Thursday, December 31, 2009

Digital Workflow

**Before I start I'm going to assume you already are familiar with both Lightroom and Photoshop. I will not go in depth explaining the two programs nor their tools. Any questions please feel free to either leave a comment or email me at**

I'm repeatedly asked what's my digital workflow when it comes to processing my images. Well... for me it all depends on the job. Depending on the type of client hiring you you may not need to do much processing if it's a straight forward shoot OR quite a bit in both the shoot and the processing for composition or adding an extra level of creativity. I'm not shy in admitting I do use Photoshop do give my work a little 'umph' in terms of creativity. Adding textures, additional backgrounds or color tone changes. Mind you I do try to get as much as I can during the shoot. I don't use Photoshop to 'fix' or 'correct' any bad photographs I'd ever take. I only use it as a digital tool as an additive. I don't even like to process the skin too much. I like a bit of texture left on the skin.... more realistic.

Two programs that I use the most alongside each other are Adobe's Lightroom and Photoshop. My initial processing starts in Lighroom. I import, sort, tag, categorize and basic processing all in Lightroom. Basic contrast, sharpening, white balance correction...etc. I do as much as I feel I need to in Lightroom first and then if I find that I need to do further work I'll export the picture internally through Lightroom into Photoshop. The two programs do read each other so the internal export function (ctrl+E or cmd+E) will allow the photograph to open right into Photoshop. If it's a RAW file that you are going to be working on continuously then it will maintain that property in Photoshop if you export it as a Smart Object from Lightroom. This function exists in Photoshop CS3 and CS4. By exporting it as a smart object the background layer (the very first one in Photoshop) maintains a flexibility of sorts. If you find that the exposure is too low or that the contrast is too high you can just double click on that background layer and it will open the image in Adobe's Raw Converter program. It's a very smart thing that Adobe has now allowed in it's more recent versions of Photoshop. Mind you, you don't have to export it as a Smart Object. It's just a good option to keep in mind if you find you like to tweak and would like to retain that flexibility. I general just export the image from Lightroom into Photoshop directly minus the smart object function. Since I don't do any heavy processing on my images not much tweaking is required.

The most time spent in processing for me is the dodging and burning. That's the one thing I like having control on and, of course, the one thing that has always existed in photography. Both in traditional and digital darkroom. There are various methods and tutorials out on the web that you can read through and try out. What I don't recommend is using the actual dodge and burn tool in Photoshop straight onto the image. If you are going to do that that make a duplicate of the image and place that duplicate in Luminosity mode, which can be found under the Blending options tool. Try to always maintain a non-destructive approach when working on anything in Photoshop. This way if you'd like to redo or omit any changes you can easily take care of that by working with that particular layer in the file. Another way of being able to dodge and burn in Photoshop is by setting a blank layer into Softlight mode in the Blending options tool and 'painting' in with a brush using the black and white paint in the color palette. Just play around with the opacity for different levels of strength and effect.

Now in regards to different types of clients... if it's a wedding client I'll do all the work in Lightroom because the batch process is much faster and I can apply presets to all of the chosen images very quickly. If it's creative/commercial/portraiture work I'll go further into Photoshop for skin retouching and further tweaking using dodging and burning. You can do skin retouching in Lightroom by using the mask tool and reducing the Clarity, but I still prefer working in Photoshop for that. It's my comfort zone and I'm quite happy with that.

Next program that I will be playing around with come January is Phase One's Capture One program. It is something I should and want to become familiar with. I've been doing some extensive reading on it and will now take on the practical route and experiment with it. I make it a habit of reading up on programs and such first before I decide to really muck around with it. It's not mandatory, but for me I find I'm able to feel a familiarity of sorts before diving into an unknown territory. Especially since it is going to be taking up my personal time (which means very little sleep!) so if it is something that will guarantee slower processing in full on turtle mode or is known to be buggy then I won't bother with it. Once I've had an opportunity to really become acquainted with the software I will update and provide examples. Until then Lightroom and Photoshop it is...

OH and btw... Happy New Year everyone!!!


  1. Happy new year to you.
    Thanks again for the explanation on the workflow. I love the way that you don't fix or correct the bad pictures in PS. Also, you're right that we can use PS to enhance our creativity. I used PS a lot (in an abusive manner) and then did not use at all for sometime again. These days, I am using it moderately and agree with your statement.
    To me, LR and PS are good enough but I do wonder what other advantages "Capture One" can bring to us. I notice that you started to used it while you were on "help-portrait" project and I think something good about it must attract your attention. I am looking forward to your update on the software.

  2. Happy New Year Lightweaver! Once I get a chance to really sit down and work through Capture One I'll provide an update. Hope you're doing well :)