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A 5 Step Photoshop Elements Workflow

Regular reader, Dan, submitted the following Photoshop Workflow which I thought might be helpful for some – and which might get some interesting discussion going also.

I know that there’s a lot of debate among photoshop geeks as to what order you should do things in photoshop when processing images – but I wanted to share with your readers my own workflow when I do day to day adjustments using Buy the Adobe Photoshop Elements (although its similar to what I do in other post processing software too). I won’t go into great detail about how I do each step – rather this is more about the order that I do things.

I should say that I’m just describing my general process for most images – of course there are times when I break out of this little routine and do something different (or where I skip a step) – this varies from image to image – but is my general rhythm which I learned from a photoshop course at a local school:

My Photoshop Workflow has five main steps:

1. Crop and Rotate

I used to do this more in my early days as I regularly took images that were not straight or framed well. I’ve since improved this by changing my in-camera technique – but it’s always worth a quick scan of the image to check that it’s straight, that I have my subject positioned well in the frame and that I don’t have a distraction in the background that could be removed with cropping.

2. Adjust Levels

Next I open the levels dialogue box and check the histogram of the image that I’m editing to see if it’s balanced. Looking to see the shape of the histogram can tell you a lot about an image. I pay particular attention to the edge of the histogram to see if there’s a full spectrum of tones in the shot.

3. Adjust the Color

The good thing about adjusting the levels first is that it can sometimes bring the colors in your image to life – however sometimes it can be necessary to make further adjustments. I usually try ‘Auto Colors’ first to see how Photoshop treats it – but if am not satisfied with it will undo it and tweak things manually.

4. Remove Spots/Marks/Distractions

At this point I scan the image for any kind of distractions or marks. This may be something that was in the scene that can’t be removed by cropping or could be a speck of dust on your image sensor. I tend to keep things simple here and use the Cloning tool for most of these.

5. Sharpen

Once I’m satisfied with all of the above factors I then do sharpening. I used to think that this was the most important element and that I could fix poorly focused images – however I now know that you can only work with what you’ve got when it comes to sharpening.

Thanks to Dan for sharing his Photoshop Elements Workflow. It think it’d be useful to hear how others approach their post production workflow also. What order do you approach your post production? What steps do you include most? What do you leave out?

Read more from our Post Production category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • http://alienscream.multiply.com/,http://www.flickr.com/photos/alienscream/ Joey Rico

    what i do is:

    clean (remove spots and others)
    adjust levels
    adjust colors (use auto colors also but if not satisfied then manually adjust)
    sharpen
    crop

  • Blue

    My workflow is very similar to what Dan has described.

    I think it is important to crop and clean before you tweak the levels, so that the histogram is not reflecting things which will later be removed.

    Lately I have only been spot-sharpening the most important bits of my image (for instance, the eyes) which really helps make them “pop”, while not creating any extra noise in the rest of my image. Then I’ll apply a very light, all-over noise reduction/artifact remover.

  • Derek

    I follow a similar workflow although this is not all inclusive for every situation these are my fundamental steps.

    1) Levels
    2) Hue and Saturation
    3) cropping
    4) Sharpening (I think every image could use a little)
    5) anything that could add the creative look you’re looking for

  • Ernie Hatt

    So far, both the article and the first comment have missed the most important thing in any workflow, and that is duplicate the image.
    I use CS3
    make dulicate.
    use the highlight/ shadow.
    adjust colour manually.
    remove the unwanted.
    Crop.
    sharpen.
    resize if for web.
    sharpen again.
    Ernie

  • David

    crop
    rotate/straigthen
    levels or highlight/shadows
    color adjustment (remove color cast and/or skin tone, where appropriate)
    sharpen last
    resize

    I would crop first and adjust levels later, because the overall histogram may be biased by what you end up cropping out.

    I agree that duplicating first is important.

    The highlight/shadow can be problematic: sometime bringing up the shadows makes it very low contrast. I alternate between the levels and the highlight/shadows.

    The current Photoshop Elements 6 (and I gather CS3) have an amazing Quick Selection tool for masking that is incredibly fast to isolate key areas. I have used that to, for example, just lighten subject faces, darken and blur background elements, or darken the over-bright near field in a flash-illuminated shot of a white table.

