I have Photoshop Elements 14. I assume my question is just as applicable to Photoshop CC as well since it has similar ACR setting adjustments.

In ACR, there are 3 groups of setting adjustements. In order, from top to bottom in ACR, they are: group 1) White balance, Temperature, and Tint; group 2) Exposure, Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks; group 3) Clarity, Vibrance, and Saturation.

I've heard and read many different opinions on this question (e.g., "Always do W/B first, then move to middle group 2 and work your way down from Exposure"; "The order of your tweaks in ACR makes absolutely no difference in the final image." etc.)

I'm fairly comfortable using the settings in group 1, and group 3. My primary issue is whether or not the sequence of use of group 2 settings matters at all? In other words, do I wind up with the exact same image in terms of quality, regardless of the order of tweaks?


No, the order does not matter.

Firstly, the edits are made nondestructively (video link to Adobe support help video, cued to the appropriate time), and saved in a sidecar file that describes what edits were made.

Secondly, you have no control over what order ACR/Lightroom will apply the adjustments. ACR/Lightroom will optimize the order of some of the adjustments to speed up image rendering.

  • Not sure I agree 100%. Sure, if you arrive at a particular combination of the sliders, then it doesn't matter how you arrived at that combination, ACR will no doubt apply them in a way which makes the order you did them irrelevant. – MikeW Apr 3 '16 at 23:24
  • However, the order you choose may affect how you can use the other sliders. For example if you set the white and black points first, you may then not be able to adjust overall exposure without blowing out highlights or shadows. So you may limit yourself if you start with certain choices. I feel exposure is probably the best of those sliders to adjust first, and that's why they put it at the top and expect you to work down – MikeW Apr 3 '16 at 23:26
  • That might only be relevant if you make bad choices, but I would think that the order you choose might in fact narrow your later adjustments? – MikeW Apr 3 '16 at 23:29
  • @MikeW you might not be able to see the blown highlights/shadows while adjusting exposure if you set B/W points first, but you can turn the B/W points on/off to see the exposure. – scottbb Apr 3 '16 at 23:31
  • @MikeW I concede that if the goal is to not revisit adjustments, only touching them once à la the travelling salesman problem, then yes, there is some degree of optimal ordering for some settings. However, practically, I can turn off adjustments that would otherwise overpower some other settings, re-adjust, and turn the other adjustments back on. – scottbb Apr 3 '16 at 23:36

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