A Google search asking “what is a digital photo workflow?” reveals results that can either fill you with confidence or encourage you to put your camera gear up for sale. I found a mixture of definitions; here’s just 3.
“In simple terms, digital photography workflow can be defined as follows; Orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activities and processes to capture and maintain a digital photographic image.” www.TonyCornell.com
“A digital photography workflow is an end-to-end system of working with digital images, from capture to delivery. It is comprised of a series of inter-connected step.” www.photographylife.com
“The concept is simple – your photography workflow is the sequence of steps and actions you take to edit your photos, work them up to a result you consider finished, and share them with the world.” www.digital-photography-school.com
Just look at the wording from these 3 results
“Orchestrated and repeatable pattern of activities”
“The concept is simple“
.... now that’s no way to treat a new photographer is it? The assumption is that you know what software is needed and that you are fully confident in using it. So let’s go back a few steps and look at one or two essentials that can help the beginner get started with photo editing.
1). Your Camera.
Assuming you’ve got your camera (and the bits & pieces that go with it) and that you understand all the ‘menus and functions’ etc.....NO? I hear you say, well that’s your starting point. Spending time understanding what’s meant by “+ / - exposure”, ‘
“white balance”, “ISO” and alike will only make the next step more enjoyable. Time spent on YouTube and or reading a camera guide book will provide benefits further on. It all starts with trying to get the best picture in camera before tackling any software programme so don’t be fooled into thinking that the software will fix all problems.
2). Picture Taking.
Set you camera up to capture pictures in both picture formats; that’s JPEG and RAW. So what does that mean? When your camera records photos in a JPEP format it makes judgments as to what it thinks is best for you.. now, I ask yourself, how can it know that? When the camera records pictures in RAW format, it is the same as giving you a film negative only in a digital format. If you have ever been inside a photographic darkroom you will know that you have almost total control of your prints from a negative. When you look at the LCD screen on your camera don’t be upset if the RAW image looks dull and maybe flat it’s because the camera has not interfered in any way and it’s recorded all the information from the scene for you to play with later... not a problem
3). Editing tools... what’s your ‘weapon’ of choice?
Laptop, Windows PC, Apple iMac, Tablet or even an iPhone, all of these tools have the facility to edit digital photos. If you plan only to take a small number of snaps but would like them to become ‘winners’ then why not sit in with an experienced friend until you are ready to spend out. If you already own one these, now’s the time to dig into the menus to look more closer at what software is onboard; you may have a starting point with something like Adobe Elements for instance. The choice is yours but remember but remember to allow for memory expansion at a later date because digital media eats memory.
4). What software editing programme do I need?
Assuming, like with the use of your camera, that you have become comfortable with using your ‘weapon of choice’ and that you have checked out what software is onboard, you may now be faced with buying some software. Whatever software programme you decide on I strongly advise downloading a free trial first. Take little notice of the advertising, you and the software have to love each other so use the 30 days offered to see if you feel happy with it. After trying out all that you can and looking into the help facilities available, it’s time part with some cash. You will be asked to either buy the software outright or sign up to a subscription; “you pay your money you take your choice”! So what’s on offer? ,here’s a few examples.
* iPhoto: A great simple package that lets you make simple adjustment etc. on an iPad or iMac.
* Adobe Photoshop Elements: The next stage up in the software ladder that offers guided assistance in making changes etc. to your photos. This is a scaled down version of the mighty Photoshop but it offers at least 90% of the tools. Over time it will allow you to dip into ‘layers’, ‘selections and using ‘add-ons’; and it can be bought outright.
* Luminar by Macphun: A new kid on the block, this modern programme will cover 99.9% of your needs and again can be bought outright.
* Adobe Lightroom: The next step up the ladder and a programme that’s used by a wide range of photographers with different skill levels. It also doubles up as a kind of database designed to help with storage and cataloging large numbers of images. A brilliant programme that lets you add on other ‘plug-in’ programmes such as Nix and Topaz to give more options when altering your images; it’s now available as subscription only. (bo hoo)
* Affinity Photo: (my weapon of choice). A more complicated programme than Elements but a very good alternative to Photoshop. A new programme developed by Serif with 5 years in the design stage. Updates are free and the support given is second to none, what’s more, you buy the software outright.
* Adobe Photoshop: A serious piece of kit that can involve a long learning process; not for the faint hearted but a professional package with lots of tutorials around. You have to sign up to a subscription.
* Capital One: You know you have arrived when you can use this programme, maybe one to keep away from when starting out.
5). Time to join them all up.
