The subject of photographic workflows is something that gets debated endlessly on blogs and in books. A photographic workflow is the list of steps you go through as a photographer to take your pictures from the camera to their final destination. This final destination may be printed copies or uploads to Flickr etc. In this post I want to cover the process that I personally go through. This workflow is suited to my needs and it is more than likely going to change over time, but I thought I would document it here so it is available for anyone to comment on.
My process is all based around Adobe’s Lightroom 5. This makes things easier as one of Lightroom’s purposes is to help in a photographer’s workflow. My workflow can effectively be broken down into 3 sections as shown in the diagram above, Import, Edit and Export. The diagram below breaks each of these stages down into individual steps. Some of the steps are optional and are highlighted as “if required”.
The first step, once I have been out taking photos, is to get the images off the camera and into Lightroom. To do this I open Lightroom and create a new Catalog. Then from the import screen I get Lightroom to import the images directly off the memory card and into the Catalog. When I do this I click the “Copy as DNG” option. This converts the image from the camera native RAW image to the Adobe Digital Negative format. The DNG format is designed to be an open archival format for photographs. This is important as in say 5 or 10 years’ time, the RAW file format from my camera may not be relevant or supported any-more. This could run the risk of me not being able to open up my files. The DNG format is supposed to guard against this problem with a future proof file format.
Once the images are in Lightroom, I then start to rate them. I do this because after an afternoon of taking photos I may have around 250 images. A lot of these will be duds where I was trying out different compositions and camera settings. I don’t really want to keep all of these, so what I do is start rating the images. If I definitely want to keep it, I rate it 5. If I like it but am not sure I will rate it 4. Anything that I don’t want to keep I leave as un-rated.
Once I have finished rating the pictures and I am happy with my choices I delete anything that didn’t get a 4 or 5. This saves lots of disk space as a large shoot of RAW files can really start to add up. Once I have removed the unwanted files I am ready to edit each image in the Edit stage.
Before I go through each step, I would just like to point out that just because each step is in this workflow, it doesn’t mean I will make a change to the photo. As I run through the steps I may decide that I don’t want to make a change, this is a subjective artistic process after all. Even if I don’t make a change I will still go through the steps to make a decision.
First of all I will do any lens corrections and image cropping. This could involve rotating the image slightly, changing the upright orientation and cropping parts out of the image. Once I am happy with the final composition and geometric corrections I will search the image at a 1:1 zoom and look for any chromatic aberrations and fringing. If I find any, I will use Lightroom’s excellent chromatic aberration and fringe fixing tools. Once I am happy with this I will (whilst still zoomed in) look for any dust and spots that need removing. This is mainly due to dust on the sensor and lens. If you keep your sensor and lens very clean then this shouldn’t take too long to do. One feature I really like in Lightroom 5 is when you have the healing brush selected, there is a check-box to visualize spots. This creates a very bizarre X-ray style view of your image which you can control with an intensity slider. This makes it very easy to detect spots/dust against plain background like the sky.
Once I am happy that my image is dust and spot free, I will play around with Exposure and contract of the image. Using the photos histogram as a guide I will get the exposure looking right and set a good contrast level. On the histogram I have the Black and White clipping indicators turned on so I can see straight away if any of my highlights and shadows are blown out. If they are I use the highlight and shadow sliders along with the black and white sliders to bring the detail back in. Working with a RAW file as opposed to JPEGs gives you much more latitude for making tonal adjustments, even if your exposure is quite a way off, you can generally salvage the shot if working with RAW files.
Once I am happy with the exposure and contract I move onto making colour corrections. This will involve playing around with the saturation, vibrancy, hue, colour temperature etc. Again these are subjective changes. Most of the time I tend to just push up the vibrancy slider a little and this usually suffices. If I am working on a landscape shot, then I tend to favour a nice saturated (but not too extreme) image. Once I have finished this stage I then decide if I want the image in black and white. I really like monochrome as a format to work in, but it doesn’t necessarily suite all images. If I want a monochrome version, I will duplicate the image in Lightroom and then start with one of the Black and White pre-sets. On reading up on black and white, then conventional wisdom seems to be to process for colour first and then move to black and white, so this is exactly what I now do and I have been very happy with the results.
At this point I move on to retouching the image. This may be ironing out wrinkles on a face to removing unwanted items with the healing brush. The new healing tools in Lightroom 5 are very good indeed so operations where you may have had to go to Photoshop can now be carried out in Lightroom more effectively. Once I have finished retouching I will make any final colour and tone adjustments if required. Generally I don’t need to bother, but I have this step in the process to make and corrective actions after retouching and monochrome conversion.
By this point, the image is nearly in its final state. I will then check for image noise and adjust this with the luminescence and colour noise sliders. This noise is normally a result of shooting in poor light and having to crank up the ISO. You don’t want to work these sliders too much as it can add a strange posterizing effect.
The next step is scaling. The majority of the time I don’t do this, but I have the step there in case I do need it. I generally don’t need to do prints that go over A3 in size, so I haven’t had to scale up the images. The final step is sharpening. I adjust this with the sharpening and amount sliders. You need to be careful not to go over the top with this slider as it is not a general fix for out of focus shots. It is there to add that extra edge of crispness. You may want to experiment with the differences between the sharpening slider and the clarity slider.
At this point you should have an image that you are happy with. The final step is to do something with the image. For me this involves either uploading to Flickr, uploading to Facebook (if the picture is aimed at family and friends), or exporting to the file system for other purposes, like adding to this blog. For Flickr and Facebook you can configure Lightroom to do this for you. It is very straight forward, to set up your log no preferences for each service, and then drag the images onto the respective Flickr or Facebook sections. Then you right click and select ‘Publish Now’.
If you want to export your images to the file system, then you selected the images to export in the grid view and right click and select ‘Export’. You will be presented with lots of different export options. So, for example, if you are exporting to JPEG you can set the JPEG quality and overall image scaling if you want to shrink the images down.
The final step for me is to back up the images to an external hard disk. You can get Lightroom to do this for you but I haven’t explored that option yet. Currently I manually copy the files onto a 2nd RAID storage device.
I hope you found this article interesting, it would be good to hear how your own workflow is set out and get your opinions on how I am currently working. I am sure my workflow will change over time as I find different ways of working. If I change it drastically, then I will document the changes on here.