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09/22/2005 06:52:27 AM · #1
Basic Photoshop Workflow

We'll start at square one. You have an image on your camera; now what? We'll assume you are working with plain-vanilla JPEG images (all cameras produce these; some cameras can produce RAW or TIFF images, but we are going to ignore that option at least for now.)

You should set your camera to produce the best-quality JPEG possible. This usually means "jpg fine" or some similar quality description. You should set the in-camera parameters, assuming you have them, to "auto white balance" and "normal" on everything else, like sharpening, contrast, color saturation and so forth. Later you may want to fiddle with in-camera parameters, but for now don't bother.

I can't help you with setting your camera, because they are all different. Read your manual.

Fundamental Rule

Your original JPEG file is the digital equivalent of a photographic negative; it contains all the information you will use to produce your adjusted image in Photoshop. It is absolutely critical that this file never be worked on directly. Never. Never, ever. There are two reasons for this. The first is universal; by working on a COPY of the original, you always have the original to fall back on if you totally mess up as you experiment on your image. The second is DPC-specific; site rules REQUIRE that you have available an original, unedited version of your image so that in the event your shot needs verification in a challenge you can produce this file on demand. As long as you do not "save" an original file, it remains unaltered and the attached "EXIF Data" will show this. EXIF Data is a "metafile" that's appended to the image file and gives all sorts of information on the file itself, including its date of creation and the most recent date of modification. When you save a file, even if you have done nothing to it, this shows up as a "modification" in the EXIF data, and site council can no longer verify that the stated date-of-exposure is accurate, nor what sort of manipulation may have been done on the file.

Downloading Workflow

There are various ways of getting an image from your camera onto your computer. We will assume that you have this part figured out. If you can't get an image off the camera onto the computer, you're not ready for Photoshop yet, right? For the record, you can either leave the card in the camera and connect the camera to the computer, or you can remove the card and insert it into a "card reader" that is connected to the computer. The card reader is the better approach because it doesn't wear out your batteries and it uses the computer's processing power, which is greater than that of the camera. In other words, card readers are usually faster.

Now, what you want to do is set up a filing system to organize your images. If you're familiar with computers in general, you probably have your own preferences for organizational hierarchies. In many cases you will have installed downloading software that came with your camera, and the software will be creating sequentially-numbered folders on your hard drive each time you download a new batch of images. These numbered folders work fine, if you've got 'em; at least for now. In the long run they can be problematical because you lose track of which series of original images is in which folder.

In my case I have bypassed the auto-download feature and do it manually to a file structure of my own. I have a folder on my drive called "Images", and in this I have a subfolder (many subfolders actually, but this is the one that counts for now) called "originals". Each time I download a card, I first create a new subfolder in "originals" named (for example) "Red River Beach 09-21-05". I leave this folder open on my desktop. I then insert the card in my card reader, open the card by clicking on my "G Drive" icon (the drive letter will vary depending on your system) and open the folder on the card that contains the images. I hit cntrl-A to select all the images, right-click on the images, and drag them over to the open destination folder. When I release the mouse button, it gives me the option to "move" or "copy" the images to the destination folder. I choose "move", and the images migrate one-by-one to the destination folder, leaving me an empty card that's ready to go back in the camera.

Processing Workflow

I've now downloaded my images to my computer, and they live in a subfolder of "Images/Originals" that is named by the date & location of shooting. I next create yet another subfolder, named "edited 09-21-05"; I leave this one empty for now, close the file tree, and open Photoshop.

Using the Photoshop file browser I select the first image I want to edit and double-click on it to open it. As soon as I have opened it, I do a "save as" and save it with a new filename in the "edited" subfolder. If the original is "IMG_0001", the copy will be, say, "backlit gull IMG_0001". I always include the original image number at the end of the more descriptive title so I can more easily refer back to the original as needed; many times I have a lot of similar-looking shots (bracketed exposures, for example) and it's not always obvious which is which, so I include the image number assigned by the camera as part of my titling protocol. This "save as" copy is ALWAYS a .psd file, Photoshop's native image format.