I’ve made mention of only a few of the software packages around but they are the most commonly used. Anyway, after deciding on which one you fancy and if it’s to be a downloaded or a CD purchase, you now have the tools needed to start.... hang on a minute, did I mention learning about the software? There are a wealth of tutorials available and it’s advisable to combine your ‘need to know’ with how you can do it within your software. Think of it as if using a word processor in that you don’t have to learn all the functions at the start in order to get a result. Taking your time and finding out how to carry out a task as and when it’s needed is far better than trying to learn all that’s of offer at the start. Make sure you are happy with loading and saving images on your ‘machine’ before going in deep.
6). Sprucing up you images.
Let’s suppose you’ve got a copy of Adobe Element or Affinity Photo and you’ve mastered how to load a picture into the software. The very first thing to do is to make copy of your photo by creating a ‘duplicate’. This always helps as it allows you to compare progress as you make changes. Make sure you become aware also of the history panel as this allows you to go back in time and start over if you make a mistake or change your mind. Remember that at this point you still have your original image on your computer so any changes you make won’t spoil your photo until you save it.
7). Help! What to do first?
Now I have to assume that you’ve spent time learning what your software can do however, remember that many programmes operate in the similar way. To stop this blog from becoming another copy of ‘War & Peace’, I’ll give grief descriptions of each of tasks I carry out in the software. Nearly all editing software programmes offer the same tools but please remember that there is NO set pattern as which task you carry out when. Below is what I have settled on in the majority of cases but it can change depending on which way the wind blows.
8) Cropping / resizing or reframing.
After loading your image don’t be afraid to crop out any parts of the image before spending wasted time on those parts not needed later. Maybe even take just a section of the middle or whatever.
9) Lens correction (if available)
If your software has this facility it can help correct any distortion often seen in wide angle shoots for instance.
10) White balance.
You can often alter the WB of an image and some software will show you what was available in your camera and reproduce it for you. Basically you are increasing or decreasing the warmth of the image before moving onto only adjustments. Some programmes have an auto facility that’s always worth a try.
At this point you will see the benefits of having used a RAW format in camera. The RAW image will most likely have at least 2 extra exposure stops up or down that can be applied; so plenty of room for adjustment. This means it is much easier to rescue and under or over exposed photo outside of your camera.
12) Highlights & shadows.
I’ve found that on many occasions it’s possible to move the highlights slider to the left then move the shadows slider to the right (put your left leg in on move it all about..no just joking) and with a bit of movement of the contrast slider either way, a good-looking image appears. Either way these are next best sliders to adjust.
13). Noise reduction
Depending of the individual image this will vary and it is related to the ISO used during picture taking. In general the higher the ISO the more noise will show up places like skies. Best to always go as low as you can with the ISO setting in your camera but Adobe Lightroom example has two sliders can be adjusted to help reduce ‘luminance noise’ and or ‘colour noise’. Don’t overdo these adjustments as the whole image could become unnatural looking.
14) Any last adjustments
Again depending on your software you may want to hone the image further. Don’t be afraid to move the sliders to the max and min to see what the effect they have; it will speed up your learning of the software.
15). Last but one task - sharpening
This may be called ‘unsharp Mask’ for reasons to do with the old dark room days however, it means adding sharpening to your image. Remember that a RAW image will not have had any sharpening added in camera unlike a JPEG. Don’t overdo things here as the image will again look unnatural; remembering that skies are not normally pin sharp.
16) Saving your efforts
Finally it’s time to save your work. Here you may be asked if you want ‘save’ the image or ‘export’ it, what’s the difference? Well using the ‘save’ option will very often save your work a software specific file i.e. PSD, AF and so. This is great for later work if needed but it won’t let you send the image to friends etc. ‘Exporting’ your image will give you the chance to obtain a JPEG or TIFF format file that is the common format used to pass around and place of the ‘interwebnet thingy’. Generally speaking it’s best to do both. Adobe Elements will save your work as a Photoshop file while Affinity Photo will save it as an Affinity file. Remember that when saving or exporting to give your image A NEW NAME otherwise you will write over the original .. not a good idea.
So there you are. You have edited you first set of photos, you have saved them and you can now decide to post them online, print them or sell them for vast sums of money. Remember that you need to be prepared to go through a learning process. Be prepared also to make mistake, you will come go with persistent practice. Hope this has helped you get started but whatever you do please give yourself time enjoy your results.
Thanks for reading
Terence Jones ARPS
A photography enthusiast with a long and varied interest in taking pictures.
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