Double-Processing a Raw File for Maximum Dynamic Range and Tonal Control

Double-Processing a Raw File for Maximum Dynamic Range and Tonal Control

Difference between single and multiple raw processingProcessing a raw file often produces images which are over- or under-exposed in localized areas. Double or triple processing a raw allows you to target the tones in every area of your image for maximum dynamic range and tonal control. This is an example of a raw file processed once with a global curves adjustment to improve contrast. Note how the highlights are near blown and the shadows are near black. The raw file was then re-edited and blended in multiple times to target the tonal values in each area.

6 replies
  1. John A Gessner
    John A Gessner says:

    Excellent tutorial. I have done similar things in the past, but in a much more clunky way. This was enlightening and will change the way I process. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Jim Weise
    Jim Weise says:

    Thanks for the tutorial, Josh. Very informative. I’m assuming that you have your Adobe Camera Raw set up in Photoshop to open automatically as a smart object. Do you know of a way for me to use this technique if I process my RAW files in the Develop module of Lightroom 4?

    • Josh
      Josh says:

      Hey Jim, glad you found this helpful! And that’s a good question about Lightroom. I’m not as familiar with LR4 as I tend to do most of my raw processing via Nikon’s Capture NX2, but I was able to find this article online: I don’t know if that gives you enough to have it open automatically as a smart object or not though. I planning on digging deeper into LR4 this month as I process some wedding photos I took for a friend, so let me poke around and I’ll try to find a way to do it, if you haven’t got it figured out by then already.

    • Jim
      Jim says:

      Hi Jim,

      Jim here. What you can do is right click on an image in LR4 and choose the option “Open in Photoshop as Smart Object”…or something similar. This will keep the bottom layer as a smart object when it gets opened in Photoshop. Now, if you follow Josh’s tutorial and make a new layer via smart object and reopen the file, the interface *won’t* take you back to LR4. Instead, it will open the ACR interface like in the tutorial. The only downside to this is the tools are laid out a little differently and a lot of the keyboard shortcuts are different.

      Jim Patterson

    • Audrey
      Audrey says:

      I’ve had excellent luck selection multiple versions of a photo, and choosing “Edit In->Open as layers in Photoshop” AFTER doing the adjustments I want in each layer using virtual copies. As long as your edits are “non-destructive” in Photoshop (i.e. refinement layers and masks), it should be easy to replace a layer in Photoshop (by dragging) with an updated one from LR if you needed to. LR4 will link to the resultant file. You can even edit the final layered *.PSD file in LR4 to add cropping, other refinements, etc. Very cool!

      Personally, I prefer to do all of my tonal type editing in LR, and use Photoshop for HDR composites, panorama stitching, blending layers, and/or fixing things that require content-aware fill/healing brush etc. They work together extremely well.


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