Monday, September 27, 2010

Wow you must be good at Photoshop

I wonder how many of us have heard this statement when showing photographs to friends?  I have certainly heard it a few times and it really grates on my nerves, however, it is not really an unfair comment.  I shoot raw and without any processing my images would be in a word, bland!  There is an ongoing debate about the ethics of the cloning tool and the newer more sophisticated tools for removing unwanted objects, now even people from the frame of the photograph.  Currently my working model is to get it right in the frame at the time of shooting and come back and try again if that does not work.  My only use of "clone" tools is to correct for the fact that I have not cleaned my cameras sensor in a year.  However, I do appreciate that an image is whatever the image maker wants it to be; a photograph is a subjective vision provided by the photographer not a record of objective reality.  Presented in context any edit to an image is fine, but only if in context.  Removing an ugly building behind a beach resort and presenting the image in a brochure for prospective holiday makers is deeply dishonest.

This set me to considering my own use of image manipulation tools and in particular how I edited the photo's for assignment 3.  I have developed a personal workflow that enables me to manage reasonably large numbers of images at a time.  To place this in context I have taken 17,886 photographs so far this year, which would be just shy of 500 rolls of 35mm film and is one reason why I switched to digital many years ago.  I can only manage these amongst the 102,000 on my hard drives by adopting a very careful workflow.

My tool of choice is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3, I have a copy of Photoshop CS4, but rarely use it other than for printing, Lightroom has all the tools that I need for working on this course.  This is essentially how I work:

  1. I only shoot in RAW and at present use the sRGB colour space for editing as most of my work goes to the web.
  2. I edit on a workstation with two screens, one with the image the other with tools or the images in grid form that I am working on.  I have a 30" HP screen as the main monitor and this is colour calibrated every month.  My camera is also colour profiled and I only use profiled paper in my output.  Not an expert on colour management yet, but learning.
  3. When I have finished a shoot I use Lightroom to import the photographs directly from my CF card and use the very useful feature to make 2 copies to two separate hard drives as I do so.  I have 4 1TB external USB drives for this purpose.
  4. All Images are placed in a folder using the date of the shoot as the first 6 characters and then a useful description, e.g. 100922 Munich Olympic Tower
  5. To my regret I have not set up a keywording system - the longer I leave this the harder it will become
  6. When I want to gather images for a project, I work through all appropriate images and add them to the quick collection if they might meet my needs - this is fast and easy
  7. I then save the Quick Collection to a normal Collection with a label determined by the activity
  8. I group the Collections into Collection Sets, by course or assignment
  9. I then go through a second time and throw out obvious rejects
  10. This typically takes and hour or so and leaves me with a group of likely contenders for the next step of "developing" the RAW images
  11. The actual process I use depends upon the images but I generally use the following workflow:
    1. Automatic Lens Correction (most of my lenses are supported).
    2. Slight adjustments for perspective and distortion if needed
    3. Crop to output dimension - very subjective and depends upon the image and target media, screen, A4, 5x7, etc. 
    4. Set the White Balance either using the clicker or if I was smart using a pre-photographed grey target
    5. Add Sharpening - use 100% enlargement during this process
    6. Add Luminance or Color noise reduction - sharpening can create this, so best to do second
    7. Add Vibrance to richen the colours
    8. Either add Clarity or Contrast - for people clarity is better, otherwise I mostly use contrast
    9. Add Fill Light and Recovery to deal with shadows and highlights
    10. Adjust exposure and Blacks
    11. I use the spot removal tool for any sensor dirt
    12. I sometimes add a gradiant filter if the sky is very washed out - overdone this looks very fake, so I try not to use this often
  12. This is a quick process, taking no more than a minute per image - important images such as for assignments get a second or third careful going over
  13. I then go through again and remove any images that did not work well following the develop process
  14. Now that the images are as I want them, I do two separate exports, one to JPEG to add to the web, such as this blog and a second to 16 bit TIFF.  
  15. If I plan to print images they go into CS4 for printing, I do not like the printing interface in Lightroom. I understand CS4 and get the results I want
Having done all this, what is the difference.  I have created before and after sheets for all of the images that I produced for Assignment 3.  The image on the left is as it came out of the camera with no adjustment other than conversion to JPG, on the right is the image after editing.  The change in aspect ratio is due to the fact that the final destination of these images is A4 photo paper for the grading process.  The images are not large enough to show the impact of sharpening and noise reduction, but the colour, contrast, and exposure changes are quite clear:

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