Combining Exposures & Using Curves in Adobe Camera RAW
The beauty of digital photography is that it enables us to put a camera on a tripod and shoot a range of exposures, which can be easily combined in post to get a full-toned image. But we can also use single RAW images to get expanded highlight and shadow detail. Here are a few options to consider that make the process faster, while offering more control over your images.
Option 1: The first option I’m recommending is Dr. Brown’s Place-A-Matic by Russell Brown (www.russellbrown.com-select “Photoshop Tips & Techniques” and locate Script Installer 1.3). Russell Brown has been making great workflow and educational tools like this for years. One way to use it is to select a RAW exposure from Adobe Bridge, and then run Place-A-Matic. That will prompt PSCS2 to bring up Camera Raw twice, creating a file with two Smart Object layers. Layer masking can then be done to improve portions of the layered files, and each layer can still be opened and adjusted in Camera RAW. If multiple RAW files are selected in Bridge, then a layered file with those images is made. Dr. Brown covers it brilliantly in a video tutorial on his site.
Option 2: One approach that has saved me many hours of editing, and is especially good in situations that require a moderate highlight adjustment, is the following: Assume we have one exposure that is a good overall exposure, but the highlights are slightly overexposed (Fig. 1). Instead of trying to burn in the highlights in Photoshop by processing it twice, first bring down the exposure slider in Adobe Camera RAW (shown in Fig. 2) and then bring the midtone and shadow areas up in the Camera RAW dialog‘s “Curve” window (see curve, Fig. 2). Just be sure to keep the curve smooth, or you may create posterization in the file.