Workflow 1.0

Background

Since changing to all-digital photography in late 2002, I’ve only used the available raw mode to make images. My first digital body was a Canon D60 and I found myself wanting to extract every last bit of information from each picture I made. In 2002, the only raw convertor available for Mac OS X was the standard Canon software.

Whilst the Canon convertor worked, it didn’t integrate elegantly into an image workflow based around Photoshop and was really slow. When Adobe released Camera Raw for Photoshop, life started to look up. We’re now pretty much in a Golden Age of raw convertors for digital photographers with numerous options available.

I’ve used most of the raw convertors available for Mac OS X but I usually end up coming back to Adobe Camera Raw as my primary raw conversion method. I like the way it fits into my Photoshop-centric workflow and the image quality it delivers (once calibrated correctly).

My current workflow looks like this:

Import And Review

Once I get back with images on a bunch of Compact Flash cards, I copy the images into a “Dropbox” folder on my Mac. I then do a quick review on the images, deleting anything that’s obviously out of focus, duplicate or just not worth keeping.

To do the review, I use Photo Mechanic, which is an ideal application for this job. Photo Mechanic will work with most raw images, is fast and has some really useful tools for reviewing and comparing images (such as a way to mark keepers, do side-by-side compares and look at the images at 100% for focus checks).

When I’m done with the review, my Dropbox folder contains just the raw images that I want to keep. There are the basic set of images that’ll be archived and cataloged.

Archive And Catalog

I use iView MediaPro for archiving my raw and finished images. I’ve yet to find another application for the Mac that comes close to being as useful for managing catalogs of raw images. Portfolio and Cumulus are the two other main competitors in this space for iView MediaPro but, in my experience, neither are as hassle-free as MediaPro on the Mac.

When I’m ready to import my new set of raw images, I use an Applescript Studio application that I wrote to do the job. The script creates a new folder in my raw archive, copies the files from the Dropbox to the new folder and renames them. The script then imports the images to my raw catalog in MediaPro and adds some basic metadata to the images (such as copyright info).

As I use the metadata that I add to the images to find them, I use a pretty simple naming scheme. Each import gets a unique “Roll” number (such as “Roll135”) and the images are renamed and number sequencially based on that (e.g. “Roll135_67.CR2”). It’s a pretty simple naming scheme but I find it works for me. I can see images that were imported at the same time and the names are fairly readable. I did rename with date and time for a while but I found looking at directories full of files called things like “20021104-175601.CRW” to be fairly useless.

Once I’ve finished an import, I synchronize my external disk copy of my image archive so that I have a backup.

Photoshop

After importing, I usually browse the raw catalog for the images I’m interested in working on. From iView MediaPro, I’ll launch Photoshop CS to convert the selected image(s). In Adobe Camera Raw, I’ll select the profile I have for the camera I used. This adjusts the colors in the raw convertor to give me a closer match. Once that’s been done, I set the color temperature, exposure and shadows for the image. I disable sharpening in the convertor – I do that as part of my workflow in Photoshop.

The steps I normally follow in Photoshop are

  • Noise reduction with Noise Ninja

    If the image is noisy (at say, above ISO 800), then I normally run it through Noise Ninja to remove the bulk of the noise. It’s very easy to overprocess the image and leave it looking completely false so a careful hand is needed here. I normally back the processing defaults off a fair bit and use the noise brush to keep areas of detail. The general aim here is to suppress color noise in large, smooth areas of an image.

  • Input Sharpening with PhotoKit Sharpener

    I’m a recent convert to PhotoKit Sharpener and I’ve found it to give some really great results. The basic premise behind input sharpening is to compensate for the AA filter in front of the Bayer sensor on the camera and to restore some basic, inherent sharpness to the image whilst you’re working on it. You choose the edge setting based on the image – I normally switch between Fine and Medium and I sometimes back the sharpened layer opacity off a bit as well.

    I really dislike images that look like they’ve been oversharpened so I tend to make the overall sharpening softer and use the sharpening brushes in PhotoKit Sharpener to bring up the edge contrast in high detail areas. It’s more labor intensive but it gives better results.

  • Shadow/Highlight

    I often apply just a small touch of Shadow/Highlight (around 2-3%) to an image just to recover some highlight or shadow detail. Again, this requires a careful touch as images very quickly look false. If I do bring up details like this, I often use a stronger contrast at the Curves Adjustment set to bring the image back into line.

  • Saturation adjustment with Velvia Vision

    I used to shoot on Velvia slide film almost exclusively and I do like saturated images. It’s the color in objects that draws me to them as subjects so I usually try to recapture the color in the image that I saw originally. Most digital cameras give a slightly flat response out of the box. I use Fred Miranda’s Velvia replicator to boost saturation just a little bit. I normally use the lowest settings I can (10%, for example), just to pull the greens and blues up a bit.

    For some subjects, like portraits and flower photography, I normally miss this step out as the images really don’t need the extra saturation bump.

  • Curves Adjustment

    I also like a bit of contrast in my images so I have a set of contrast curves that I defined that apply a range of gentle S-curves to the image. These usually pull the contrast up and leave the image with a slightly punchier look. Again, this is similar to the effect that shooting on slide film gives.

Finally, I usually convert the image to 8 bit and save the file in my “finished” TIFF archive as a LZW compressed TIFF file.

Finished Archive

I maintain a finished archive of TIFF images in an iView MediaPro catalog. These images are complete except for the final output sharpening step. That way, I can use them for either web or print output without problems (as each of those outputs requires slightly different sharpening).

In order to keep the metadata in sync between my Raw and TIFF catalogs, I use MetaSync to synchronize the two catalogs. This means that I only need to edit the image annotations in one spot (the Raw catalog) which cuts the amount of work it takes to keep information consistent.

Web Export

For web work, I use a Photoshop Action that does the following steps.

  • Fit Image to 640 pixels wide and 640 pixels high.

    This will give me an image that’s 640 pixels on the longest edge, which is the size I use for my web gallery

  • Run PhotoKit Sharpener output sharpener

    I use the PhotoKit Sharpener web output sharpener to sharpen the image once it’s been resized. This restores some relative edge contrast and does make a real difference in the final images.

  • Convert to sRGB profile

    My normal workflow is in Adobe RGB so I convert the image to the standard web sRGB IEC61966-2.1 profile just to be safe.

  • Save image as JPEG

    I like to keep some EXIF and IPTC metadata in the image so I use the “Save As” option rather than the “Save For Web” option to export my images as JPEG.

I normally save the action as a Photoshop Droplet and add it as a helper application to iView MediaPro. This lets me select a load of finished TIFF images and launch the JPEG convertor droplet with them in order to get high quality JPEGs for web use.

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