Camera Raw Does Local

In my previous article, I gave you the skinny on how you can edit batches of images in one pass with Camera Raw, adjusting the white balance and tonal distribution “globally.” What I mean is that the adjustments affect the entire surface of the photograph equally. When you want to adjust the appearance of one part of the image independently of the rest, that’s known as a “local” adjustment, and it’s something that Photoshop obviously excels at. But Camera Raw also has local adjustment tools that you can use in advance of, or instead of, taking your image into Photoshop.

lead image

In Camera Raw, you can use brushes and simple tools to apply local adjustments to your images with relative ease. While they may not be as robust or as flexible as the tools available to you in Photoshop, they can make quick work of many tasks, and they’re not difficult to master. In this article, we’ll dive in deep and explore how they work.

This article is based on Chapter 24, Adobe Camera Raw, of Deke’s video course Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Advanced for lynda. com

The Local Adjustment tools

ACR toolbar

The Camera Raw toolbar appears in the upper left corner of the window, and features a group of four tool buttons that apply local adjustments. From left to right, the tools are Spot Removal, Red Eye Removal, the Adjustment Brush, and the Graduated Filter tool. These tools allow you to point or paint inside your image to nondestructively apply adjustments to specific regions of the image.

While I just spent the better part of the last article extolling the virtues of shooting and editing in raw, the local adjustment features in Camera Raw are mostly a matter of convenience. Any local adjustments in ACR are essentially equivalent to the adjustments you can do inside Photoshop in terms of color and tone, and it’s actually often easier to apply local adjustments in Photoshop. Camera Raw’s local adjustment tools apply their effects on top of your development settings, which means they don’t really make use of the high bit depth of Camera Raw.

Working Close, zooming out, and seeing your work uncluttered

You’ll Use the Z key to switch to the zoom tool (the magnifying glass icon on the leftmost extreme of the toolbar). Click in the image to zoom in, or Alt/Option click to zoom out.

It’s also useful to switch to the zoom tool as a quick way to commit your changes after applying another tool (such as the Graduated Filter) and hide its controls.

Another way to zoom in and out is hold down the Ctrl/Command key and tap the + key to zoom in or tap the - key to zoom out.

Tapping Ctrl/Command + zero will zoom to fit the display area.

Red Eye removal

Red Eye removal attempts to “automagically” fix red eyes. Click on a pupil, and the Red Eye tool does the rest. When it works, it works fairly well. There are some minor adjustments you can make to the relative pupil size and the amount of darkening, but for the most part you cross your fingers with this one.

Spot Removal

The Spot Removal tool works in a fashion analogous to the Healing Brush and Clone Stamp inside Photoshop. It’s primarily for removing spots created by dust on your camera’s sensor.

spot removal tool button
sensor dust

To use it, you place a circle around a spot that you want to remove by dragging inside the image. A dashed red circle will appear around the area that you’re removing and dashed green circle will appear to indicate the area that the Spot Removal tool will copy to cover up the targeted area.

  • Drag from the inside of either circle to reposition them
  • Drag the edge of a circle to resize the linked pair
  • Reposition the green source circle to select a different source area to copy from
  • Tap the V key to toggle the circle overlay and evaluate the repair
  • Drag more circles to remove additional spots
soit removal in action

You can switch the Spot Removal Type between Heal and Clone to change the way the tool attempts to repair the image:

spot removal type
  • The Heal setting attempts to match and blend the copy into the colors and tones surrounding the target area.
  • Set the Type menu to Clone to simply replace the target area with a duplicate of source area.
  • You can change the copy type of any spot removal pair at any time. Just click a circle and use the Type menu to change the repair mode.
spot removal clear all

To remove a Spot Removal circle, click to select it and then hit Backspace/Delete to remove it. You can also use the Clear All button to remove all Spot Removal edits from the image.

The Adjustment Brush

adjustment brush button

This tool is the most complicated of the local adjustment tools in Camera Raw and it allows you to apply adjustments by arbitrary painting. You use the brush to paint one or more masked areas, which each can each apply a different set of adjustments to the areas that you painted. Each mask has an associated pin that you can use to select and reveal the area that the mask affects. The Adjustment Brush controls are in two groups: The adjustment settings and the brush controls.

adjustment brush controls

The adjustment settings (Exposure through Color) apply to the currently active mask, while the brush controls (Size through Density) apply to the brush. The potentially confusing thing about that changing the brush settings only make a difference before you start to apply the next brush stroke, while the adjustment settings can change the appearance of a masked area at any time.

In addition, the New, Add, and Erase radio buttons really have to do with the brush, and probably belong just above Size instead of being above the tone and color controls.

