My Workflow

This is excerpted from a larger document. It is copyrighted by Hugh Stockton. All rights reserved.

I have been asked a number of times how I process, or save, or manage my images. Here is the answer. Note that this is not "the" way to do these things; it is the way I do them.

Cameras

I had a Nikon D100 for a carry around camera. It was set up for using handheld with the 80-400 VR on it. It was set to:
  • sRGB
  • ISO 200 (best quality)
  • Matrix Metering (computer assisted exposure calculation)
  • -0.67 Exposure Compensation (to minimize blown highlights)
  • Programmed exposure (Point and shoot)
  • Auto-focus on
  • RAW output (to provide the most detail in the captured image)
My primary camera is a Nikon D1x. It is used for photo sessions. It is set up to use from a tripod. It is set to:
  • sRGB
  • ISO 125
  • Matrix Metering
  • -0.67 Exposure Compensation for daylight, or 0 EC for low light
  • Manual exposure (I set f/stop, exposure, and focus manually)
  • RAW file output
  • Anti-mirror shock mode (minimize vibration caused by the mirror going up)
  • Exposure Timer On (avoid touching the camera during exposure)*
*Change to off when using the Shutter Release Cable

Photoshop (PS)

If I had to choose between buying another lens, and buying PS, I would buy PS.

  1. Screen SETUP

    When PS starts, it displays the palettes it thinks you need. I think you need:
    • The Tools Palette in the upper left corner
    • The Navigator in the upper right corner
    • The Layers/Channels palette in the lower right corner
    • The History/Actions palette between the Navigator and the Layers palette.

    I very seldom use more than one layer so I can keep the Layers palette very short. I then extend the History/Actions palette to be as tall as possible so I can see the maximum number of Actions.

  2. Adobe RAW Converter

    The recently-released RAW conversion plug in from Adobe is easy to use, flexible, and does not require the generation of a TIFF to load into PS.

    First, a word on backing up your work: "DO IT." I know, that's two words, but they are short. If you do not back up your work, you will be sorry. I used CD ROMs, but the large NEF file sizes required lots of CDs. I now use DVD RAM. They are 4.7 GB per side, a total of 9.4 GB per cartridge.

    The first thing I do when I get home is copy the contents of the micro-drive(s) to DVD. I then breath a sigh of relief.

    Next I copy the contents of the micro-drive(s) to my computer. I have a directory (folder) set up for "Unprocessed" files. I aim the PS Browser at that directory. The RAW Converter Displays a thumbnail of each image in the directory. I click on the first image I want to process, and use the RC controls to make a first pass approximation of how I want the image to look, then click OK to open the file in PS.

  3. First Stage Sharpening

    It has recently come to my attention that processing the digital image can cause a loss of detail that cannot be reclaimed by sharpening. If, however, the image is sharpened first, and care is taken to minimize detail loss, with a minimal second pass at sharpening as a final step, a much sharper image will result. So, the first step is to sharpen the full-sized, high resolution version of the image.

    Without going into a lot of physics, just accept my word for the fact that the digitizing process compromises detail. This makes digital images appear soft. There are "many" sharpening processes. I recommend LMC54's PS Action, available at www.shutterfreaks.com. What I will discuss here is the manual use of PS Un-Sharp Mask (USM) using the "Lightness" Channel of LAB Color.

    First convert the image to LAB Color using "Image/Mode/LAB Color". Next, using the "Layers/Channels" palate (lower right corner), select "Lightness". The image will change to Gray Scale.

    Select "Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask". Set it to "Threshold = 0", "Radius = 1.0", and "Amount = 200". Click the "Preview" box off and on to see the effect these settings have. Be particularly sensitive to "halos" along high contrast edges. Normally, you will never have to adjust anything but "Amount".

    When you are through, change the image back to RGB Color. "Image/Mode/RGB Color"

    If you have been using a 16 bit image up until now, use "Image/Mode/8 Bit" to convert it to 8 Bit color.

  4. Clean

    A reality of digital cameras, particularly replaceable lens CCD cameras, is dust on the CCD. The more often you change lenses, the more dust. The problem can be minimized by developing a procedure to change lenses very quickly, and NEVER - NEVER - NEVER change lenses with the camera powered on.

