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Basics of Digital Photo Editing Workflow

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Basics of Digital Photo Editing Workflow

First, you should understand that there isn’t a set definition of a digital photo editing workflow. Roughly speaking, it’s a set of steps that you might take a digital photo through from capture to being complete. Typical these steps fall under some broad headings:

  • Capture – This is how we go about capturing photographs with our camera. As this article focuses on photo editing, we won’t cover this aspect of the workflow, but see my Photography Tutorials if you want to know more.
  • Import – This is the process of importing the images we capture from our camera to the computer. It could be largely manual or involve software like Lightroom or Capture One.
  • Organizing – Having imported our photos, we need to organize them on our computer. It allows us to quickly find a given image in the future amongst the thousands of paintings we have.
  • Editing – This is the area most people think of regarding the digital photo editing workflow. It’s also where I receive most questions so we will cover it in detail.

Output – Having edited an image to produce a finished photo, we probably want to share it. All that invested time and effort never amount to anything and is effectively wasted.

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Now let me walk you through how I tackle these various stages of my photography.

Importing Photos. When importing photography from my camera, I start with Adobe Lightroom, but there are plenty of alternatives you can use. My objective is to move the files from the camera to the computer, rename them, and put them into my folder structure.

When it comes to adding keywords and location information, it’s sometimes possible to do this during the import process. But when it comes to more specific keywording, it can be a time-consuming process.

  • Star Ratings and KeywordsTo make this task easier and reduce the amount of time I spend on it, I first sort my images using a star rating from 1 to 5. A 1-star photo is a keeper; perhaps shared on social media or used in a book. The 2-star images are the ones I consider good enough to submit to stock libraries. And a 3-star painting could be sold as a print. This article describes using a star rating system with your photos. Having rated my photos, I can apply broad keywords to all my images, and I only need to add a few keywords for searching together with location information. After this, I do a second round of keywording for pictures with two or more stars. 

I’ve been using Photoshop since 2000, and most of my master files are in PSD format. Affinity Photo is an equally good tool, and I sometimes use it just for a change, but I’m quicker with Photoshop, and speed matters when editing stock photography.

  • Photoshop Plugins- But plugins are a big part of my photo workflow as they speed up my editing, whichever of these packages I use. I have a lot of plugins that I can use, although not all Photoshop plugins will work with Affinity Photo. I will use the Nik Collection most of the time as it offers me the fastest and easiest editing. If you don’t have the Nik Collection, you can download a trial from DxO or the old Google version.

I’ve recently been using Topaz De Noise AI and Topaz Sharpener AI plugins.

After taking a converted RAW image into Photoshop, I applied one of these two plugins to a copy layer. I then use the other plugins like the Nik Collection, On1, etc., as Smart Filters. This master file is the basis for any further variations I want to produce in the Output stage of my workflow.

  • Output- The Output stage is an optional stage of the digital photo editing workflow. If you aren’t going to output the image to share, what’s the point of doing all this work.

For the Output stage of my workflow, I start with a master file in the Photoshop PSD format. Typically, I will create a new image and save that as a new file, always leaving the master file unchanged.

  • Screen Output Workflow- If the image gets shared on social media or my website, I will open the master file and flatten all the editing layers. I then convert the color profile for the image from the ProPhoto RGB color space I use for editing to sRGB, which is more suitable for internet display.
  • Print Output Workflow

The workflow for printing is similar and starts with the master file. I make my prints using an Epson 3880 A2 printer, printing from Lightroom. I tend to use Lightroom because I’ve used it a lot in the past, understand it, and produce good results.

After selecting the master file for printing, I switch to the Develop module, where I soft proof the image. After soft proofing, I switch to the Lightroom Print module, where I can send the proof copy of the image to the printer. In this article, I describe how to print from Lightroom in more detail.

When printing, I rely on Lightroom to resize the image to the required size most of the time. Sometimes when the starting image is relatively small or if I decide to produce an extensive print. I will enlarge a copy of the master file using Topaz Gigapixel. This software can do amazing things when enlarging small images for print.

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this workflow article, and I hope that it’s helped explain the topic and share something about my digital photo editing workflow. So, that’s all about the digital photography of editing.


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