Digital Image Editing Workflow - Digital Photography School

Digital Image Editing Workflow

What is your Digital Imaging Workflow like?

I was just reading ‘Digital Photo’ Magazine (August 2006) and they suggest a 10 point workflow for Digital imaging which might be a helpful guide for those starting out in doing some post production work on their images using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Here it is:

Digital Image Editing Workflow

1. Transfer Your Photos (get images from your camera/card into your computer)
2. Edit Your Pictures (delete the bad ones, rename images etc)
3. Convert RAW Files (if you’ve shot in RAW convert them to a regular format after doing some basic editing of white balance, exposure, brightness, contrast, saturation etc)
4. Crop Your Images (get rid of parts of the images that are distracting)
5. Clean up and Enhance (clone out problems, manipulate the image in any way that changes elements of your shot)
6. Check Contrast (using Levels palette to get full range of tones)
7. Check Colour Balance (if needed use Levels, Colour Balance or Variations to tweak your colour balance).
8. Save the Layers
9. Flatten and Sharpen Up (flatten layers into one and do final sharpening)
10. Save the Final Image (different options here depending upon what you’ll use it for)

Obviously they give a lot more information on each point along the way but I’d be interested in hearing about the workflow that readers of DPS use in editing images using Photoshop? I’m no expert on the processing of images and would love to hear how others do it.

What’s your Digital Image Editing Workflow?

Feel free to share yours in comments below.

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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://www.web-den.org.uk/home/ Wulf

    I normally leave any tidying up like cloning to paint out distracting elements until after bulk adjustments like levels and colour balance. The reason is that they may emphasise areas which have been changed (or become irrelevant, for example if I end up blurring the background a little to create the effect of a narrower depth of field.

  • http://www.murraybrayphotography.com Murray Bray

    My last step is to crop. I crop to the print size I plan to print to and then save my image as image number say (0122-5×7) and then I could just hit undo and recrop to whatever other size that I need to print and save to (0122-4×6). This would continue your workflow to the printer and would save you many steps. Retouch only once but crop as many times as you wish.

  • http://www.sexyninjamonkey.com SexyNinjaMonkey

    I usually do my editing after getting back home from Partying all night. First i dump them to the hard drive, then i scan through and delete anything that’s useless. After that’s done i open it all in photoshop and make any neccesary edits (colour/lighting adjustments, cropping, etc.), then they all get uploaded to my zooomr page. As soon as that is done, i go and get some sleep.

  • fulminating

    my flow in photoshop:

    A. Bridge
    1. Import script
    2. Rename pics
    3. Rank and cull pics

    B. Adobe Camera Raw:
    1. exposure
    2. white balance
    3. highlights/shadows
    4. curves (contrast)
    5. crop (hide, not delete)
    6. Save as .dng file in /Originals

    C. Photoshop: I run a few actions that either do it automatically or make it much faster.
    1. PT Lens plugin(optical correction)
    2. Noise Ninja plugin (remove digital grain)
    3. Levels (increase contrast)
    4. Curves (finer contrast/brightness adjustments).
    5. High Pass Sharpening: Layer-based, non-destructive sharpening much less affect on noise.
    6. Final manual adjustments (incl. cloning or other prescriptive post-processing)
    7. Save w/layers, flatten save .jpg or .tifs for prints in /Derivatives folder.

    If it’s not a complicated or high priority image, it usually takes about 3 min per image.

  • http://inphotos.org/ Donncha O Caoimh

    My workflow revolves mostly around uploading images to the web, but I also keep a large version of those images in case I want to make a print later. So far I haven’t sold any prints yet but I live in hope!
    The editing I do on a photo largely depends on the image. Sometimes all I need to do is auto-levels, resize, unsharp mask and save, but those are the rare occasions when I get my daily photo prepared in a timely manner.

  • YPB

    It would be so great if somebody could recommend the best way to learn how to use Photoshop so I can get into the workflows??

  • Unser

    You could search for “Photoshop Tutorial” on the web
    Here is the Adobe site:
    http://www.photoshopelementsuser.com/tutorials/index.php
    Some more:
    http://www.photoshopsupport.com/elements/tutorials.html#elements_4_videos

  • http://www.dilip.info Dilip Barman

    The best way really is to play with the software. I think that it is easier and cheaper to first learn Paint Shop Pro. But whatever package, install it, open up a copy of an image, and experiment – just don’t save that copy over the original. A great book is Scott Kelby’s “The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers” (2005) – but it is really an intermediate book. You can also try any number of other books, such as “Secrets of the Digital Darkroom: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Getting the Best Results from Your Digital Photographs”, Peter Cope & Simon Joinson (2003); and “Photoshop for Photography: The Art of Pixel Processing”, Tom Ang (2003).

