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Tell me about your workflow

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Puckman1, Nov 17, 2012.

  1. macrumors member

    I'm still trying to get a handle on how I want to do things in terms of workflow. I'm new to all this, so thought I'd learn a thing or two from hearing how others approach theirs.

    I realize this is a fully subjective issue, and that no 2 workflows are likely to be the same. But I'm hoping to learn a thing or two by reading what you all have to say.

    I find that I don't have all that much patience so far, when it comes to post-processing. I usually have multiple shots of the same subject or scene (trying different exposures and combinations) and tend to want to weed through them quickly once I get in front of the computer, to maybe focus on the one or two that I deem the best. But I'm not entirely sure how to proceed from there on. I tend to play with the different WB settings first (daylight, cloudy, etc) and then...well, I see a lot of talk about adjusting tone curves and contrast and sharpness and all that...But short of very minor tweaks that seem obvious right off the bat (usually adding a bit more saturation to dull looking color), I get a bit discouraged stabbing randomly at most of those settings and end up leaving most untouched.

    Curious to hear how you all proceed once you've got a print selected for 'keeps'. Is there a method to the madness?
  2. macrumors 68020


    I'm sure if you look around, you'll find a lot of different workflow threads. I've taken inspiration from a lot of them, and this is my current personal workflow.

    I use Aperture for most of my RAW work, and for crucial, important photos I redo the RAW processing with either Photoshop or DPP.
    This workflow works regardless of what RAW processor you use; this portion is just organization.

    1. Import all RAW files into Aperture as a single project, delete all files on card and eject.
    2. Separate the RAW files into separate projects, and give each project a title to help with identification.
    3. Back up to a vault so all your files stay safe.
    4. Go through each project and delete any shaky, misfocused or other blatant irrecoverable mistakes.
    5. Go through each project and give each in-focus photo 1 star. Repeat the process, except you increase the criteria (better composition, sharper image, etc.) each time you rate the photos, until you end up with the cream-of-the-crop 5 star photos.
    6. Go through the 4 star photos and see if there are any photos that can be worked on to become 5 star photos. 3 star and below should have too many flaws to do this.
    7. You should end up with the best images from the shoot.

    Now for the post work.

    1. Adjust exposure and white balance.
    2. Straighten the photo.
    Heck, this is what most photos require, but if there are any other adjustments needed,
    3. Play with the contrast, saturation and vibrancy using either the given tools or Curves.
    4. Demolish chromatic aberration and lens distortion. Notice that one of Aperture's shortcomings is a lack of a distortion correction tool built-in.
    5. Basic touch-up work if needed. If an image needs to be worked on in Photoshop, chances are, it's not a good photo to start with.
    6. Export JPEGs for certain photos with watermarks for sharing on the Internet.
    7. BACK UP! :)

    I do realize this is a long process but this gives great results.
  3. macrumors member

    My Workflow - Not For everyone

    First off, I have a Nikon D90 set to capture JPEG + RAM, and I have Photoshop Elements 6. Also, I'm an amateur photographer who does it just for enjoyment and not for work. All pics are downloaded into Adobe Bridge (came with PSE). The acceptable RAWs are moved to a file folder labeled with the day's date and stored in a Documents folder on a HD separate from the HD storing iPhoto. All the acceptable JPEGs are sent from Bridge to PSE for tweaking before being sent to iPhoto. The tweaking usually involves light and color enhancements. In iPhoto the JPEGs are filed in Albums according to subject.

    This workflow was not learned - it simply evolved over the past 12 years of my doing digital photography.
  4. macrumors 68020


    If you're using PSE and Bridge you should look into Lightroom for a much more integrated solution. Adobe's RAW engine is miles better than Apple's, which is why I use theirs instead of Aperture's for critical work, and transferring files between Adobe programs is a breeze with Bridge.
    Also, most digital darkroom software have an export-to-JPEG or JPEG preview feature which automatically generates JPEGs upon import, negating the need for a RAW+JPEG shooting mode.

    Also, just wondering, do you use the Dvorak layout?
  5. macrumors member

    A question comes to mind already, from reading the above 2 replies.

    (PS: Thanks for sharing them)

    What is the "basic" criteria for color/sharpness/contrast adjustments? Again, speaking as a complete beginner here, I find it a bit overwhelming.

