The Adobe Camera Raw Detail Tab
Last week, we took a look at the major controls of Adobe Camera Raw, offering a recipe to go from raw files to "cooked." Continuing with where we left off, it's time to take a look at what the Detail tab has to offer.
The first thing worth pointing out is that Photoshop Elements doesn't have a Detail tab in its version of Camera Raw. Elements users shouldn't despair though since Adobe was kind enough to include everything from both the Adjust and Detail tabs in the single Camera Raw for Elements dialog. Rather than being on a separate tab though, the Detail sliders are stuck below the Adjust controls we've already covered.
Shown here are images of both the Details tab from Photoshop CS as well as the equivalent section of sliders in Photoshop Elements.
Now then, what are these sliders used for?
Unlike the controls we looked at last week, many people will never even venture onto this tab (or scroll down the bottom of the only tab there is, if they're an Elements user). That may be OK, since the default settings will work fine for many images. But the Detail sliders do give you increased control over image sharpness and noise reduction which can be handy to know how to put to use if you do need them.
The first of the three Detail sliders controls image Sharpness. Sharpening applied here obviously occurs before any adjustments you do in Photoshop itself, so don't overdo it. Sharpening should mainly be applied near the end of your workflow, using settings dependent on your chosen output size and medium. An image to be posted on a website will naturally be smaller than one printed on a printer and would require correspondingly lower settings for sharpening. The sharpening available in ACR on the other hand should be considered only a down payment on your sharpening needs, intended to minimize loss of detail from the digital capture process (input sharpening as opposed to output sharpening, that is).
If you click on the tiny triangle at the top of the settings area in Camera Raw, you can access the ACR settings menu. Elements offers only a couple of choices that we won't go into here, but in the full version of Photoshop there is a Preferences option at the bottom of the list. If you select it, one of the choices thus revealed allows you to choose between applying sharpening only to the Preview image, or to the image itself. This lets you sharpen what you see in ACR without doing so to the image that opens in Photoshop, allowing you to defer all your sharpening till later. Exactly what settings you use either for Sharpening itself or for your choice of Preferences is up to you. I'd advise you to experiment to see what seems to work best for your images and your workflow. Until recently, I left Sharpening entirely till later, but I now do use a minimal setting of around 25-30 in ACR. The default is 25. Whatever you use, be sure the Preview image is zoomed to at least 100% if not larger so you can see the effect of what you are doing.
The remaining two controls are used to minimize digital noise. When shooting at high ISO, you can often end up with an annoying grain pattern in what should otherwise be continuous tone areas such as skies. This pattern is created by noise in the luminance (grayscale brightness) channel and, unless severe, can be effectively managed using the Luminance Smoothing slider. If an image does not exhibit any high ISO noise, simply leave this slider at its default value of zero, but if you need it, don't hesitate to increase it. Be sure to keep an eye on the full scale Preview image of course. You may also find that an image will require additional sharpening if you are forced to increase Luminance Smoothing a lot.
I've included a small portion of this image (shown here at a 600% view) showing the effect of Luminance Sharpening. Shot at ISO 1600, this northern lights image definitely required some noise reduction.
Color Noise Reduction is less often needed, but images from some cameras may need it more than others. It shows up as random patterns of rainbow colored sparkles where they aren't supposed to be. A low level of reduction won't hurt, so I generally leave this at its default of 25.
Adobe Camera Raw has a lot of power built-in. Hopefully I've given you at least somewhere to start in your explorations.