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Nikon Owner Issue 22

A Digital Workflow - Part I

by Clive Carpenter

Clive Carpenter

Because you asked for it, Clive Carpenter kicks off his excellent series with the goal of assisting photographers with their workflow.

Clive Carpenter brings his technical skill to a brand new series on digital workflow, providing us with a comprehensive overview of an area that many have frequently requested assistance with.

Although there is a great deal of information available in books and on the internet regarding digital photography, printing, camera and software reviews, etc., it is rare to see details of a digital workflow that anyone can utilise and modify to their own requirements. Well, here is one to get you started.

I must stress that this is my digital workflow; it is what works for me. I have refined it over several years and it suits my needs. It is not carved in stone and, indeed, it may not suit you at all. However, take a look and maybe you will find something in it that improves your workflow or your images.

These articles are written assuming that the reader has a reasonable knowledge of Photoshop CS/CS2. Where there are sections that I feel need more detail, then that detail is included. So I won't be telling you where to find the Crop tool! Since I use a Windows based computer, commands will be detailed for that operating system. Apple users will know the substitute keys on their keyboards.

As you will be aware, there are usually several different ways of achieving the same result in Photoshop. I make no claims that mine are the best; they just happen to be the way that I prefer to do things. If you have a better way of achieving the same result, then by all means use your preferred way.

I have included details of special tools and plug-ins that I use for my work*.

This workflow can be utilised for either files captured from a digital camera, or from a scanner. Although I do use a D100 for some of my work, I still use film and scan it using a Coolscan 4000. I shoot RAW in my D100 and use Capture to convert my images, but the only adjustments I am making at present in Capture are White Balance and exposure. All other adjustments are made using Photoshop CS. Although I have spent some time evaluating Capture NX, I am not currently using it on a daily basis. Perhaps when the next version is released, then it may replace Capture 4.4.2 in my workflow. I have also spent a lot of time testing Adobe Lightroom, but that's for another article!

Since I want to be working at the highest quality throughout the process, my film scans are done at 4000 ppi at 14 bits in the Coolscan, providing me with a file of around 120 megabytes at the start of the process. I try to maintain the file size at 16 bits in Photoshop throughout the whole operation, which does slow the operations down on occasion, but as a fine art photographer I need the highest quality for my prints and I won't compromise on quality. Generally no adjustments are made in the scanning software, since Photoshop is a more powerful tool for editing. As mentioned earlier, I shoot RAW files in the D100 and I leave all sharpening settings off. Sharpening is a very important part of the workflow and I use specialist tools to handle this in Photoshop. More about this later.

If you want the highest quality results from your images, it is essential to calibrate your computer monitor. Although Adobe provide some calibration software with Photoshop (Adobe Gamma), where you adjust the monitor by adjusting your monitor to match colour patches on the screen, there is no substitute for using a monitor calibration tool to calibrate your monitor correctly. Essentially you attach a sensor to your monitor and run the software included. This will compare known colour values to those produced by your monitor and will create a profile that will adjust the colour of the monitor so that it is correct. Your computer will load this profile when booting up.

The cost of this equipment has come down considerably over the last few years to the extent that they are much more affordable. I use the Spyder2 device from ColorVision www.colorvision.com which I find very satisfactory and easy to use. It is available for around £140.00; about half the price I paid for it three or four years ago. There are several other devices available; EyeOne Display 2 from GretagMacbeth, or the MonacoOPTIX from X-Rite are two other options, though more expensive than the Spyder2.

Calibrating your monitor is the biggest single improvement you can make to get the best from your colour printer. It provides you with a baseline to work from; when you are sure that the image you see on the screen matches the original image, then you have a standard to work to.

The working space that I use is Adobe RGB 1998. Both my scanner and digital camera are set to produce files in this colour space. Although I have done some testing of other colour spaces, like ProPhotoRGB, I won't change from Adobe RGB 1998 until I am sure there is real benefit to do so.

Generally, my workflow on any image is as follows:

  • Evaluate the image
  • Rotate image, crop and perspective correction
  • Repairs and blemishes
  • Capture Sharpening
  • Levels - White & Black points and gamma adjustment
  • Colour balance
  • Contrast and Saturation
  • Selective Contrast and exposure correction
  • Fine tuning of colours
  • Adjust mid-tone contrast
  • Creative Sharpening
  • Re-size image for printing
  • Print sharpening
  • Print

EVALUATE THE IMAGE

When I first open an image in Photoshop, I spend several minutes looking at the image with all menus and toolbars switched off. Before going through the process of enhancing an image, I want to be sure that the work is going to be worthwhile and that my initial decision to print the image is correct. I may decide further down the line that it's not worth continuing, but it is still useful to do the initial viewing. In addition, you need a plan of action to work to and it's useful to make some notes about what needs to be done to the image.

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