    One benefit I have found in shooting and importing raw+jpeg is that the jpeg already has had some adjustments made to it (in-camera) and usually looks a bit more lively and dynamic than the raw file (I have heard that this is normal, as the raw is completely unprocessed and tends to look more flat before it's gone through post).

    To me, not knowing where to start, the jpeg gives me a general idea of what I should be aiming for in terms of color saturation, sharpness, etc.

    Does that make any sense?
  6. macrumors 68020


    Nope. The JPEG exaggerates the contrast and saturation to give the photo a "lively," unrealistic feel. If anything, the in-camera JPEGs are overprocessed. It's not good to use JPEGs as a reference because they are inherently incorrect.

    First, let's start with the white balance. Try to find a white or gray area in a photo, such as a white wall. The white balance tool should give the Kelvin temperature of the light in a RAW file. If it's daylight, it should be around 7000K, and indoors should range from 2000 to 4500K. Play around the Kelvin slider a little bit to make the white or gray as neutral as possible; you can check this by putting your cursor over the area and seeing the RGB measurements of the color (stuff like 255,255,255). The three values should be equal; when this is achieved, the photo should have a more correct white balance. Of course you can intentionally warm or cool the photo to give it a certain atmosphere. Most cameras set on auto white balance tend to give close-to-accurate white balances, so most adjustments here will be within 500K of the default value.

    As for contrast, when you put a photo through a post-processing RAW engine, the engine usually automatically adds a hue and contrast boost already to it. If you find it lacking, add a little bit but not too much of saturation, contrast and vibrance; give yourself ±10%.

    Sharpness, I keep mine maxed out to keep the photo as sharp as possible, especially since my main lens (24-70 f/2.8L) isn't a very sharp lens. I don't bother with this setting much.

    Another reason you should use RAW is that it has 12 to 14 bits of color data. It has therefore 6 bits more of dynamic range that the computer can take advantage of, and usually it is in the highs. Which means that if you overexpose, you can recover the overexposed bits by pulling down the extra 6 bits of data into the 8 bit space.
    This setting is called the "Recovery" slider in Aperture, not sure about others. It can also be achieved by pulling the high limit in the expanded curve graph (the one where the axes go above 1) to 1. Keep it zero if the exposure was correct to begin with; increase recovery accordingly to get more dynamic range.

    In general, aim for the most natural settings you can find. Overly saturated photos may look more colorful, but after a while it's too vibrant to be considered realistic. You'd want a photo to be as close to reality as it can be. What I try to do is picture that I'm in the scene, and change the setting so that when I'm there, it could pass for reality.
  7. macrumors member

    Good read. Thanks for that!

    I use LR4, but most of those things you mention are roughly equivalent in both LR4 and Aperture.

    Interesting what you said about the "realism" vs. the "more colorful". What I find hard to wrap my mind around there is that the "realistic" photos (at least the ones I get out of my gear, unprocessed) tend to look very dull and flat and "grey", in a sense. I'm not talking about adding a tone of saturation, but I find most pics need a little bit of nudging in the saturation dept. to look remotely appealing (excluding B&W of course).

    One thing I did not quite understand in your response. You mention that most raw engines automatically add a bit of contrast and hue. I was under the impression that viewing a raw file in LR or Aperture would show me the data in its raw form (as shot) without adding anything to it. Is that not the case?
  8. MCAsan, Nov 18, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2012

    macrumors 68040


    I have used LR as my main cataloging and editing environment for years, first on PC and now on OS. I have PS6 but folks can also use PSE 11, which is a bargain, to do their pixel editing as needed. You can also use plugins in Nik, OnOne, Topaz, and others as desired to give extra flexibility, speed, and features.

    An beginner using OS might want to try Aperture as it is about half the cost of LR. Aperture also shares the same library with iPhoto. Any plugins purchased for Aperture likely can also be used with LR.

