your color space  


To be remembered !

Managing colors in Camera Raw or Lightroom is very simple because everything is planned and often automated.

 The ICC profile is automatically assigned when the RAW file is opened (if your software is up to date). However, it is very easy to change it after the fact for a custom profile that you would have made yourself (... or not).

 The white balance on a chart is close (or not at all) on the sample photo is very simple from a RAW file.

 The conversion can finally be done to a larger color space than Adobe RGB: ProPhoto. In 2019, choose sRGB or ProPhoto according to your needs but avoid Adobe RGB whose interest is zero compared to ProPhoto.

 If you choose ProPhoto, also choose the 16-bit mode preferably although you will not often see the difference with the 8-bit except to do heavy processing on your images.

And all this with a minimum of loss in the photo. The final result can far exceed the quality of a Jpeg file directly developed in your camera.

On this page I will share with you all my advice to manage the colors of your Raw files when you develop them in Camera Raw...

- Manage the colors of a camera... Soon
- Manage colors with Camera Raw

  - In JPEG
- In RAW
- To be remembered...

- My 35 monitor reviews!
- How to choose your monitor ?
- How to calibrate your monitor ?


Calibrate your monitor with the best
colorimeter: X-Rite i1Display Pro !

Read my full review...


Calibrate your monitor with your favorite colorimeter : Datacolor SpyderX PRO !

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