nikonians

Even though we ARE Nikon lovers,we are NOT affiliated with Nikon Corp. in any way.

Select your language:

Software Reviews How-to's

Adobe Digital Workflow Series

George M (NikonGeorge) on June 1, 2006


Keywords: software

Using Adobe Lightroom Beta and Adobe Photoshop CS

A series of 72 articles

This is an introduction to a series of articles, hints, tips, and tutorials on using Adobe Lightroom Beta and Adobe Photoshop CS2 to manage and edit your digital photography. Digital workflow by my definition is everything that happens to an image from the moment you see it through your camera's lens to the final delivery on your computer screen or website, as a photographic print, or printed in a magazine, brochure or book.

 

 

This workflow is not meant for wedding or event photographers but rather for advanced amateur photographers and professional illustrative, art, travel, and advertising photographers. Those of us who do on occasion take hundreds of photographs per day but in the end are most interested in getting the best we can out of a select few images.

Wedding and event photographers can at times take thousands of photographs on a given day and they need to present all their images to their clients as quickly as possible. Their motivation and work methods are different from what we are discussing in this series.

The basic steps involved in my Digital Photography Workflow:

 

a) Capturing the image - this includes setting up the proper parameters in your camera, making decisions about image type, image size, color balance, exposure, focusing, and in-camera image enhancement.

b) Storing the image - for me this is quite simply copying the image from the memory card to one or more hard disk drives and DVDs for archival storage of the original file.

 

 

c) Cataloging the image - this is the stage where metadata is added to make it easier to manage your image library. I keep this stage separate from the archival storage stage because it does not necessarily need to store everything you have shot and can be project driven. Cataloging software also changes over time and archival storage has to last forever.

 

d) Editing the image - there seems to be absolutely no dispute, Adobe Photoshop CS2 is the leader in this field. Editing an image can be as simple as resizing and cropping an image or as complicated as creating a fantasy world out of hundreds of original image files.

 

e) Cataloging and Archiving the Edited image - it is important to keep a permanent and accessible record of your digital darkroom work without disturbing the original archived images.

 

f) Presenting, Printing & Distributing images - the final output of all our efforts. Websites, photo albums, archival quality prints, art galleries, online galleries & image banks, newspapers, magazines, books, commercial clients, etc.

 


 

Articles in this series:

 

 

P.S. Please do not get upset if your personal experience and views are different from my own. These opinions are mine exclusively and do not reflect the views or policies of any of the manufacturers mentioned in these articles ...... George Mann

1. Introduction to Digital Image Capture

Article 1 of 72

 

Capturing the image - includes setting up the proper parameters in your camera, making decisions about image type, image size, color balance, exposure, focusing, and in-camera image enhancement.

 

 

When setting up a digital photography workflow routine most photographers assume that the process starts once the image has been transferred to the computer, and many assume that by ignoring in camera controls and setting the camera to RAW and programmed Automatic that they will be able to get just as much image quality out of the camera as the photographer who uses full manual settings. Unfortunately these assumptions will lead to less than satisfactory image quality.

I have to confess that I myself do not often look at histograms and also leave the camera on full automatic in many cases but I do understand the limitations of this approach and know when to switch to manual to get the best results.

 

 

RAW image capture is a wonderful tool for professional and advanced photographers but it is best to understand the limitations of relying on it entirely, without regard for proper image exposure. Like throwing a perfect strike in baseball, the zone for a strike is furthest removed from error when the pitch is thrown perfectly in the middle of the strike zone. If the pitch is thrown close to the edge in any direction there is a chance that it might miss the zone and cause an error that will result in a foul image.

Shooting all your images in RAW only, also unnecessarily increases your workload when the majority of your output is either small printed images or intended for email or online viewing. Unprocessed RAW images are by nature flat in contrast and unsharpened, so they require some image processing before being printed or posted online.

On the other hand JPEG images can be processed in the camera and ready to use as soon as they are transferred to a computer and in some cases printed directly from the camera. For instance, the new Nikon D200 has a Vivid (and Extra Vivid) setting that I find perfect for landscape photography. A blue sky will turn out so blue that most photographers will think you were using a polarizing filter.

My personal preference in most shooting situations is to shoot RAW+JPEG with heavy in-camera control for the JPEG file and instant gratification. If I do not like the results of the JPEG images, I can always go back to a neutral square one with the RAW file. Be forewarned, with the Nikon D200 a full resolution RAW+JPEG is over 20MB per image, so carry lots of big memory cards.

Going back to the original discussion about being in the zone (exposure wise), when I am confronted by a too bright, too dark, or backlight situation, there is only one solution. Switch to manual and bracket, one of your images will then hit the strike zone dead center and RAW will do the rest.