    Personally I never shoot lossful 8 bit compressed jpg files. The only reason I would do so is if I am in a situation like a sports or news photographer who needs to deliver a photo to a news service NOW. Instead I shoot raw files to capture and preserve as much data as possible. Once I have the data via a 12 or 14 bit raw file, I can do anything I like to a copy of the file during post processing.
  9. macrumors demi-god

    RAW engines at the very least have to interpret RBG data from a camera, so very often, no two will be the same. For instance, if I look at the same image in Aperture and in Capture One, I will find subtle variations in the rendering. How they look will depend on the demosaicing algorithms used (there are numerous) which is why I will keep different ones around, Aperture, C1, DXO, etc.

    My own workflow is Photo Mechanic->RAW Engine->Aperture (obviously, latter two could be the same). I use a variety of plugins with Aperture such as Nik/onOne. Photo Mechanic is great for very quickly rating/culling, adding lots of metadata, renaming, backing up to multiple locations, etc.
  10. Cheese&Apple, Nov 18, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 18, 2012

    macrumors demi-god


    Keep in mind that an image file (RAW or JPEG) is data that has to be processed in order to be viewed as an image. The RAW format is minimally processed data. That data still has to be processed (rendered by converters such as those provided by Adobe and Apple) to be seen as an image.

    The idea with RAW is that the files provide you with a significantly larger amount of data for fine tuning by you. A RAW file, straight out of your camera into your viewer, may look like crap compared to a paired JPEG. It's what you do, and can do, with the RAW file and all that data that makes the difference.

    Food for thought...At this point, if you're like me, you may not want to spend countless hours sitting at a computer tweaking and fine tuning images. You may prefer to be out taking shots and honing your skills with camera instead of the computer. If that's the case, JPEG images instead of RAW can work very well for you (I can practically hear the collective gasp!).

    P.S. Whatever workflow you develop for yourself, be patient and give yourself time. I'm new at this myself, but many of the photographers that post here have worked very hard at developing their skills over a long period of time.
  11. macrumors member

    JPEG vs RAW

    No gasp from me! I totally agree! As I stated in my prior post, I send my RAW files to a folder on a separate HD where they are seldom seen again. The JPEGs satisfy my quality needs (after PSE tweaking) including having some printed as large as 13 x 19" from a 2 MB size to which I usually limit my saved JPEGs to save HD space. This preference for JPEGs over RAW is from the old days (I'm in my 70's) and my past experience with print film. I consider RAWs as the equivalent of negatives and JPEGs as the processed prints. My old negatives were seldom seen as they now are stored in boxes out of sight.

    To Prodo123 who asked if I use "Dvorak layout". I don't, and I don't know what it is!
  12. macrumors demi-god


    People may think of us old guys as dinosaurs but I fondly remember the days when post processing was limited to "cropping" with a metal straight edge and an X-Acto knife. :)
  13. macrumors member

    This is precisely my point. I am new to both photography and postprocessing. At this point, I do not feel I have the time or patience to put into learning how to properly tweak files in post (although I completely understand that having that full control is a good thing, and would like to get around to learning the tricks of that trade at some point). But for now, wanting to learn how to shoot and take good and exciting pictures has more of my attention, and as I said in my earlier post, I end up frustrated when I sit down at my computer with a raw file that looks somewhat "dull" or flat and not knowing exactly how to make it look as vibrant and compelling as the stuff I see you all posting over here :)
  14. macrumors demi-god

    If you are going to deal with RAW files at all, you'll need to spend some time learning the finer points of how to deal with them. If you don't really want to spend that time, then JPEG should keep you very happy. Really and truly. You'll just need to understand your camera's own in-built settings and what they can/can't do to get images that please you.

    That said, getting a RAW image that doesn't look dull isn't really hard, though. I look back at some of my images as they progress through time and I can see that at the beginning I was obsessed with saturation :) But now, I'll typically nudge the contrast/curves a bit, maybe some saturation (but more often than not, none), some sharpening, noise correction if needed. I may spend a couple of minutes on each image, at most. Images I really like I may go back and tweak a little more. I find messing about with RAW images fairly relaxing, but that's just me. ;)
  15. macrumors 603

    To answer your original question....
    Basically, Prodo123's first answer is very close to what I do, except I use Lightroom instead of Aperture. I will add a couple of comments however. I don't delete the images on my cards until I put them back into my camera. I have my images set to back up nightly to an external HDD. In case there is an issue with the back-up script, and the internal HDD crashes I will still have the images on the card. I simply put the cards I've exported from on shelf. When I need some cards to go shooting with I grab a couple extra ones from the shelf, which will be the oldest (I always have a couple of cards in the camera bag as well.)