  • http://makoskitchen.com Graydon

    I don’t have the need to do a lot of adjustments to my photos as far as visual corrections / manipulations. Since most of what I do is either personal or for Mako’s Kitchen, I find using ACDSee Pro works great for…
    – import
    – rough cull obvious screwed up shots
    – resize to new folder
    – detail sort (normally take 2-3 shots per “image” with minor differences)
    – rename
    – create thumbnails
    – append name for thumbnails
    end

    I’ll do my upload via FTP and call it a wrap.

  • Pete Mauro

    I just bought a MacBook Pro (replacing my PC) and I have been checking out Aperture. I looks like it really streamlines this whole process. Anyone use it?

    pete

  • Clifford Newton

    I have subscribed to Digital Photo mag from the offset and find it invaluable and now I have discovered Digital-photography-School things could not be better! What a great site.

  • FFred

    My workflow is fully in Linux but the basics work with pretty much anything :
    1 : Dump the PEF (RAW) files in a directory named with the date in ISO format
    2 : make a blind run on the directory with Bibble to create JPEG files. Those go to a sub directory called JPEG.
    3 : review the JPEGs to see which file need (or are worthy) of working on
    4 : The interesting files get corrected / balanced / cropped in Bibble and go to a second directory called Export.
    5 : If needed, further retouching is done with the Gimp or with the digiKam editor.
    6 : Files are indexed with comments and keywords in digiKam.

  • http://www.aikendrum.org AikenDrum105

    I use Bibble under linux as well (it is also avail for windows), but leave the images in raw (NEF) and only convert to jpg to email or give a copy to someone. Bibble is really good at batch converting / printing etc. Love it :) It’s a tasty price too..
    Also worth noting – Bibble leaves the raw files unchanged, but stores a little bibble ref file alongside them with all the changes you’ve made ala WB, curves, crops etc. It means you can always go back to the original shot, and don’t have to have duplication on your HD.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/neychurluvr/ Pranav Yaddanapudi

    I always use freeware or open source software like PhotoScape/Paint.NET/Gimp. My workflow usually goes like this:

    - set white balance if needed
    - duplicating layer and blend in Multiply/Overlay mode and flatten
    - duplicate layer and blend in Soft Light mode and flatten (optional)
    - Apply any filters for special effects like glow/lomo/mute colors etc. (optional)
    - Crop & Resize as needed and Save

    I use Windows Live Photo Gallery and Picasa to organize my pictures and upload them to my favorite online services (Flickr/PicasaWeb).

  • harold

    Should cropping, cloning, and resizing come before anything else? Don’t adjustments like contrast, etc.. affect sharpening on their own.
    Where should noise reduction come in the order of process.
    Do you think you should have the final composition and final size ready before actually starting any other editing due to the opposite functions working based on what the compositions is to start with instead of what it will be in the end.
    harold

  • BIll Pearl

    Basic Pixel Changing Edits (PSP X2)

    1. Colour Balance. Also known as white balance or light source adjustment. Adjust > Automatic Color Balance

    2. Brightness and Contrast: Adjust > Brightness and Contrast > Brightness/Contrast or Histogram > Gamma for more control

    3. Crop and Compose: Choose the desired print proportion from the Presets menu in the Tool Options palette or do a manual cropping. (Turn on Tool Options: View > Palettes > Tool Options)

    4. Sharpen the Image: Adjust > Sharpness > Unsharp Mark Try using Paint Shop Pro’s default values a try first: radius, 2; strength, 100; clipping, 5. If the result is noisy or ragged, undo the sharpening. You may need to zoom in a little to see the effect.
    (Sharpening with High Pass Filter has less chance of creating the unwanted contrast halo often associated with unsharp mask (or similar))

    5. Noise Reduction: Don’t bother if the picture was taken in normal lighting with a low ISO setting. But for night shots, long exposures, or ISO above 400, then there might be noisy pixels in your image. Adjust > One Step Noise Removal or Digital Camera Noise Removal for more control
    Download for free from Imagenomic “Noiseware Community Edition Standalone 2.6″

    After you’ve taken these initial steps, you can always make other changes, such as boosting the saturation or adjusting the colors. You might also want to add filters, perform special effects, or do some composite work by adding layers, etc.