P.S. Individual cameras differ in their approach and execution of issues discussed in this article. Some software will recognize in-camera manipulation of RAW images, other software does not and all in-camera effects can easily be removed from any RAW image files. 

2. Introduction to Digital Image Storage

Article 2 of 72

 

Storing the image - for me this is quite simply copying the image from the memory card to one or more hard disk drives and DVDs for archival storage of the original file.

 

In the words of Forrest Gump (or was it his mother?) "Simple is as simple does." I don't know why so many photographers and computer users like to complicate their lives by relying exclusively on automated systems for archiving their images files. Many photographers I know even have four or five incompatible cataloging systems on their computer and are still constantly complaining about lost and corrupted files.

Being a software and hardware reviewer I of course have to test all the systems available but before I even think about using a cataloging and file management system, I first make sure that I have at least one copy of the original image file in a safe and secure place.

 

 

Step 1: Turn off all automatic file download programs. Every software manufacturer tries to take over your computer, it is the nature of the software game. Just find their preferences and turn the auto download feature off.

Step 2: Use a Memory Card Reader (I use the Compact Flash Pro card readers from Lexar, it allows for stacking of multiple readers for simultaneous downloads from multiple CF cards). Do not read directly from the camera, a battery failure could spell disaster.

Step 3: Manually set up a folder for your image files on your computer. I suggest using a very simple (and admittedly boring) system based on the calendar, roman numerals and alphabet. For example: year / month / date / shoot number. This may not be as sexy as an automated database system but it will save you a lot of grief when the database decides to go south for the winter.

Step 4: Manually copy your files from the memory card to the folder you have set up for it on your hard disk drive. Now if you are as paranoid as I am, you will immediately copy these files to another external hard disk drive (or two) and/or a set of DVD disks that should be recopied every couple of years.

Step 5: Since your image files are now archived in their original state, it is now time to make another copy and use a cataloging system such as Adobe Lightroom and/or Adobe Bridge to organize, rename, classify and enhance your image files.

Step 6: Take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back, your image files are in safe hands (your own).

3. Introduction to Digital Image Cataloging

Article 3 of 72

 

Cataloging the image - this is the stage where metadata is added to make it easier to manage your image library. I keep this stage separate from the archival storage stage because it does not necessarily need to store everything you have shot and can be project driven. Cataloging software also changes over time and archival storage has to last forever.

 

What and how you catalog or organize your digital image files has a lot to do with what kind of photographer you are. To keep things simple in this series of articles I am going to concentrate on professional and advanced level photographers who will shoot a few hundred images on a given day (occasionally more) but are mostly interested in creating individual unique images for illustrative or art reproduction purposes. Event photographers and other photographic specialists have special needs, they may learn something from this series of articles but I will not be addressing their needs specifically.

Just like most photographers cataloging and organizing my image files is becoming more and more important every day though. I have a pretty good memory and can remember that there was an image of a Laos soldier on a motorcycle in a batch of pictures I took on a Visa run in 1995 but it would be a lot easier if I could just punch Laos, soldier, and motorcycle into my cataloging software and instantly have the image come up on the screen.

 

 

Adobe Lightroom allows you to assign keywords and image ratings on the fly while you are editing and sorting your photographic images. In the example above (which is a picture of my son Man in front of the Quoddy West lighthouse on the coast of Maine), I have added the keywords Maine, Man, Quoddy West, boy, and lighthouse. A simple tap of the return key and the keywords are registered.

We will go into the cataloging features of Adobe Lightroom in more depth later and also cover the incredible capabilities of Adobe Bridge.

Cataloging and Archiving the Edited image - it is important to keep a permanent and accessible record of your digital darkroom work without disturbing the original archived images.

I was taken to task by a reader today for not including the practice of renaming of image files at the top of my image archiving process. His contention was that I was an unprofessional fool and an idiot for not immediately renaming all files to reflect their content.

I realize that some photographers do subscribe to this practice but I am not one of them. For one I like to archive (back up my image files) immediately after removing them from the camera, without touching the image files or their content.

I do rename files, but only for specific projects, during the cataloging and editing process. I then make sure to archive these edited files in a separate folder, under their project name.

4. Introduction to Digital Image Editing

Article 4 of 72

Editing the image - there seems to be absolutely no dispute, Adobe Photoshop CS2 is the leader in this field. Editing an image can be as simple as resizing and cropping an image or as complicated as creating a fantasy world out of hundreds of original image files.

 

I am trying to be careful about what I say in this introductory article, because any time that you tell someone that they have no choice but to buy a $600 USD software package to play on the same field with the professionals, you are going to make some enemies.

Having said that, I have to say that you have no choice. You could buy the much less expensive (under $100 USD) Adobe Photoshop Elements instead but if you have more than a few thousand dollars invested in your camera gear and want to get the most out of your images, you should invest in the full version of Adobe Photoshop.