    Dust on the sensor will appear as small dark spots on the image. They can be 'removed' with the "Clone" tool. It is the one that looks like a rubber stamp. First, use the slider on the Navigation palate (upper right corner) to zoom into the picture. As you zoom in, you will see a red rectangle (box) superimposed on the image in the Navigator window, and the main display will change to display what is shown in the box. I typically zoom in until the box is about ¼ of the image size. Click on the Clone tool. The cursor will change to a circle. The menus in the menu bar at the top of the screen will change to items specific to the Clone tool. Use the slider in the "Brush" dropdown to adjust the size of the circle. For a full sized image, I use about 70. Look at the first spot you want to remove. Find a place on the image that is the same as the place with the spot. Move the circle/cursor to the clean spot and press "Alt", and then left click. Move the circle/cursor over the spot and left click. The spot should go away. If the place you selected was not a good match, and you can see where you clicked, press "Ctrl-Z". The spot should come back. Select a better matched spot, and try again. You will become better with practice.

    When the area of the picture you can see is clean, click and drag the box in the Navigator window to show a different area of the picture, and repeat the cleaning process. Continue until the entire image is clean.

  5. Test Color and Levels

    The color performance of the Nikon cameras is very good. Sometimes, I want something a bit different. Unless the image is exactly what I want, I next use "Image/Adjustments/Auto Levels" to see what it does. Usually, it blows out the Whites, or adds excess Contrast, or something else unacceptable. I use "Ctrl-Z" to cancel it. With PS 7, there is an added menu item, "Auto Color". I next test it, "Image/Adjustments/Auto Color". Again, if I don't like the results, I cancel them and proceed. Once in a while, one or the other setting will be "real good". When that happens, I use that version of the image and proceed.

  6. Downsize

    This tutorial is intended for images to be used on the Internet. The files produced by most digital cameras are much too large for that use. They also have a much higher resolution than necessary for displaying on a computer screen. This step is to make the image a comfortable size for displaying. It will be done using the "Image/Image Size" menu.

    In this menu you can set "Pixel Dimensions", "Document Size", and "Resolution". First be sure the "Resample Image" and "Constrain Proportion" boxes are checked. Then, set "Resolution" to 100, and "Pixel Dimensions" to 800. This will change the document size to 8". It will also make the image appear very small on the screen. Use "View/Actual Pixels" to see the image as it "really" is.

  7. Saturation

    The next step it to set Saturation. Use the "Image/Adjustments/ Hue/Saturation" menu. Adjust the Saturation slider in very small increments to increase or decrease Saturation. Be very careful not to increase color at the cost of detail. You paid a lot of money for a camera and lens that would provide good detail. Don't compromise the detail to add color, unless you want to.

  8. Second Stage Sharpen

    First convert the image to LAB Color using "Image/Mode/LAB Color".

    Next, using the "Layers/Channels" palate (lower right corner), select "Lightness". The image will change to Gray Scale.

    Select "Filter/Sharpen/Unsharp Mask". Set it to "Threshold = 0", "Radius = 0.3", and "Amount = 50". Click the "Preview" box off and on to see the effect these settings have. Be particularly sensitive to "halos" along high contrast edges. Normally, you will never have to adjust anything but "Amount".

    When you are through, change the image back to RGB Color. "Image/Mode/RGB Color".

    If you have been using a 16 bit image up until now, Use "Image/Mode/8 Bit" to convert it to 8 Bit color.

  9. Contrast Mask

    Many times, there will be shadow areas in an image that contain detail, but the area is too dark for them to be visible. There are several techniques available to manage the situation. Some require multiple images.

  10. Frame

    Some don't care for adding a frame to an image. I think it can be very effective. I use the PS Frame actions available at the www.shutterfreaks.com store. As a general rule, a very dark frame with a slightly lighter matte is a good starting place.

  11. Save For Web

    Even with the downsizing, and conversion to 8 bit color, the current file will be much larger than necessary for web display. The PS "Save For Web" menu can be used to moderate it as necessary. "File/Save For Web" will open the menu.

    Select "Two Up". This will let you see before and after versions of your file.

    Using the very tiny arrow at the upper right of the display area, select "Uncompensated Color", and "56 Kbps Modem Speed". Use the "Settings" menu to select "JPEG". Use the slider "Quality" selection to set a percentage. Watch the "after" version to insure that you don't compromise image quality. Watch the "Image Download Time" to insure that your image will not take longer than 30 seconds to download at 56 Kbps.

Cleaning Up

I now delete the NEF versions from my hard drive. I still have the NEFs on DVD. If I want to print a file, I reprocess the NEF and save it as PSD. The PSD is much smaller than the TIFF. That leaves me with the NEFs on DVD, the PSDs in my "Printed Files" Folder, and the JPG versions in my "Save For Web" Folder. The JPG versions are uploaded to my web site, www.lightechos.com or my Shutter Freaks gallery.

One down and several hundred to go.

Please address any questions or comments to me via email.