    6. Metadata: After editing and saving photos, load the files into a photo organizer and add some keywords so they’ll be easy to find. (Palettes > Organizer – Ctrl+b)

  • http://randjphoto.phanfare.com/ Ric

    Over the years I have collected and tried out processing tips and read or watched dozens of tutorials. This culminates in my current workflow for Adobe Photoshop CS4. The asterisk at the start of a section indicates where I have created an Action or a Script to speed up common and repetitive tasks.

    BRIDGE: Load images and delete all less than perfect files. Add Key Words.

    RAW: Process and then open selected images.

    If for PRINT: Edit/Convert to (Printing) Profile.

    SAVE AS: Save in ‘Ric’s Doodles CURRENT’ / [FOLDER] / [FILE NAME]. (The original remains untouched.)

    STRAIGHTEN: Use Measure tool across current horizon/vertical. Image/Canvass Rotate/Arbitrary = Auto Align.

    ADD SPECIAL EFECTS: B/W, etc.

    *CUSTOM SHAPES: Rule of Thirds Grid – position to get most effective image. Crop.

    DUST: Use Spot Heal tool to remove dust and scratches.

    DETAILED EDITING: If Required.

    NOISE: Filter/Noise/Reduce Noise.

    *ADJUSTMENTS: Image/Adjustments/Match/Neutralise. Curves – Adjust per channel. Layer/Flatten Image (or not). Filter/Smart Sharpen. Add Stroke (Border).

    *ACTION: Add Signature.

    *CTRL S: Save – adds Copyright metadata and creates JPEG at 20% of .PSD file.

  • http://www.audioruss.com Russell Featherstone

    Simply visit http://www.cbrush.com. It changed the way I edit photo’s forever with a simple 17 step workflow. Good luck

  • Michael Swanson

    Why is photoshop so damn good, I use a free Paintnet site. Same tools, but no one ever gives tips or advice.

  • John Deir

    I’m new to all this and could see that managing a photo library could get intense so I got a book from library: “The DAM Book” by Peter Krogh. WOW, so much more explained than what is touched here. I was more interested in metadata query and discovered much more in how workflow develops with photography.

    Though much of the book is over my head, I am going to start out better prepared to develop, backup, save, catalog, and tag and name as well as how to find and query photos in the future. Didn’t realize how in-depth this is.
    Have others read this book or know of “digital Asset Management?” Would like to know more about such.

Some older comments

  • John Deir

    August 25, 2011 11:12 am

    I'm new to all this and could see that managing a photo library could get intense so I got a book from library: "The DAM Book" by Peter Krogh. WOW, so much more explained than what is touched here. I was more interested in metadata query and discovered much more in how workflow develops with photography.

    Though much of the book is over my head, I am going to start out better prepared to develop, backup, save, catalog, and tag and name as well as how to find and query photos in the future. Didn't realize how in-depth this is.
    Have others read this book or know of "digital Asset Management?" Would like to know more about such.

  • Michael Swanson

    July 31, 2010 05:41 am

    Why is photoshop so damn good, I use a free Paintnet site. Same tools, but no one ever gives tips or advice.

  • Russell Featherstone

    February 28, 2010 08:57 pm

    Simply visit www.cbrush.com. It changed the way I edit photo's forever with a simple 17 step workflow. Good luck

  • Ric

    November 30, 2009 08:32 am

    Over the years I have collected and tried out processing tips and read or watched dozens of tutorials. This culminates in my current workflow for Adobe Photoshop CS4. The asterisk at the start of a section indicates where I have created an Action or a Script to speed up common and repetitive tasks.

    BRIDGE: Load images and delete all less than perfect files. Add Key Words.

    RAW: Process and then open selected images.

    If for PRINT: Edit/Convert to (Printing) Profile.

    SAVE AS: Save in 'Ric's Doodles CURRENT' / [FOLDER] / [FILE NAME]. (The original remains untouched.)

    STRAIGHTEN: Use Measure tool across current horizon/vertical. Image/Canvass Rotate/Arbitrary = Auto Align.

    ADD SPECIAL EFECTS: B/W, etc.