  • The New option places a pin wherever you begin your stroke, and that pin becomes an anchor for the new mask.
  • Check the box marked Auto Mask to have the brush detect edges and keep the painting from spilling over into adjacent areas. This feature works well. In fact, you’ll probably use it often and wish Quick Select in Photoshop worked nearly as well.
  • Once you make your first stroke, the brush mode switches to Add. Any subsequent strokes you make will be added to the current mask.
  • You can click the Erase button to switch the mode of the brush and erase parts of a mask, but a quicker way is to hold down the Alt/Option key to temporarily switch to the erasure mode.
  • Your masks can overlap, and once you have two or more pins in the image, you can click any pin to select, repaint, or adjust the settings for the associated mask.
adjustment brush application

Let’s take a closer look at the brush: The solid ring in the center represents the densest part of the stroke. The dotted outline shows the extent of the feathered edge of the brush. The opacity of the feather tapers off from the solid circle to the dotted line.

The brush in ACR is not the same as the brush in Ps. There is no airbrush, and you can’t change density on the fly or with pressure control the way you can in Ps. So, it’s best to leave the Flow and Density controls alone. The default settings are 50% and 100% respectively.

You can change the size of the brush with the square bracket keys: [ and ]. Use Shift + ] to increase the feathering and Shift + [ to decrease the feathering. Those keystrokes are the reverse of the keystrokes to change the Hardness of a brush tool inside Photoshop.

Once you have created your mask, you can turn off the Show mask checkbox and adjust your settings to taste, though it’s a good idea to avoid adjusting Sharpness with this tool. You’ll also want to avoid using the tempting + and - buttons on either side of the adjustment sliders. Besides dragging the sliders, you can click in the fields and use the up or down arrows to nudge the values in small increments or use Shift along with the arrow keys to bump the values in larger increments.

local tone adj

The Color adjustment has a few complexities of its own. It can be used to neutralize color casts, but it can be used in the opposite manner, to add color casts to areas.

  • You can click the color swatches in the lower right corner of the dialog to select a preset color from blue to yellow. This range of colors emulates what White Balance does.
  • An alternate approach is to enter a numerical value or click in the rainbow section to select a hue and then adjust the saturation as needed.
  • Whenever you change the color setting, the rectangle above the color swatches shows the newly selected color next to the previous color selection.
  • Open the color picker, click the white swatch in the center and then click OK to clear the color setting. Don’t use the - (minus) button on the side of the dialog. When the color setting is cleared, you’ll see a white box with an X through it. (See the panel illustration near the top of this section).
color adjusted

In the example above, applying a touch of moderately saturated orange to the T-Rex brought out the rusty sandstone-like quality of the figure, which pops against the sky because of the color contrast.

The Graduated Filter tool

graduated filter in toolbar

This tool applies the settings you enter into its panel to the image, tapering them off across an area of the image that you specify. A dashed line and a green dot indicates where the effect is applied full-strength, while a red dot and dashed line indicates where the effect ends.

apply graduated filter

In the example above, the Exposure setting is used to gradually burn the sky in the area above and behind the T-Rex.

  • You can hold the Shift key to constrain your drags so that the gradient is perfectly vertical or horizontal.
  • Once a Graduated Filter is initially applied, you can drag the dots or the lines to reposition or reshape the gradient.
  • With the gradient in place, you can continue to adjust its settings via the panel in the sidebar.
  • As with the Adjustment Brush, it’s best to steer clear of the + and - buttons in the panel.
  • It’s also best to avoid applying sharpness with the Graduated Filter.
  • Drag in a different part of the image to add another Graduated Filter.
  • When a Graduated Filter is not selected, it appears as two dots connected by a dashed line. just click on either of the dots to select it.
  • Once selected, you can readjust the settings of the filter or use the Backspace/Delete key to remove it.
  • As with the Adjustment Brush, the Graduated Filter has a Clear All button.

Evaluating Your Results

As you’re making adjustments, it’s often helpful to A/B your image by toggling the preview. Keep in mind that the preview feature is context sensitive.

For example, when the graduated filter adjustment is active, toggling preview does not switch off the other adjustments such as any Exposure, Brightness, or Contrast settings you might have made in the Basic panel. Instead, you can compare your image with and without the Graduated Filter.

To toggle all adjustments to see a complete before and after, you need to switch to a panel that doesn’t have any adjustments of its own to preview (e.g. Presets) and then tap the P key.

When working with the Adjustment brush or the Graduated Filter, tap the V key to toggle the overlay view. It will hide the control points so that you only see the effect.


If you’ve worked with the techniques in other articles from this series, you’ll quickly see that the Adjustment Brush has none of the advanced masking techniques available in Photoshop. For starters, there’s no way to select by color range or load a selection, and there’s no way to mask based on luminosity. While Auto Mask is good, there’s no Refine Edge. But that doesn’t mean the local adjustment tools in Camera Raw are inferior. It just means they have different applications.

You won’t need Photoshop’s industrial-grade capabilities or even its finesse every time you edit an image. And, when that’s the case, you might well find that the local adjustment tools in Camera Raw have saved you a trip into Photoshop.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 036: Designing a Magically Updating Pattern

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