Batch Processing Raw Files in Photoshop

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Photoshop CS3 Used in this Tutorial

One of the complaints that I sometimes hear about the raw format is that it takes too long to process multiple files. Certainly, if one chooses to process the files one at a time, the processing can take a while. However, multiple raw files can easily be batch processed. This dramatically reduces the time to process the files. In addition, the processing can be done in the background while the photographer performs other work on the computer, or the computer can be left to run the batch while the photographer is off doing something else. Consequently, the files can be processed with only a small amount of the photographer's time being used.

Batch processing raw files requires two steps:

The Scenario

Let's assume that you just got back from a vacation with your friends. You took a ton of photos. You plan to review your images and select a few that you will use to create fine art prints. However, your friends are not photographers, and they don't really care that much about fine art prints. What they want is a CD, with all of the images, that they can take to the nearest one-hour photo processing facility to create 4" x 6" prints that they can share with their other friends. You have hundreds of images that you want to process into JPEGs for your friends, but you don't want to spend much time on the task. Batch processing of the raw files is the perfect solution.

Creating an Action

Figure 1: Actions Palette

The first step for batch processing is to create an action. This action is created in the same way as any other action by going to the Actions pallet and clicking on the Create new actions button see Figure 1). This opens up the New Action dialogue box. As shown in Figure 2, the action is renamed the Batch Raw Landscape action, and the Function key is set to F2 (this will allow the action to be run simply by pressing the F2 key). Clicking the Record button starts the action recording process.

Figure 2: New Action Dialogue Box
Figure 3: Open Dialogue Box
Next, an image is simply processed through the editing steps while the steps are recorded. This starts with opening an image by choosing File/Open. This will bring up the Open dialogue box (see Figure 3). A raw file (in landscape mode) is selected and opened. This will launch Camera Raw (see Figure 4).
Figure 4: Camera Raw
At this point, it is important to remember what this action is all about. This action is meant to process a lot of images as fast as possible. To do this, it is important to have Camera Raw perform as much of the work as possible. This will reduce the number of steps that have to be done in Photoshop (which will reduce the processing time). The first thing that is done is to click on the pull down menu on the right side of the dialogue box (see Figure 5).
Figure 5: Menu Options
For the purpose of this action, the Camera Raw Defaults setting is used. With this setting, Camera Raw automatically adjusts the image. The Image Settings option can also be used if desired. With this setting, if a file has been previously converted, Camera Raw will use the settings from the previous conversion. Otherwise, it will use the default settings.
Figure 6: Workflow Options Dialogue Box
Clicking on the Workflow Options button at the bottom of the dialogue box (it looks like a line of text) opens the Workflow Options dialogue box. For the purposes of printing 4" x 6" prints, the settings in Figure 6 are used with this action. To make the subsequent processing of the images as quick as possible, the image depth is set at 8 bits, and the image size is set as close to the required size (1800 x 1200) as possible. Once these settings are in place, the image is converted.
Figure 7: Image Size Dialogue Box
The image is now resized by choosing Image/Image Size. The Image Size dialogue box opens (see Figure 7). The Pixel Dimensions are set to 1800 x 1200. The Bicubic Sharper interpolation method is chosen for reducing the size of this image.
Figure 8: Save As Dialogue Box

Because Camera Raw performed sharpening during the conversion and Bicubic Sharper (which enhances the sharpening) was used to reduce the size of the image, no further sharpening is required for this image.

The next step is to save the image by choosing File/Save As. The Save As dialogue box opens (see Figure 8). The JPEG format is chosen for this image.

Figure 9: JPEG Options Dialogue Box

After clicking the Save button, the JPEG Options dialogue box opens (see Figure 9). This image is saved at the Maximum Quality setting.

The image is now closed by choosing File/Close.

The last step in creating the action is to click the Stop playing/recording button at the bottom of the Actions palette (see figure 10). 

Figure 10: Actions Palette with New Action

Batch Process in Photoshop

Now that the action has been created, it is time to use the action to batch process the images. One option is to perform the batch processing in Photoshop. Simply choose File/Automate/Batch. The Batch dialogue box will appear (see Figure 11).

Figure 11: Batch Dialogue Box

There are numerous fields on the dialogue box (the settings used for this example are shown in Figure 11):

Once the Batch dialogue box has been completed, clicking the OK button will start the batch processing.

Batch Process in Adobe Bridge

Another option is to perform the batch processing in Adobe Bridge. Adobe Bridge is launched by choosing File/Browse. Bridge appears as shown in Figure 12.

Figure 12: Adobe Bridge
To start the batch processing, the files are selected and the Batch dialogue box is launched by choosing Tools/Photoshop/Batch. The Batch dialogue box is utilized as covered above.

What About Images in Portrait Mode

Figure 13: Action Palette with Portrait Action Added

The action that was created is good for images in landscape mode. Images in portrait mode need one more step to rotate the images. The easiest way to handle this is to create a second action for portrait shots. This can be done by duplicating the first action (drag the Batch Raw Landscape action to the Create new actions button). The action is renamed as the Batch Raw Portrait action (see Figure 13).

To add the rotation step, an image is opened (one that has already been converted -- not a raw file). The action is then expanded by clicking the arrow next to the action, and the Image Size step is selected (see Figure 14).

Figure 14: Action Palette with Action Expanded
The Begin Recording button is clicked. The image is then rotated by choosing Image/Rotate Canvas/900 CW (or CCW). Last, the Stop playing/recording button is clicked. The rotated image can now be closed. Figure 15 shows the action with the rotate step. The action is now ready to be used for batch processing.
Figure 15: Action with Rotate Step Added

What About More Complicated Processing

More complicated processing is handled in the same way. The only difference is that more steps are added when the action is created or modified.

Raw Takes Too Much Time

Back to the raw takes too much time argument. It is true that even batch processing of raw files will take some time if a large number of files are converted. On the other hand, if one uses a little bit of intelligence, this becomes a non-issue. When I want to process a large number of files, I start the batch processing; then, I go do something else (e.g., eat dinner, take a shower, or go to the grocery store). When I am done, so are my images. Frankly, I don't care how hard my computer has to work as long as I don't have to.