    *CUSTOM SHAPES: Rule of Thirds Grid - position to get most effective image. Crop.

    DUST: Use Spot Heal tool to remove dust and scratches.

    DETAILED EDITING: If Required.

    NOISE: Filter/Noise/Reduce Noise.

    *ADJUSTMENTS: Image/Adjustments/Match/Neutralise. Curves - Adjust per channel. Layer/Flatten Image (or not). Filter/Smart Sharpen. Add Stroke (Border).

    *ACTION: Add Signature.

    *CTRL S: Save - adds Copyright metadata and creates JPEG at 20% of .PSD file.

  • BIll Pearl

    October 22, 2009 07:01 am

    Basic Pixel Changing Edits (PSP X2)

    1. Colour Balance. Also known as white balance or light source adjustment. Adjust > Automatic Color Balance

    2. Brightness and Contrast: Adjust > Brightness and Contrast > Brightness/Contrast or Histogram > Gamma for more control

    3. Crop and Compose: Choose the desired print proportion from the Presets menu in the Tool Options palette or do a manual cropping. (Turn on Tool Options: View > Palettes > Tool Options)

    4. Sharpen the Image: Adjust > Sharpness > Unsharp Mark Try using Paint Shop Pro's default values a try first: radius, 2; strength, 100; clipping, 5. If the result is noisy or ragged, undo the sharpening. You may need to zoom in a little to see the effect.
    (Sharpening with High Pass Filter has less chance of creating the unwanted contrast halo often associated with unsharp mask (or similar))

    5. Noise Reduction: Don't bother if the picture was taken in normal lighting with a low ISO setting. But for night shots, long exposures, or ISO above 400, then there might be noisy pixels in your image. Adjust > One Step Noise Removal or Digital Camera Noise Removal for more control
    Download for free from Imagenomic "Noiseware Community Edition Standalone 2.6"

    After you've taken these initial steps, you can always make other changes, such as boosting the saturation or adjusting the colors. You might also want to add filters, perform special effects, or do some composite work by adding layers, etc.

    6. Metadata: After editing and saving photos, load the files into a photo organizer and add some keywords so they'll be easy to find. (Palettes > Organizer - Ctrl+b)

  • harold

    December 24, 2008 02:51 am

    Should cropping, cloning, and resizing come before anything else? Don't adjustments like contrast, etc.. affect sharpening on their own.
    Where should noise reduction come in the order of process.
    Do you think you should have the final composition and final size ready before actually starting any other editing due to the opposite functions working based on what the compositions is to start with instead of what it will be in the end.
    harold

  • Pranav Yaddanapudi

    October 13, 2008 02:00 pm

    I always use freeware or open source software like PhotoScape/Paint.NET/Gimp. My workflow usually goes like this:

    - set white balance if needed
    - duplicating layer and blend in Multiply/Overlay mode and flatten
    - duplicate layer and blend in Soft Light mode and flatten (optional)
    - Apply any filters for special effects like glow/lomo/mute colors etc. (optional)
    - Crop & Resize as needed and Save

    I use Windows Live Photo Gallery and Picasa to organize my pictures and upload them to my favorite online services (Flickr/PicasaWeb).

  • AikenDrum105

    July 22, 2008 10:45 pm

    I use Bibble under linux as well (it is also avail for windows), but leave the images in raw (NEF) and only convert to jpg to email or give a copy to someone. Bibble is really good at batch converting / printing etc. Love it :) It's a tasty price too..
    Also worth noting - Bibble leaves the raw files unchanged, but stores a little bibble ref file alongside them with all the changes you've made ala WB, curves, crops etc. It means you can always go back to the original shot, and don't have to have duplication on your HD.

  • FFred

    June 26, 2007 09:46 pm

    My workflow is fully in Linux but the basics work with pretty much anything :
    1 : Dump the PEF (RAW) files in a directory named with the date in ISO format
    2 : make a blind run on the directory with Bibble to create JPEG files. Those go to a sub directory called JPEG.
    3 : review the JPEGs to see which file need (or are worthy) of working on
    4 : The interesting files get corrected / balanced / cropped in Bibble and go to a second directory called Export.
    5 : If needed, further retouching is done with the Gimp or with the digiKam editor.
    6 : Files are indexed with comments and keywords in digiKam.