Why? Because JPEG is a compressed format, what we call a "lossy" format. Each time we save a jpeg file, it recompresses itself, and each time we compress it it loses a certain amount of information irretrievably. Photoshop native files are not compressed, so we can save them as often as we like with impunity. Also, I will be working with "layers", and jpeg files do not support layers. In fact, if I am working on a jpeg file and add a layer to it, then try to save it, Photoshop will tell me it must be saved as a copy and it will default to "image_title_copy.psd" anyway. So I short-circuit this process by making my first save-as be a .psd file from the get-go.

OK, I now have an image open in Photoshop that's a COPY of the original and that lives in a subfolder of the original's folder. I am free to do whatever adjustments and manipulations I care to do on this image, secure in the knowledge that my original remains intact and I can return to it at any time to clone off a new copy to work on. It's not uncommon for me to have half a dozen variations of the image in my "edited" folder by the time I'm done. In any case, I now go to work on my image, doing all the things I need to do to it, until I'm satisfied with the result. All of this work is done on a full-size copy of the original.

When I have the image looking the way I want it to, I do a final save of this .psd file, and this final version includes all my layers and so forth, so I can later go back to it and make changes/adjustments as desired. Now, for DPC purposes, I need to convert this file into a smaller jpeg file so I can upload it as a challenge submission or into my portfolio so I can post it to the forums. So at this point I RESIZE the image to its final 640-pixel-maximum size, make any further adjustments needed (often some additional sharpening), and save the smaller file as a jpeg file named, say, "backlit gull 640 IMG_0001".

I now have a DPC-ready image that I can upload to the site.

To Be Continued

Obviously, I've glossed over a lot at the end; this post is just about the basic workflow, the getting of the image onto your drive and then adjusting it and getting it ready for DPC. It's about file structure basically, how to set things up sytematically so you don't get lost in a sea of images.

Robt.

09/22/2005 07:12:38 AM · #2
Hey Robert- How do you keep an entire History of your work flow?

I find that as I'm doing things, the earlier steps in my process dissapear and I can't go back to the beginning.

For example, if I perform 30 actions I sometimes realize that an earlier action, made a latter one impossible to execute...but when I go to correct it...it ain't there anymore. I might lose the first ten out of the thiry with no explanation. No saving either, that I'm aware of.

I haven't seen anything in History Prefs or anywhere else, to fix it.

Message edited by author 2005-09-22 07:23:40.
09/22/2005 07:32:19 AM · #3
Thanks, very clear. Can we ask questions now? You say you do sharpening after resizing. Is there a reason for that? I usually sharpen first and then resize the picture, does it make a difference?
09/22/2005 07:35:09 AM · #4
Typically sharpening is the last thing you want to do in your workflow.
09/22/2005 07:38:54 AM · #5
Originally posted by ajschel:

Thanks, very clear. Can we ask questions now? You say you do sharpening after resizing. Is there a reason for that? I usually sharpen first and then resize the picture, does it make a difference?


There is a DPC tutorial somewhere that addresses this. I believe the reason they gave for it was that when you sharpen you actually lose/alter information about the shot which you cannot retrieve. All the other edits simple change things around without dumping them.

Of course I may be crazy.
09/22/2005 08:26:12 AM · #6
Patience, patience. We'll get to the sharpening issue shortly. We're going one step at a time right now. Short answer: a resized image typically loses both sharpness and contrast, so additonal USM adds both back, in moderation. Basic sharpenign I do earlier in the workflow.

But we'll get there, we'll get there. For now, we are easing people into the fundamentals of how the workflow travels from camera to finished product.

Ask questions by all means, but try to keep them withint he scope of what this "lesson" covers

R.
09/22/2005 09:37:24 AM · #7
Thankx Robert that was great I never even thought about saving as a .psd file. Always done a .jpg....waiting on round 2.
09/22/2005 09:51:53 AM · #8
Thanks Bear! A very good and thorough descriptions.
1 comment and 1 question:

comment: I like to burn a back up CD of the originals before I even begin to edit--that way I "know" I've got something outside of the computer to fall back on and a second set of originals just in case I forget to work on a copy.

question: PSD's take up a lot of disk space. How do you manage to keep your computer from overflowing the memory capacity?
09/22/2005 09:57:01 AM · #9
Robert,

Excellent workflow summary - and maybe this question is out of line for the Photoshop Basics Mentorship but would you please go one step further with your workflow process? How do you backup your Images Folder? Mine is approx 18gb (I have an 80gb hard drive and when I get around 20gb of space in my images folder it takes me about 5 DVD's to back it up).