    I also do a quick 1 star sort. I don't know if this is how Prodo does it, but I go through the images very quickly, and make a snap judgement. You can do hundreds of images in very short order. A few minutes, perhaps. The basic criteria is... Is this image crap or not? If it's not crap, gets 1 star (don't spend time deciding how how good it is ... this is just a yes/no star). Second star is done the same way... quickly, and without thinking too hard. Do I want to see this image again? Yes/No. Sometimes, I might pause and give an image 3rd star during this process ... it simply means I'm marking the images I want to start working with.

    I will also add a bit about white balance. When you shooting, take the time to find something grey in the same light as what you are shooting. That is... if you are shooting something in the sun, find something grey that is also in the sun, not the shade). Capture an image. Cement, pavement, a piece of galvanized metal, etc. Or carry a grey card. This is especially helpful when conditions aren't sunny... sunny is easy.

    Back at the computer take a WB reading from your grey patch. You can now use that for all the images taken in that session.

    I guess my question to you is... why bother putting a memory card in the camera then? (Yes, rhetorical question! :) ) The whole point of taking the photos is to, somehow and to someone - even if it's just to yourself, show the photos. So post-processing is a necessary evil, to be learned.

    You mentioned you used Lr. Do you use the Synch option? Take one really good image from the session. Work on it 'til you're happy. Limit yourself at this point to tools that don't make any local adjustments (Cropping, spotting, the brush and graduated filter, etc). So, Exposure and WB, and tone curves, etc. Then "Synch" those adjustments across the session.

    Edit your images down to just a few from any one session, and only work on those. If you are trying to make 25 images look great, you will get frustrated. So, concentrate on just 3 or so.

    One of the strengths of Lr is that they have put the editing tools in the order you must often use them. Start at the top, and work your way down. Exposure adjustments first, then recover the shadows and highlights if you need to. etc etc.

    Do you know you can save preset Tone Curves? If you find that you always set the curve a certain way (more or less) save it. You can have one for cloudy days, sunny days, etc. Then you can apply the preset curve to an image, adjust as necessary, and then synch it across it the session.

    But ultimately... doing post work is a necessary evil. I agree that it is not what I would like to be doing.
  16. macrumors 68020


    Here are a couple example shots describing my process in post.
    The first image is the very RAW image that Aperture starts with. This is with the default hue and dynamic range boost that RAW engines use. As you can see, this is what people mean by gray, flat RAW files.
    The second is with both boosts maxed out as is default with all RAW processors. More lively colors.
    The third and final image has a slightly warmer color temperature (6254K vs 5967K), little bit of recovery of the highlights, slightly darker exposure, and a small saturation and vibrancy boost.
    The fourth photo shows a slightly overdone contrast, saturation and vibrancy edit. As you can see the moss is way too green, the pine needles too yellow and bright, and the rocks too blue. The squirrel looks okay, however. Notice how the bright, vibrant, off-center colors tend to bring your eye from the subject of the photo; this is a good sign that it's overdone in that area of the photo.
    The fifth and final photo shows the same photo as the fourth, only with the "overdone" edits applying only to the squirrel to bring out its brown color. A cool thing about Aperture is that its adjustments work the very same way as Photoshop's adjustment layers and layer masks; you can paint certain effects in and out, and that's what I used to make the colors on the squirrel pop while keeping the rest of the photo natural.

    The natural look is my personal preference, and whether an adjustment is overdone or not is certainly relative to that standard. If you like your photos colorful and vibrant, you're more than welcome to push the saturation bar up :)

    Attached Files:

  17. macrumors member

    Excellent comments, both Prodo and Snberk, thank you.

    I guess to answer the "why put a card in your camera at all" question (even though rethorical): I didn't say I didn't want to post process my photos. But ultimately, at this stage, being new to it all, I want to focus on taking pictures. I'd rather be outside for 4 hours shooting, and spend 30 minutes on the computer culling and cleaning up a bit, than spending 30 minutes shooting and 4 hours painstakingly editing. If that makes sense.
    As I get past the learning curve, I am not averse to doing more advanced editing and getting more out of my software. But for now, I want my focus to be the actual art of taking the pictures. That is plenty to learn as it is.

