What is it?
Every technology has to pass a litmus test before it is considered ready for professional work. For example, digital cameras had to offer better image quality than film at full bleed in a two-page spread. For Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) the litmus test was the ability to selectively burn and dodge areas within an image. The new version of ACR, version 5 for those who are counting, not only provides effective burning and dodging, but takes the concept of selective edits even further with the ability to selectively adjust sharpness, contrast, saturation and brightness for total image control. I expect that with this new version of ACR, photographers will find fewer and fewer reasons to venture into Photoshop and will instead perform the bulk of their corrections in ACR.
Why is it important?
Burning and Dodging within ACR offers several advantages.
1) Speed: By not having to open an image into Photoshop you’ve eliminated processing time as well as an additional file you have to save, store, manage and back up on your hard drive. This makes your workflow, and your image library, more efficient.
2) Quality: Working on the raw file gives you the best results. Performing corrections on unprocessed raw information is less likely to cause image artifacts or posterization than corrections made to processed files (JPEGs, TIFFs, PSDs).
3) Flexibility: Once you’ve performed your initial correction, you can quickly modify the intensity of the correction or adjust additional attributes (sharpening, saturation) by adjusting the sliders. Your corrections are always performed non-destructively to your raw file.
Bonus Tip #1: Turn off Auto-Mask: Disabling the Auto Mask feature at the bottom of the Adjustment Brush panel improves the responsiveness of the Adjustment Brush considerably.
Bonus Tip #2: Alt/Option to Subtract: While brushing, hold your Alt/Option key to subtract from your painted area. This is useful if your dodge correction extends beyond your subject, spilling onto the background.
Bonus Tip #3: Hover your cursor over the Pin (the point indicating the first brush stroke) to see a red overlay of the painted areas. This is useful to determine whether or not your correction is evenly, and correctly, applied or whether you need Bonus Tip #2.