Like most photographers I rarely use most of the features found in Photoshop CS2 but I feel a lot better knowing they are there in case I need them.

 

 

On the most basic level - all you really do in the editing process is open an image, rotate if necessary, crop if necessary, darken or lighten, adjust contrast, adjust luminance, resize to fit the output desired, use the unsharpen tool, and save to whatever format is required for the final output. I have of course left out quite a few steps in my normal editing workflow but we will discuss them each, one at a time, later in this series.

I like to think that good digital photo editing (like darkroom work in the old days) is more art than science, if you want to get results that are unique and will make your images stand out from the rest (or just to get a personal sense of satisfaction from your work). Therefore I believe that there are no right or wrong techniques and methods to achieve the desired end results, but it does pay to know the rules before you start to break them.

I should say a few words about RAW - Most advanced photographers are now aware that RAW image files contain more exposure information than JPEG image files. Most camera manufacturers provide (sometimes at an additional fee) a RAW image file editor that produces good results for their cameras. Adobe is the standard in this field and the only solution for multiple brand camera owners. In most cases the Adobe RAW image processing solution found in Photoshop CS2 is superior to that found in the manufacturer's software. I will even go out on a limb and bet that in the future most digital camera manufacturers will abandon their RAW software editing development efforts, in favor of working directly with Adobe to provide photographers with the best results possible.

5. Introduction to Digital Image Presentation, Printing and Distribution

Article 5 of 72

 

Presenting, Printing & Distributing images - the final output of all our efforts. Websites, photo albums, archival quality prints, art galleries, online galleries & image banks, newspapers, magazines, books, commercial clients, etc.

 

Every photographer is going to have a different set of experiences and different rules that he has had to play by, so this section is at best a guideline to work from and based on my personal experiences.

For internet use (my biggest use by far these days, mainly because I am my own best client) I have a very simple formula. I open whatever image I want to use in Photoshop CS2 and adjust it for exposure, contrast and whatever else is lacking in the image quality. Then I crop and resize the image to 72dpi and the size needed on the web page. In the last stage I Save for Web and choose the file type and quality level I need for a good (small as possible) image. (I will go into more detail later)

 

 

Printing is pretty much dependent upon the exact equipment you have, computer, monitor, printer(s), and of course the paper you are using. I can't tell you how many friends have asked me to help them with their digital photo printing problems but refuse to consider changing either the printer they own (the salesman told them it would give them photo quality prints) or buying a better quality paper. They always end up telling me that they are satisfied with the results they are getting on the paper they are buying from a discount store by the small truck load and that I should try to find them a solution that won't cost them any more money.

Unfortunately there are no short-cuts when it comes to quality printing. It takes good equipment, good paper, good ink, and a lot of trial and error to get it all set up right. It was a frustrating process in the darkroom and it still is a frustrating process in the digital age.

As far as distributing your images to publications and commercial clients is concerned, I have been in this business for over 30 years and I have never ceased to be amazed at what a client will request. Therefore for a professional photographer the latest version of Photoshop is absolutely essential.

There are also many different online image banks and galleries available now that will help you distribute and sell your images. We will explore several of them in the later stages of this series.

6. Introduction to Adobe Lightroom Beta

Article 6 of 72

 

Adobe Lightroom is basically a digital photography image viewing and processing application that is geared towards advanced amateur and professional photographers who shoot in the RAW image format, although it does handle JPEG,TIFF and PSD images as well. The four basic modules of Adobe Lightroom are Library, Develop, Slideshow and Print.

 

Library Module

In the Library module you can view your photographic images in a traditional grid pattern, enlarged loupe mode and in the Compare mode where you can pick any number of images to compare side by side. The film strip at the bottom of the window gives you access to all the images in a shoot at all times, even when you are in the Loupe mode. The tools panel provides you with easy access to Quick Develop tools (exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation), Info tools for Keywords and Image Rating, and Metadata tools for camera, lens and exposure information.

The library module has the ability to Import and Export individual images and groups of images in a variety of formats. Image files can be copied to the Lightroom library, moved to the Lightroom library, or indexed to be accessed from an existing file location, including external hard disk drives or DVDs.

 


Develop Module

The Develop module starts where Adobe Camera Raw leaves off (over 100 RAW file formats supported) and adds to it practically all the tools that you will need to enhance and correct your digital photo image files. Retouching and other high end image manipulations will still require Photoshop CS2 but most photographers will probably find that Lightroom satisfies well over 90 percent of their image processing needs.

Basic tools included are White Balance, Range and Tone. More advanced tools include Tone Curve, Crop & Straighten, Grayscale Mixer, Split Toning, HSL Color Tuning, Detail, Lens Corrections and Camera Calibrations. All the tools can be used for correcting and adjusting JPEG, TIFF and PSD image files as well as RAW. There is a range of existing presets for converting images to grayscale, sepia and a number of contrast ranges plus a provision for setting up your own custom presets to ease the process of converting a large number of similar images or applying a known range of custom adjustments.