    Having said that, I appreciate both of your detailed comments. I'm starting to get a feel for what to look for and for certain patterns that I'm seeing everyone repeat, even though their workflows may vary, namely: culling using the rating system first, in order to be able to focus on a handful of images for post work. As someone pointed out: Trying to edit 30 photos can quickly get very frustrating. 5 photos, on the other hand, I can focus on, I can give more attention to, etc.

    Keep em coming!
  18. macrumors 603

    Actually, it makes perfectly good sense... and I think you will find most photographers agree with you. It's why we call it "Photography" and not "Processography"... :)

    The trick is to learn to be efficient in your processing. Both Lightroom and Aperture include tools to help you to process masses of photos quickly.

    I also agree... concentrate on just few images at a time. As you learn how to make these images really shine, you will also probably find that your picture taking process also changes. Ideally, for some photos, before you actually push the button you will already have started thinking about the post processing. This is called 'pre-visualization'.... Ansel Adams coined the phrase. It likely won't happen for every photo... but for some, at the moment you push the button you will have already decided that this image is going to be great because you can already see the finished image in you mind. It's a great feeling.

    Adobe has a some very good (and often overlooked) learning resources on their website. Very knowledgeable posters. Ignore what you can't don't currently know, and build on the techniques that you sorta know. Pretty soon you will be able to go back and look at the stuff you initially ignored, and it will actually make sense.

    I'm lucky, in a weird way. I live north-ish.... so right now my days are short, and the nights are long. Lots of time to spend in front of the computer!
  19. macrumors 68040


    In the good old days there were two basic parts to photography: capture and process. Anyone with a camera was doing the capture part. But when it came to processing film, most photographers set their film off to a lab where all manner of magic was applied. The other choice was the photographer set up their own dark room and learned to do the mojo magic themselves. The point being that someone somewhere was doing processing. Finished prints or slides are not produced by a SLR or DSLR.

    So the question is....do you want to shoot a scene and let the camera be your lab (producing a lossful jpg) or do you want to learn how to process you images yourself using any number of software tools? Either way the magic has to happen somewhere.
  20. macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    I thought I would share my "old" workflow for those in the forum who have never dirtied their fingers with stop bath.

    Shooting: Use a hand-held light meter to read the general light and make a good guess as to how much to over or under expose to get the details where I wanted them in the final print. Took the shot and bracket one over and one under. The "rich kids" had spot meters and took several readings of the subject and picked their exposure using Jedi Magic aka the Zone System.

    Film Processing: I set up my darkroom water bath, developer, stop bath and fixer to the right temperature. Around 72 degrees. Kill the lights and pop the film canister in total darkness, feeding the film into the developer reel by feel and dropping it into the developer canister and smack it on the table to free any air bubbles that may be on the emulsion. Turn on the safe light and start the clock, methodically turning and tilting the canister for around three minutes (more or less to over or under develop the film, depending on how you shot it in the first place). Drain the canister and add stop bath. If I used a second canister for the stop bath I killed the lights and moved the reel from the developer to the stop bath. Repeated the swish and roll thing. Repeated this with a fixing solution that neutralized the remaining salts and chemicals. Turned on the lights and opened the canister, placing it under the water wash for a good amount of time. Took the finished roll to the drying rack and dipped it in photo flow, (Never, ever put a film reel in photo flow. It will develop from the outside in for the rest of time.) Come back tomorrow...

    Remove the film from the dryer and cut it into strips, placing each into a protective sleeve.

    Proofing: Set up print developing chemicals and enlarger. The chemicals are similar to film processing with trays for developer, stop bath, fixer and a running water wash at around 70 degrees. Put the safe light on and put the film strips emulsion side down on a sheet of print paper in a glass frame and expose it to light from the enlarger. Process in the same order as with film. This is a rather flexible process as opposed to all the timing done with the film. You watch the image develop and stick it in the stop bath to freeze the process. Run this contact sheet through a large heated drum dryer, face up for gloss and face down for matt finish. Look at the contact sheet with a loupe to "edit" the ones you want. These are "starred" by scribbling on them with a pen (not the negatives, of coarse!).