  • Clifford Newton

    March 18, 2007 11:24 pm

    I have subscribed to Digital Photo mag from the offset and find it invaluable and now I have discovered Digital-photography-School things could not be better! What a great site.

  • Pete Mauro

    January 2, 2007 04:08 pm

    I just bought a MacBook Pro (replacing my PC) and I have been checking out Aperture. I looks like it really streamlines this whole process. Anyone use it?

    pete

  • Graydon

    October 3, 2006 01:54 pm

    I don't have the need to do a lot of adjustments to my photos as far as visual corrections / manipulations. Since most of what I do is either personal or for Mako's Kitchen, I find using ACDSee Pro works great for...
    - import
    - rough cull obvious screwed up shots
    - resize to new folder
    - detail sort (normally take 2-3 shots per "image" with minor differences)
    - rename
    - create thumbnails
    - append name for thumbnails
    end

    I'll do my upload via FTP and call it a wrap.

  • Dilip Barman

    October 1, 2006 01:58 pm

    The best way really is to play with the software. I think that it is easier and cheaper to first learn Paint Shop Pro. But whatever package, install it, open up a copy of an image, and experiment - just don't save that copy over the original. A great book is Scott Kelby's "The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers" (2005) - but it is really an intermediate book. You can also try any number of other books, such as "Secrets of the Digital Darkroom: The Complete Illustrated Guide to Getting the Best Results from Your Digital Photographs", Peter Cope & Simon Joinson (2003); and "Photoshop for Photography: The Art of Pixel Processing", Tom Ang (2003).

  • Unser

    September 30, 2006 10:38 pm

    You could search for "Photoshop Tutorial" on the web
    Here is the Adobe site:
    http://www.photoshopelementsuser.com/tutorials/index.php
    Some more:
    http://www.photoshopsupport.com/elements/tutorials.html#elements_4_videos

  • YPB

    September 29, 2006 06:48 pm

    It would be so great if somebody could recommend the best way to learn how to use Photoshop so I can get into the workflows??

  • Donncha O Caoimh

    September 29, 2006 03:49 am

    My workflow revolves mostly around uploading images to the web, but I also keep a large version of those images in case I want to make a print later. So far I haven't sold any prints yet but I live in hope!
    The editing I do on a photo largely depends on the image. Sometimes all I need to do is auto-levels, resize, unsharp mask and save, but those are the rare occasions when I get my daily photo prepared in a timely manner.

  • fulminating

    September 29, 2006 01:39 am

    my flow in photoshop:

    A. Bridge
    1. Import script
    2. Rename pics
    3. Rank and cull pics

    B. Adobe Camera Raw:
    1. exposure
    2. white balance
    3. highlights/shadows
    4. curves (contrast)
    5. crop (hide, not delete)
    6. Save as .dng file in /Originals

    C. Photoshop: I run a few actions that either do it automatically or make it much faster.
    1. PT Lens plugin(optical correction)
    2. Noise Ninja plugin (remove digital grain)
    3. Levels (increase contrast)
    4. Curves (finer contrast/brightness adjustments).
    5. High Pass Sharpening: Layer-based, non-destructive sharpening much less affect on noise.
    6. Final manual adjustments (incl. cloning or other prescriptive post-processing)
    7. Save w/layers, flatten save .jpg or .tifs for prints in /Derivatives folder.

    If it's not a complicated or high priority image, it usually takes about 3 min per image.

  • SexyNinjaMonkey

    September 28, 2006 06:39 pm

    I usually do my editing after getting back home from Partying all night. First i dump them to the hard drive, then i scan through and delete anything that's useless. After that's done i open it all in photoshop and make any neccesary edits (colour/lighting adjustments, cropping, etc.), then they all get uploaded to my zooomr page. As soon as that is done, i go and get some sleep.

  • Murray Bray

    September 28, 2006 02:43 am

    My last step is to crop. I crop to the print size I plan to print to and then save my image as image number say (0122-5x7) and then I could just hit undo and recrop to whatever other size that I need to print and save to (0122-4x6). This would continue your workflow to the printer and would save you many steps. Retouch only once but crop as many times as you wish.

  • Wulf

    September 27, 2006 11:47 pm

    I normally leave any tidying up like cloning to paint out distracting elements until after bulk adjustments like levels and colour balance. The reason is that they may emphasise areas which have been changed (or become irrelevant, for example if I end up blurring the background a little to create the effect of a narrower depth of field.

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