Converting to Mono in RAW

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Converting RAW files from Colour to Mono using the Camera Raw Plug-in in Photoshop®  CS3 & CS4.


The improvements and extra facilities in the Camera RAW plug-in in CS3 and CS4 following the acquisition of RawShooter by Adobe provide a very satisfactory method of converting RAW files to monochrome as outlined below ….

Open the RAW file in the Camera Raw plug-in (File > Open); the Camera Raw window opens as shown in Fig 1.


Fig 1  Camera Raw Window and Dialogue.

Ensure that the Highlight and Shadow Clipping warnings are turned on in the Histogram. Click on the arrowheads in the top corners of the Histogram window to toggle on/off; alternatively the ‘U’ and ‘O’ keys toggle the Shadows and Highlight clipping warnings on/off respectively. When the warnings are active areas of the image which are burnt out are highlighted in red and shadow areas which are blocked up in blue (Fig 1 above).

Adjust the Recovery slider to eliminate as far as possible any burnt out areas, i.e. show the detail if it is present in the file, and the Blacks slider to recover shadow detail Fig 2.

Do not touch any of the other sliders at this stage.


Fig 2  Highlight and Shadow detail recovery


Click on the HSL/Greyscale icon arrowed in Fig 3 and then on the Saturation tab. Move each of the sliders to the left (-100) to desaturated the image.


Fig 3  Image desaturated.


Click on the Luminance tab (Fig 4) and adjust the sliders to improve the tonal range and contrast of the image. Note that adjusting some sliders will have no effect on the image if that colour is not present in the original capture.


Fig 4  Luminance sliders adjusted.


Click on the Basic icon arrowed in Fig 5 and make adjustments to the Brightness, Contrast, Clarity and Vibrance sliders to achieve the desired effect on the image. If the adjustments made result in Highlight or Shadow clipping warnings either back off the adjustments until the warning disappears or make further adjustments of the Recovery and Blacks sliders if possible.


Fig 5  Tonal range adjustment.


When satisfied with the result the image may be transferred into Photoshop® for further adjustment.

Hold down the Alt key – the Open Image button changes to Open Copy – and click on Open Copy. By following this procedure the changes made to the image are not saved back to the metadata of original file which remains ‘as shot’. (If you make a mistake here and click on the Open Image button thereby saving the changes to the metadata go into Bridge, right click on the file and select Clear Settings).


Fig 6  Effect of holding down the Alt key to open in Photoshop® Photoshop.


When the file opens in Photoshop® it retains the RAW image file attribute - .CR2 for current Canon DSLR’s and .NEF for Nikon. When saved in Photoshop® the file attribute defaults to a .PSD file, but it may still be possible to (accidentally) save as a RAW file in which case the adjustments made in the Camera Raw plug-in will also be saved and the saved RAW image will reflect those changes; these can be cleared by right clicking on the image in Bridge and selecting Clear Settings.

To avoid any problems in this area it is recommended to follow the procedure outlined above to Open Copy.


Fig 7  Opened in Photoshop® and saved as a .psd file.


Further adjustments both global and localised (by the use of Layer Masks) can be made in Photoshop® to produce a finished image as shown in Fig 8.


Fig 8  The Finished Image.


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