There is no single best workflow if it comes to image processing. If the final result looks good all is fine. Over the last years we created a collection of Photoshop scripts that help in our workflow to get us the results we like. Many of our customers have asked us where all these tools fit into our workflow. This article explains how we work on our images and of course use our own tools.
1. RAW conversion: Soft is beautiful
For RAW conversion we use a few different RAW converters. No single one of them does the best job all the time: Lightroom 3.x (with Camera Raw), RAW Developer, Capture One, DxO and Nikon Capture.
We perform only very basic steps inside the RAW converters and leave the rest for Photoshop because Photoshop allows us the ultimate control we want. All RAW images are part of our Lightroom catalog. We always open the RAW files from Lightroom into external RAW converters via drag&drop (unfortunately this seems only to work on Macs).
- White Balance is a classic job for any RC
- Create a soft tonality with no clipping in the highlights (here often helps if the RAW converter implements highlight recovery) and the shadows as open as we like. We keep the image soft because a harsh image can hardly be fixed in Photoshop but soft images can be improved most of the time. Think like this: If a tonal gradient in your image is gone (destroyed) you cannot get it back again.
- Very low sharpening to avoid any halos or even latent halos that could get amplified later in the process.
- CA (Chromatic Aberration) removal (here the Lightroom 3.x and Camera Raw Lens Corrections do a good job)
- Lens corrections if possible (e.g. Lightroom 3.x). We sometimes perform also minor perspective corrections in Lightroom 3.x.
- Some basic color corrections (e.g. too strong blue skies)
2. Fine Tuning in Photoshop
All the following operations are done inside of Photoshop (we use CS5).
a) Dust or disturbing elements removal
Here we use the Photoshop CS5 Content Aware Fill (our new favorite), Clone or Healing Brush tools.
b) Rotate, Crop and Perspective corrections
Now is a good time to correct the perspective if needed (mainly with architecture). If we need Perspective Corrections our DOP Perspective Crop Helper tool can be very useful.
c) Remove unwanted Elements with Content Aware Fill
Content Aware Fill is an amazing tool in Photoshop CS5 to clean you image from unwanted and disturbing elements.
d) Improve Highlights and Shadows
We often use the DOP Highlight Resolver V2 to improve the highlights (getting them less aggressive)
Before on the left and after on the right
We are not a fan of washed out highlights and this script does the trick.
Note: The Highlight Resolver cannot recover highlights. If the highlights are clipped you are out of luck. All highlight recovery needs to be done in the RAW converter (see above).
If important parts of the image are in the shade we treat the image with our DOP Shadow Optimizer.
Left before and right after the treatment
The Shadow Optimizer can bring these shadows to life.
e) Overall Tonality Optimization
We now nearly always use the DOP Tonality Master script.
Soft out of Lightroom
After tuning with DOP Tonality Master
f) Resolving Details and Sharpening
We offer different tools for this purpose and it very much depends on the image which one to chose:
Note: We personally use most often DOP Optimal Sharp and the DOP Detail Extractor if we want very strong details.
g) Final color Tuning
We then look at the image and correct colors (mainly saturation) globally of selectively. We use now mainly our DOP Photo Intensifier script for this step.
h) Final Touches
Using our DOP Local Contrast Optimizer V2 as a final step we optimize the images for presentation (print or web).
If we used the DOP Tonality Master this job was mainly done. But in case of creating B&W images we may use an extra pass of the DOP Local Contrast Optimizer V2.
i) Artistic Effects
Over the last year we used more and more our Texture Blending Technique.
k) Upsizing (peformed on a copy)
In case you want to print bigger than easily supported by you native image size you can use use our DOP Upsizing Plus.
3. Save as TIFF and import back into Lightroom
We started from a RAW file in Lightroom. Now we save the result as a TIFF file into our TIFF master library folder structure. From that location we import the TIFF files back into Lightroom. We have different folder structures for RAW and TIFF files. Due to our naming conventions we can easily find the RAW files the belong to any given TIFF image.
0905 = 2009 month 05 (May)
D700 = Camera used (Nikon D700). This implies that the RAW file is a NEF.
2299 = In camera sequence number
These data let us find the RAW file very fast in Lightroom.
Note: We know that all of this is part of the RAW file's metadata. So why code it into the name? First we use this method long before Lightroom was out and second we have a lot of info by just looking at the file name.
Short image title = only TIFF or PSD images of our master collection get short image titles
V003 = Version number of this master image
Let's assume we need the RAW file for "0905D700_2299_FortPointHallWay_V003.tif". We just search for the text "0905D700_2299 NEF" in Lightroom. Even searching for "2299 NEF" will have the original RAW file as one of the hits.
We either print from Lightroom directly or CS4.
5. Check out our Bundles to save some money
You can find all our tools (often with articles about them) here. Always try before you buy. We want happy customers.