    Printing: Pick what you want to make a print from and return to the darkroom. Place the negative in the carrier and clamp it into the enlarger. Flick it on and adjust it until the image is cropped as desired on the paper deck. Set the timer for 5 seconds and place a small strip of photo paper in an important part of the image. Cover 3/4 of it with another sheet of photo paper and start the timer. Move the mask and repeat this three more times. This gives you a sliver of the image exposed for 5, 10, 15 and 20 seconds. Develop this and take it out into the light to pick the best exposure time. Set that time into the timer and expose a full sheet of paper. Develop this by eye, watching the image as it appears. Changes in temperature can speed or extend development, so I rubbed my hand over areas that needed more detail. If there are parts of the photo that need longer or shorter exposure, another print is made blocking (dodging) light with moving objects or lengthening it by moving a piece of cardboard with a hole over the image and extending the exposure (burning). The most common burn and dodge tool is the human hand. Long time film photographers can do remarkable things with their hands.

    Wash the print well and run it through the aforementioned dryer.

    Easy, right? And this is for black and white. Color is a whole different ball game that I never dabbled in.

    Digital allows you to chop this process into tiny pieces with a ton of control over each one. Any you never get the smell of stop bath on your fingers.

  21. macrumors 68040


    Do we think that Ansel Adams would have used Photoshop? :eek:

    Give the hours he spent on lab work on a single image, he would today be a LR/PS maven. He would up to his ears in plugins. ;)
  22. macrumors 68040

    Designer Dale

    I don't think Ansel Adams would have used digital at all. He was so obsessed with the final presentation that he made his own paper from 100% cotton rag and made emulsion using platinum instead of silver salts because the silver prints lacked the tonal range he wanted. This isn't someone who would like the output of an inkjet printer...;)

  23. macrumors 603

    Been there, done that, can still a few amazing things with my hands. I also still a timer in my head. I can set the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes, wander around the house doing things - and return to the nuker just as it dings.

    However, you forgot an important part. The trip to the pub/bar/road-house with another photographer where you debated the finer points of a 2 bath fixer vs 1 bath, or dilution vs extended time.

    Yes, I think he would... however.... (see below)...
    I think he would have used digital, but to learn from it and to help make it better. He may not have used inkjets.... at least not the ones we have today. But he did work film companies to help them make better products. He was an early adopter of Polaroid products, and worked extensively with Dr. Land to improve their emulsions. Ansel didn't do the things the hard way just because, he wanted to do things the best way. If the best way was also easy, he would do it.

    I could easily see Ansel working on a digital file to get it perfect, and then sending it out to have a negative burned. Which he would then print from. Though, I would also guess that he would still do those amazing finger things when he decided it was easier to dodge and burn rather than re-burn the negative.

    But I think he would still print on photo paper, for the quality of the papers.
  24. macrumors 6502

    I am largely a hobbyist.

    I shoot RAW only. Aperture's autofix is better than the JPEG, so if nothing else I can use that and have a better picture than shooting JPEG in almost the same amount of time.

    Import into Aperture into one project, then split based on day & event/client/project. Some projects are low volume and cover multiple days, but typically it's one project per day and if I was doing different things, multiple projects for a day.

    Starting the oldest, I then go through every photo and reject the bad ones (9 stars!), which hides them. I then go through doing the 1/2/3 star trick. At three stars I start editing, and then rate those with 3/4/5 based on how much I like them.

    I try to throw out redundant photos. Stacks work really well for this. Group the mostly identical shots, pick the best one and reject the rest.

    When I'm happy, I go to the built-in Rejects smart album, and delete everything. I'll probably also delete all the 1/2/3 photos as well that don't have sentimental value.

    I try to remember that if I think "maybe I could fix this later" I should just throw it out. Life's too short. I really do know which ones are good when I'm going through them.
  25. bocomo, Nov 23, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 23, 2012

    macrumors 6502

    Not true, he was excited about the possibilities

    Can't find the source for the quote, but trust me (ii remembr the smell of stop bath well and the sting if i had any cuts on my fingers)

    I also think there are some terrific inkjet papers these days (saw a big jump in quality at Fotofest in 2010)

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