Also, how do you archieve your final selections for prints? Do you make a final single file with all the adjustment files (.psd, .tiff, RAW, etc.) files associated with your final print?

Any direction would be most helpful. Michele
09/22/2005 10:00:38 AM · #10
Originally posted by KaDi:

Thanks Bear! A very good and thorough descriptions.
1 comment and 1 question:

comment: I like to burn a back up CD of the originals before I even begin to edit--that way I "know" I've got something outside of the computer to fall back on and a second set of originals just in case I forget to work on a copy.

question: PSD's take up a lot of disk space. How do you manage to keep your computer from overflowing the memory capacity?


The CD burning is a little more than "basic"; at the basic level, it's just "Do NOT ever modify your original." CD/DVD is good advice, sure.

As for the overflow issue, I have an external, 300 Gb hard drive that I periodically move my image files to. For those who lack storage, a solution is to save the "finished" psd file as a jpeg before resizing, then toss the psd file altogether. I prefer to keep full resolution, full size psd files of ALL the images i work on, and I'm prepared to pay for the ability and space to do so. It depends on how important this is to you, basically.

R.
09/22/2005 10:05:11 AM · #11
Originally posted by zapgrafx:

Robert,

Excellent workflow summary - and maybe this question is out of line for the Photoshop Basics Mentorship but would you please go one step further with your workflow process? How do you backup your Images Folder? Mine is approx 18gb (I have an 80gb hard drive and when I get around 20gb of space in my images folder it takes me about 5 DVD's to back it up).

Also, how do you archieve your final selections for prints? Do you make a final single file with all the adjustment files (.psd, .tiff, RAW, etc.) files associated with your final print?

Any direction would be most helpful. Michele


External 300 Mb hard drive on a USB 2.0 connector works for me. When I'm making print files, I open the archived, full-info psd file, resize it (using Resize Pro or the equivalent), apply the device color space to it, make any needed adjustments, flatten it, and save it as "filename_filesize.psd" ("Gull_sunset_16x20.psd") in the same folder as the archived finished copy. Images that I print a lot exist in several print file sizes. It all adds up, requires a lot of sapce, yup.

R.
09/22/2005 10:23:55 AM · #12
Thanks Robert - very helpful. I've been debating on the external hd.
09/22/2005 02:57:08 PM · #13
Thanks Bear that is exactly what I need :) over weekend will have a go at what you described. Look forward to future tutorials
09/22/2005 03:20:50 PM · #14
Very informative... thanks bunches... gonna save this thread for next batch of photos!!!!
09/22/2005 03:55:57 PM · #15
Fantastic, this makes it so much easier. I just completely re-organized my pics. Ready for lesson 2.
09/22/2005 05:20:11 PM · #16
Thanks! I have a question.
I do make a copy, first thing. After I do all my PS work, I save a copy of that prior to merging the visual. Then I resize and set for web. After I merge, you save it as psd file?, where I have been saving it as a jpeg. I should save as instead of just save. Keep them always in a psd file?
09/22/2005 06:58:30 PM · #17
Originally posted by bcoble:

Thanks! I have a question.
I do make a copy, first thing. After I do all my PS work, I save a copy of that prior to merging the visual. Then I resize and set for web. After I merge, you save it as psd file?, where I have been saving it as a jpeg. I should save as instead of just save. Keep them always in a psd file?


I'm not sure I understand the question. However, once you resize and save-for-web, well you're limited to gif, html, or jpeg for save-to-web. At the small size, no need for .psd interim saves IMO.

R.
09/22/2005 07:37:35 PM · #18
Great start Robert. I like your directory structure suggestions and I'm looking foward to tweaking my process a little bit.