Slideshow Module

The Slideshow module is fairly simple but very elegant in execution. It allows you to set borders and backgrounds, transition times and overlay a signature for any number of slides. The slide shows can be previewed in Lightroom, played on the computer screen or exported as HTML, PDF or Flash files.


Print Module

The Print module is really nice, without being insulting to professionals. Too many image management applications get either incredibly lazy or overly cute in the print setup stage of their application. Lightroom gives you complete and easy control over the printing of your images without having to go through stacks of dialogue boxes and wasting time with useless options.

There is a short list of template options and the ability to add your own templates on the left hand panel. The right hand panel gives you Image Settings, Page Layout Tools, Overlay Options, and Print Job Settings. At the bottom of the settings panel are two buttons for Page Setup and Print, how much easier can it get?

7. Introduction to Adobe Bridge

Article 7 of 72

 

Is it Goodbye to Adobe Bridge and Hello to Lightroom for Photographers?

 

 

This is a question being asked every day by photographers who have been using Adobe Bridge and are now testing Adobe Lightroom Beta. The answer is of course both yes and no.

Adobe Bridge is intended to be what it's name implies, a bridge between different Adobe (and non Adobe) graphics and multi-media applications. Adobe Bridge includes a lot of file formats that the average photographer will never use. Multi-media studios and advertising agencies will continue to need Adobe Bridge to organize their graphics and multi-media content driven projects.

 

 

Adobe Bridge does have more Metadata input choices for photographers at this point in time but I am going to assume that the final version of Lightroom will also have a wider range of Metadata input choices. I can't really fault Adobe Bridge in any way it is a very powerful tool for sorting, naming, batch processing, etc. but it is hard to believe that any of the features of Adobe Bridge that are of use to photographers will not be integrated into Lightroom.

Aside from Metadata and Keyword functions one of the great features of Adobe Bridge for photographers has been the ability to open Adobe Camera RAW from Adobe Bridge without opening Photoshop (as long as Photoshop is installed on your computer.

If you compare Adobe Camera RAW and Lightroom Develop Module side by side though, it is fairly easy to see which one is going to win out in the hearts of photographers. All the basic and most of the advanced RAW settings are already in place and the addition of cropping tools and presets for custom looks in the Develop Module make Lightroom even more powerful.

All in all it looks like the Adobe Lightroom developers are taking the best elements of Adobe Bridge, and all of Adobe Camera RAW, plus a little bit of Photoshop CS and rebuilding them (from scratch) into a more effective and ergonomically more pleasing package for photographers.

So the answer to the original question is yes for photographers and no for graphic artists, multi-media artists, art directors, and creative directors. Adobe Bridge lives on.

8. Introduction to Adobe DNG Converter

Article 8 of 72

 

Most advanced and professional photographers now agree that shooting RAW image files is the only way to assure that you are getting the full benefit of the image processors in advanced digital cameras.

Virtually all digital SLR and most of the high end point and shoot cameras now allow the photographer to shoot in the RAW image file format.

The main problem is that every manufacturer has a different implementation of RAW and they jealously guard their own proprietary implementation of the RAW image file format.

 

In an effort to create an industry standard, Adobe has developed the DNG (Digital Negative) file format and left the source code open and documented for anyone to implement. This assures that there will be a way to access any DNG format RAW files far into the future, even if your camera manufacturer bites the dust.

Although both Adobe Bridge and Adobe Lightroom allow you to convert to Adobe DNG when you are importing a camera native RAW image file, Adobe DNG allows you to batch process a large number of native RAW files without having to open one of the other applications.

 

 

In version 3.3 of Adobe DNG it is also now possible to include the entire native RAW image file in a DNG file for extra security. Preserving the native RAW image file creates very large DNG files of course (my D200 files averaged at 35 MB per image) but could be a very good alternative for safe long term archival image storage.

One of the biggest advantages of using Adobe DNG In your workflow process is the ability to store metadata in the DNG file. Although native RAW image files can be used in Bridge and Lightroom, when metadata is added to them (the camera manufacturer RAW files can not be changed by third party software) it is stored in a .xmp sidecar file. The danger in using sidecar files is that they can easily be discarded and lost.

Adobe DNG files can of course not be read by the camera manufacturer's software so the Adobe DNG converter also has an extract function that can, individually or in batch, recover the original native RAW file at any time.

9. Introduction to Adobe Photoshop CS2

Article 9 of 72

To read the rest of the article, please log in. This article is available only for registered Nikonians members. If you are not registered yet, please do so. To discover the world of Nikonians and the advantages of being a registered member, take our short discovery tour.

Back to top