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Wednesday July 23rd 2014

Our Digital Photography Workflow

Someone asked me about our image processing workflow, so I thought I would write a few words about our digital photography post-production for still photography. I am not an expert on post-production or image processing, but this is what we do here and it seems to work alright. Not that it can’t be improved upon!

Scope of the Job
Lately we have been using a Canon digital SLRs but a similar workflow could apply to any brand of camera. Every picture is in Camera RAW format and requires color-correction and tonal balancing. Then conversion and output to JPEG file with or without some kind of logo. No retouching.

A typical fashion photoshoot would have two to four different looks with about 50 or 60 shots per look. That usually works out to about 150 to 250 pictures which usually fit onto a single 2GB CF card. When we shoot pretty girl photosets, each  pictorial is about 150 to 200 shots and maybe we shoot two or three sets, so 300 to 500 pictures total. That’s a fair amount of pictures to process, so any automation is helpful. We normally don’t do any retouching or compositing because it is too labor intensive.

Production Phase
During production, everything is shot in Camera RAW format. We considered shooting RAW+JPEG, but decided that releasing pictures before color correction was not a good idea. For the most part, every lighting setup is metered with a Minolta incident light meter. This takes either ambient light readings or works as a flash meter. The f/stop and shutter speed are set on the camera which is almost always in manual mode.

Post-Production Workflow
LaCie 6-in-1 Universal Media Drive - Card reader ( MS, Microdrive, MMC, SD, SM, CF ) - Hi-Speed USBThe Camera RAW files arrive on Compact Flash cards. My travel computer is a 17-inch Macintosh Powerbook. I hook up a Lacie card reader to a USB port and copy all the files into a new folder named RAW/nameN to indicate the model or client’s name and which photoshoot. There are also a bunch of .TMP files that get deleted after copying them over. Don’t erase the CF card until after the RAW files have been backed up.

Adobe Bridge
Adobe Bridge CS2 IconThe Software we use is Adobe Photoshop CS2 which includes Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Bridge. Bridge includes the Adobe Camera Raw plug-in. Start up Bridge and point to the folder to view the thumbnails.

The first thing we do in Bridge is batch rename all the files. Raw files are named CRW_xxxx.CRW. There are only four digits so the camera rolls over at 9999. We add an extra digit, like CRW_1xxxx.CRW, so every file will have a unique name.

Color Correction
Open the files in Camera Raw for color correction and tonal balancing. I’ll write detail about those steps another time. With color balancing complete, add metadata EXIF information for each shot: Creator, Address, Description, Copyright, etc.

Convert to Digital Negative and Backup
Adobe DNG logoThe files are opened up again in Camera Raw for one more pass at color balancing. We find that you gotta color correct at least two times. Your eye sometimes gets adjusted to some off color and you must come back and look at it again later.

Once satisfied, save all files onto a separate hard drive as a digital negative named CRW_1xxxx.dng. Camera RAW is a Canon proprietary format. Digital Negative format (DNG) is a universal standard from Adobe. You are better off storing your pictures as digital negatives.

Apple iPod ClassicBackup the original Camera RAW files onto another drive. When traveling, I back them up onto an Apple iPod. iPods make a great portable drive for backups. From this point, use the digital negative as the primary source. When Bridge is pointed to the DNG folder it creates all the thumbnails.

Select and Ouput Files
When it comes to editing the selects, Bridge replaces the light table stacked with slides. Back in the days of slides, we used a Sharpie to mark the selects and outtakes right on the plastic or cardboard slide mount. We used a dot for the best ones and and “x” for the rejects. Now we use Bridge’s Rating star system to mark the shots. I delete shots that have a technical flaw like out-of-focus, camera shake, eyes blinking, severe overexposure, etc. (Unless it’s the only shot we got!)

For the web, Bridge can convert .dng files to .jpg files. Select the ones you want, open them in Camera Raw and fire it off. Ninety percent of the work can be done in Bridge. But Bridge can’t do everything. Adding a graphic logo or text to the image requires Photoshop. But Bridge can also run Photoshop actions in batch mode, so that is how to make jpeg files with a logo for the web.

Camera Raw and Adobe Bridge
In a nutshell, most of the heavy lifting is done with Adobe Bridge. Everything I know about Bridge I got from a book called Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2 by Bruce Fraser which you can purchase at Amazon.com at a discount.

Here is a funny thing. For a long time we were doing everything with Adobe Photoshop actions. We were Photoshop users since version about version 2.5 (1993). I had Bridge installed on my Powerbook but had no clue what it was. They don’t give you much printed documentation these days. One day I found Bruce Fraser’s book and I started using Bridge with Camera RAW. It finally made sense!

What We Use
Macintosh 1.5GHz PowerPC G4
LaCie 6-in-1 Universal Media Drive - Card Reader Hi-Speed USB
Mac OS X Version 10.4.11
Adobe Bridge CS2 Version 1.0.4.6
Adobe Camera Raw Plug-in Version 3.7
Adobe Photoshop CS2 Version 9.0.2

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