To those people who are thinking about getting an external hardrive, I HIGHLY recommend it. I normally save all my picture on CD and then save a copy on my external hard drive as well. I have a 200 gig Lacie hard drive that I have been very happy with so far. I run an 80 gig Mac Powerbook and I like to keep relatively clean, and thus the reason I rely upon CD and external hard drive storage.

Looking foward to learning from everyone!

Dave
09/23/2005 09:48:53 AM · #19
Basic Photoshop Workflow Continued, Part II

In Part I we uploaded and image from the camera into an organized file structure on our hard drive. We then saved the image as a .psd file so that we could work on it in a format that allowed us to keep layers and so forth intact in the saved version. We learned that we will NEVER do any work on our original file, but instead will clone off new copies of this file as needed to experiment with. We learned that our basic workflow is Open/save as .psd/adjust image/save final version at full size with layers intact/resize and adjust/publish to web. We looked at the concept of saving more than one version of an image, and why we'd do that. Now we move on:

Basic Examination of Photoshop

Using the above-mentioned "negative-to-final-image" workflow as our framework, so to speak, let's now take a look at Photoshop itself; what is a Photoshop, why do we need it, how can we use it logically to accomplish our goal with a given image?

1. Why do we NEED Photoshop? Why can't we just download an image and be done with it? Aren't our cameras doing their jobs?

In a word, the function/purpose of Photoshop (or any image editor) is control: the more familiar you become with the tool, the more control you can exercise over your finished image. Consider this: your camera is, in a very real sense, a small "computer". You can exercise (depending on the camera) substantial amounts of control over your image in the camera: two of the more obvious (and traditional) controls you can exercise are exposure (light image vs. dark image) and sharpness (visual acuity vs. softness). Less-obvious but usually present in-camera controls include contrast, white balance, and color saturation.

In a nutshell, your digital camera is a computer that you can "program" to exercise certain functions for you. You can tell it what color the light is so it will produce neutral color values. You can tell it how much you want to sharpen your image, how saturated you want the colors to appear, and so forth and so on. The problem is that the camera's not a very sophisticated computer. Furthermore, especially when we work with jpeg images, there's a limited amount of backtracking we can do to undo decisions made by the camera's processor during exposures.

Our basic thesis is this: it's best to have the camera produce a "neutral image", one that's not extreme in any particular. We can then use our larger, more sophisticated computers and our very sophisticated tool (Photoshop) to experiment directly with all these parameters and come up with a combination of adjustments that optimizes our image. With experience, this process becomes virtually automatic on simple, straightforward images and takes very little time at all.

2. Does this mean that since I have Photoshop I don't need to pay any attention to camera settings anymore? Can I just point-and-shoot without a care in the world, knowing that Photoshop healeth all things?

Of course not. That's ridiculous. It's always better to produce a "quality" image in-camera. Photoshop works better and better for you as you feed it better and better images. Photoshop can barely help you at all with out-of-focus images; it can add sharpness to slightly OOF shots and improve them noticeably, but they'd still be better (a lot better) if they were in focus out of the camera. Photoshop can crop your images to improve the framing, the compositional dynamics, but you're always better off shooting the original to some semblance of your finished crop for quality reasons alone: the more you crop, the fewer pixels you have to work with. Photoshop can make your shots lighter or darker, but it can't restore data that are not there; seriously under or overexposed images are very unsatisfactory to work with. Photoshop can color-correct in a big way, but it's MUCH easier to work with an image shot to the correct white balance from the get-go. These are fundamentals of good photography and they really can't be ignored just because we have a fancy tool to rescue our mistakes.

3. Aren't you contradicting yourself? In section 1 you said to let Photoshop do the work instead of the camera's computer, in section 2 you said to get it right in-camera. You're not making sense.

Actually, there's no contradiction. I said we should strive for a "neutral" image in-camera, one that's not extreme in any way. In other words, white balance should be neutral, exposure should be neither over nor under, contrast should be on the low side, color saturation and sharpness likewise, and so forth. This gives us a clean, easy-to-work-with original to import into Photoshop, where we now have considerable latitude to experiment with tonal values, color saturation, whatever.

