Sunday, 9 May 2010

DPP: Digital workflow.

In my write-ups for Ex1&2 I made little or no reference to the workflow after the images had been captured and transferred to a computer. It is clear that some post processing was required to prepare the images for the web so I am discussing this issue as a separate post.
My general practise
In broad terms my standard practise has been to carry out overall exposure, white balance and contrast adjustments in my RAW package, convert the image to the highest quality jpeg and then carry out any cloning, local contrast enhancements, straightening, cropping etc in Photoshop Elements (or Picasa if only simple changes are required). I would then follow this by noise reduction, resizing and sharpening as required.
From reading around (photo magazines, web browsing etc) over the years I have been doing digital photography I am aware of the potential quality issues associated with moving straight from RAW to jpeg and doing further editing on the jpeg. However in practise, as I generally print small or use photos for the web or computer display only, this has not caused problems to date.
Perhaps a more relevant issue for me personally is that I have a tendency to ‘fiddle’ – visiting and re-visiting the image. Given this a more structured workflow at all stages should make my time at the computer considerably more productive and hopefully improve the technical quality of my shots.
One of the stated aims of this course is to develop “… understanding of the standards expected in commercial and fine art photography and the need to establish an effective digital workflow to achieve such standards.” With this in mind I have done some more structured reading around the subject and devised a processing workflow for use in the first assignment and onwards.
RAW development software
There is a workflow implicit in the RAW development software. E.g. the development modules of Olympus Studio are listed in the following order:
Basic 1: Exposure comp; White Balance; Resize; Crop
Basic 2: a range of other global settings such as contrast, saturation, noise reduction, sharpening
Corrections: for vignetting, lens distortions, chromatic aberrations and unsharp masking
This is fairly consistent with the model I have adopted over time, although it does not include cloning/healing options, there is no opportunity for levelling or adjusting perspective issues – and in this particular application the unsharp masking is somewhat slow to use so I would normally carry out this step in Elements. In addition the noise reduction facility is very simple – I have generally preferred the results from a stand-alone package.
Towards a more effective workflow
A quick search on Google provides hundreds of pages of information on workflow, of varying depth and usefulness. I chose just 5 to compare with and develop my current practise (see references below).
There are a number of points on which they all agree:
  • Crop in the RAW software – there is little point in working on an image if the final crop is not aesthetically pleasing
  • White balance, exposure, highlight and shadow recovery, vignette recovery in RAW software – presumably because these functions are better applied using the data as delivered by the sensor rather than after processing to jpeg or TIFF
  • Convert to TIFF for further processing to avoid repeated data loss in jpeg compression.
  • Retouching after conversion including local contrast adjustment (burning and dodging), cloning/healing, colour adjusts, saturation, levels etc. These can be completed on layers for easier changes if required
  • Resize and sharpen for end use as a final step.
On the other hand, little mention was made of noise reduction – one site recommending that it be done early, and another at the end (presumably prior to sharpening).
Final digital workflow
  • Import – changing final name to reflect shoot and adding general keywords and copyright info as a batch process
  • Edit – as per Ex 4
  • In RAW software – adjust white balance of final selects, exposure, contrast/curves and cropping.
  • Save as TIFFs – batch process to save time – and back up
  • On TIFF – noise reduction and resave as TIFF
  • On TIFF file – rotation, local contrast adjusts, retouching etc.
  • Resize and sharpen for end use
  • Save as jpeg and back-up
  • Upload/print as required
At the end of this process I should have three copies of each of the final select images: a RAW, a globally corrected TIFF and the final jpeg – all three backed up.

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