  • http://www.photographybyjet.com James-PhotographyByJET

    I like to be as nondestructive in image editing as possible.
    This mean I use layers for nearly everything. Cropping would be the second from last step (allows other cropping later). Sharpening should be the last step or done as part of the final resizing before printing. Different amounts of sharpening are needed depending on the final resolution.
    I admit to using some sharpening at the RAW stage to make sure the image is sharp before spending time enhancing it.

  • PRH

    I like to copy images that I’m working on into a different folder which I’ve labeled “processing” that way when I hit save I don’t accidentally write over the original.

    As for the workflow, I like to duplicate the image layer and leave the original as an unseen background layer. If you make a mistake with one of your editing layers, you can always delete it and make another copy of the background layer. If you’re really keen, you can use a different layer for each of your processes and blend them together.

    When I’m happy with the image I hit merge visible and save as jpeg for printing/web

  • alan

    How does one spot sharpen an image? I’ve only been able to sharpen the entire image – using Elements 9.

  • http://www.stevebeeston.co.uk Steve Beeston Photography

    How does one spot sharpen an image? I’ve only been able to sharpen the entire image – using Elements 9.

    Create a selection before using the sharpen tool.

Some older comments

  • Steve Beeston Photography

    November 9, 2011 10:02 am

    How does one spot sharpen an image? I’ve only been able to sharpen the entire image – using Elements 9.

    Create a selection before using the sharpen tool.

  • alan

    August 22, 2011 09:42 am

    How does one spot sharpen an image? I've only been able to sharpen the entire image - using Elements 9.

  • PRH

    February 10, 2008 08:45 am

    I like to copy images that I'm working on into a different folder which I've labeled "processing" that way when I hit save I don't accidentally write over the original.

    As for the workflow, I like to duplicate the image layer and leave the original as an unseen background layer. If you make a mistake with one of your editing layers, you can always delete it and make another copy of the background layer. If you're really keen, you can use a different layer for each of your processes and blend them together.

    When I'm happy with the image I hit merge visible and save as jpeg for printing/web

  • James-PhotographyByJET

    December 16, 2007 10:44 am

    I like to be as nondestructive in image editing as possible.
    This mean I use layers for nearly everything. Cropping would be the second from last step (allows other cropping later). Sharpening should be the last step or done as part of the final resizing before printing. Different amounts of sharpening are needed depending on the final resolution.
    I admit to using some sharpening at the RAW stage to make sure the image is sharp before spending time enhancing it.

  • David

    December 15, 2007 12:20 am

    crop
    rotate/straigthen
    levels or highlight/shadows
    color adjustment (remove color cast and/or skin tone, where appropriate)
    sharpen last
    resize

    I would crop first and adjust levels later, because the overall histogram may be biased by what you end up cropping out.

    I agree that duplicating first is important.

    The highlight/shadow can be problematic: sometime bringing up the shadows makes it very low contrast. I alternate between the levels and the highlight/shadows.

    The current Photoshop Elements 6 (and I gather CS3) have an amazing Quick Selection tool for masking that is incredibly fast to isolate key areas. I have used that to, for example, just lighten subject faces, darken and blur background elements, or darken the over-bright near field in a flash-illuminated shot of a white table.

  • Ernie Hatt

    December 13, 2007 08:31 am

    So far, both the article and the first comment have missed the most important thing in any workflow, and that is duplicate the image.
    I use CS3
    make dulicate.
    use the highlight/ shadow.
    adjust colour manually.
    remove the unwanted.
    Crop.
    sharpen.
    resize if for web.
    sharpen again.
    Ernie

  • Derek

    December 13, 2007 12:59 am

    I follow a similar workflow although this is not all inclusive for every situation these are my fundamental steps.

    1) Levels
    2) Hue and Saturation
    3) cropping
    4) Sharpening (I think every image could use a little)
    5) anything that could add the creative look you're looking for

  • Blue

    December 13, 2007 12:56 am

    My workflow is very similar to what Dan has described.

    I think it is important to crop and clean before you tweak the levels, so that the histogram is not reflecting things which will later be removed.

    Lately I have only been spot-sharpening the most important bits of my image (for instance, the eyes) which really helps make them "pop", while not creating any extra noise in the rest of my image. Then I'll apply a very light, all-over noise reduction/artifact remover.

  • Joey Rico

    December 12, 2007 07:50 pm

    what i do is:

    clean (remove spots and others)
    adjust levels
    adjust colors (use auto colors also but if not satisfied then manually adjust)
    sharpen
    crop

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