If any of these basic parameters are too extreme out of the camera, we limit our options in the Photoshop phase. And bear in mind that for ordinary, plain-vanilla, evenly-lit photographs, these neutral-out-of-the-camera images are very often pretty much exactly what we need and little or no post-processing will be needed.

4. Okay, fine. I'll accept what you're saying. Now can you cut to the chase and tell me what Photoshop will DO for me? I prefer some meat on my soup bones, sir.

Gladly:

Basic Functions of Photoshop

Photoshop is an extremely sophisticated tool for visual artists; when it comes to images, there's virtually nothing you CAN'T do with it. You can spend years learning it and still be surprised by unexpected ways it can be of value. But it's also a very simple, efficient tool for ordinary photographers. At a basic level, here's what we do with Photoshop:

1. We sharpen images: Photoshop has a variety of different tools for adding visual acuity (sharpness) to images. Perceived sharpness is basically a function of edge contrast, and the amount of sharpening an image needs will depend on how it is displayed, and what size it is displayed at. As photographers, we usually use the oddly-named "Unsharp Mask" to sharpen our images. This is the sharpening tool we will discuss in this basic workshop.

2. We adjust brightness: Photoshop allows us to make our images lighter or darker, and we can make very subtle adjustments as we fine-tune our images.

3. We adjust contrast: "Contrast" is the range of tones between lightest and darkest, basically. Photoshop has a variety of tools for adjusting contrast: primary among them are Brightness/Contrast, Levels, and Curves tools. Brightness/contrast is a relatively coarse adjustment and we'll rarely use it, because anything it does can be better done with Levels without much additional effort. Curves is capable of doing anything Levels does (and much more) but it's very tricky to work with. We'll be concentrating on Levels in this workgroup.

4. We adjust color: Photoshop has a variety of color adjustment tools, including Color Balance, Hue/Saturation, and Selective Color. There are others, but these are the ones we will explore. Each takes a slightly different approach to color manipulation, and each has specific uses. Frequently we will use Hue/Saturation and Selective Color in the same image. These tools also can have an effect on the brightness of the image and its contrast. In Photoshop everything's interrelated.

5. We crop, rotate, and resize images and may add borders to them: All these will be discussed as we progress.

6. We save images in different sizes/formats for different purposes: Photoshop can save files in many formats. Our particular interest is in saving for web viewing and saving for printing.

7. We apply image effects: Photoshop has untold ways of "manipulating" images for specific aesthetic/artistic purposes. For example, we can create a soft-focus, glow effect on a portrait, or we can do a Joey Lawrence-like "grunge" manipulation. We won't be getting into that stuff for quite a while, if at all, though. We're doing "straight" photography in this workgroup on basics.

*********

To be continued; the above is just a logical extension of Section I, a "bridge" into Photoshop proper. Next installment will discuss the workflow within Photoshop, the order in which we do our tasks.

Robt.

09/23/2005 10:51:20 AM · #20
So far so good. Thanks
09/23/2005 10:58:27 AM · #21
me too! hey Bear, later in this PS basics could you maybe take a photo and have us photoshop it? kinda like Heida did. So we can try our skills in dodge and burn, layers, etc.

Originally posted by rex:

Thankx Robert that was great I never even thought about saving as a .psd file. Always done a .jpg....waiting on round 2.


Message edited by author 2005-09-23 11:05:56.
09/23/2005 11:02:56 AM · #22
Great outline cant wait for Part 3. Thanks Robert.
09/23/2005 11:06:25 AM · #23
Another excellent explanation. Thanks.
09/23/2005 03:00:48 PM · #24
I really can't believe this website and people like you. This is so valuable and you are just offering it to us. I really appreciate this a great deal. I don't have alot of money and to take a class like this is well out of my financial abilities at this time. I look forward to further installments and again I say thank you for this opportunity.

Trent
09/23/2005 03:07:32 PM · #25
Robert,

Trying to stay in the confines of the thread, how do you, or do you calibrate your monitor and printer as you are working with Photoshop.

Thanks,
John
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