Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Get the Goods: Photoshop Basics -- Digital Photo Workflow

Monday night, I took a Photoshop 101 course with the newly established Illuminate Photography Workshops. Even though I completed an online Photoshop CS2 course last year, I thought I could fill in some of the gaps with hands-on, traditional instruction. Plus I enjoy being able to interact with and learn from fellow students.

Instructor Nathaniel Coalson is an Adobe Certified Expert and was extremely knowledgeable. He helped me pinpoint some shortcomings in my own digital photo workflow -- mainly how I should integrate backups and save my master files as TIF (rather than PSD) to avoid compression and maintain original resolution.

I think what's key to note is that you have to develop a workflow that works for you. Feel feel to tweak this as long as whatever you come up with makes things easier and faster for you to produce the best images possible.

Here are Coalson's tips:

1. Capture: Capture your photos in either RAW or JPG mode. RAW provides the highest quality but requires processing in the computer. JPG is lower quality but can be viewed and shared (such as in email attachments) right from the camera.

2. Transfer Images to Computer: Use a card reader (do not upload directly from camera) and copy the files to your computer. Immediately make a backup onto another hard drive or removable media such as CD/DVD. Depending on the software available, you can automatically rename the copied files, convert to other file formats and add metadta during the copy. If using catalog software, import the images into your database during this step.

I MUST get into the habit of backing up my images as soon as possible. I tend to wait until I have finished editing, then I save the edited versions. But I like Coalson's idea of fitting this early into the workflow so it becomes as second nature to me as sharpening or editing for color balance.

3. Review your edit: Use your file browsing software to review the photos from the shoot(s) and begin rating them for further processing. Mark your selects with flags, stars, labels, etc. to filter them from the rejected files. Delete the rejected files to save disk space. For the remaining images, add more detailed metadata, especially copyright notices and keywords. Sort the images as desired and create collections.

4. Process selects: Using your photo editing software, process your selected images to perfection. Consider tone and contrast (the range of light to dark) color (accuracy and saturation), sharpness and the need for cropping and retouching. Apply creative effects such as black-and-white conversion, colorizing, multiple image composites, localized dodging and burning in this step.

5. Save master and derivative files: A derivative file is any file that would be saved off your master. Using Adobe software, open your file and "Save As" a TIF. TIF files work with the nondestructive editing principle that says to leave a way for yourself to go back in later and make changes. You can also save flattened and resize files for other purposes, including JPG for the web, etc. If you intend to make prints of your photos, prepare the necessary files during this step. Make regular backups of your working files.

I asked Coalson about some problems I had been having saving PSD files in CS3. I could save an image as a PSD, but I had trouble reopening the file. Sometimes it would appear and other times it wouldn't. Coalson said the problem is well-known and yet another reason why TIF files might be a better choice.

6. Print and Present: Using your finished image files, you can make your own prints or send them to a lab for printing, uploading them to a web site, email them to friends, make multimedia presentations, etc. The requirements and specifications for these scenarios will depend on the situation.


Calvin said...


I just started reading your post and happen to come across this one. I just started doing photography but I haven't set up a good work flow for it. But for my personal photos, I use Amazon online backup services. It's pretty inexpensive and is a good offline backup system. Thanks for your tips. If you want, feel free to check out http://www.flickr.com/photos/chill_work.


Sheba Wheeler said...

Hi Calvin, thanks for posting on my blog. I took a look at your Flickr photostream and I really love your graveyard shots. You have inspired me to visit cemetaries here in town, even though I must admit that graveyards frighten me!

Thanks for the tip about Amazon's online backup services. I didn't know Amazon offered this, so I will check it out. I have a private Flickr account that I use to store my photos online; I also store a second backup on Picasa's free web galleries. Yep, I'm paranoid, but I would hate to lose all of those images!

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