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MY DIGITAL WORKFLOW
By Vandit Kalia
May 2006

This is my previous RAW workflow:

Step 1: Download images from card to working folder on my computer.

Step 2: Open Raw Shooters Essential, and review images, flagging the ones I want to delete. I do a quick review of the images marked for deletion, and then get rid of them. If time allows, I just let the images sit for a while and do a second review loop after a week or so - this lets me review my images more objectively, without the memory of the trip or shooting situation clouding my judgement.

Step 3: Open Adobe Bridge and batch-rename all the files remaining. If any of the images are .CRW or Panasonic RAW files, I convert them to DNG format. This removes the sidecar file in the case of the .CRW files (conceptually, I prefer the ideaof 1 file per image); also, it reduces the file size of the Panasonic RAW format to 8-9Mb per image, as opposed to the 18MB original size. CR2 files get left as is.

Step 4: Open each file that I want to process in Adobe Camera RAW, and adjust color temperture and tweak exposure if needed. Note that unlike wedding photographers or commercial photographers, I don't need to batch-process large number of files - nor would it be feasible, as lighting conditions can vary significantly from shot to shot, as can my vision for the desired output.

Step 5: Open the image in Photoshop, making sure sharpening in ACR is set to zero. For web display or small prints, I open the file as an 8-bit image. For large prints or agency submissions, I open as a 16-bit file.

Step 6: Apply noise reduction if needed, using Noise Ninja (Neat Image is supposed to work quite well, too). Noise reduction is best applied in the early stage, before additional sharpening artefacts are introduced. I generally apply noise reduction only to shots taken at 400 ISO or greater with my DSLRs - however, I apply it to all shots taken with my compacts.

Step 7: Apply capture sharpening using Photokit Sharpener and save as TIFF. Capture sharpening is part of a 3-step sharpening workflow that I have adopted. This is the first step, where the image is sharpened to compensate for any inherent softness introduced as part of the digitcal capture or scanning process. This step is performed first, before making any contrast or tonal adjustments to the image.

Step 8 (for stock agency submissions): For submissions to my agency, which requires 50MB files, I first upsize the image, prior to performing any edits. I use QImage's resizing software - it works really well and I have not missed Genuine Fractals. Usually, I convert a bunch of files up to step 7, and then batch-upsize with QImage. Then I resume individual post-processing from step 9 onwards.

Step 9: Open again in Photoshop and adjust contrast. This step can consist of one or many adjustments: simple curves adjustment, blending in multiple layers, use of masks and multiple layers, and more. There is no simple formula here - what I use depends on the starting image, my goal for the ending image and the nature of the image.

Step 10: Adjust saturation. I use either Fred Miranda's Velvia Vision plug-in or simply Photoshop's Variations tool.

Step 11: Apply creative sharpening, if needed. Creative sharpening is the optional second step of my 3-step sharpening process, and consists of selective sharpening to satisfy the user's vision. Generally, I don't use it much - if I do, it is to sharpen the subject's eyes and any other features that I think are important.

Step 12: Save the resulting image as a TIFF (usually 8 bits). If I am submitting to an agency, then this is the final product - I make a set of duplicate 8-bit TIFFs which I archive separately.

Step 13 - For Web display: Downsample the image to around 500-550 pixels on the wide end, using Bicubic Sharper. I find this size to be good enough for web display and low-res enough that I don't have to worry about my images being boosted for any serious commercial applications. Then I apply output sharpening. This is the third stage in the 3-step sharpening process I use, and is used to sharpen the image to match the desired output medium, using Photokit's Output Sharpener, or simple USM with edge masking. Finally, I run an action to apply a border and frame to the image, and save for the web.

Step 13 - For Printing: Open the image in QImage, and let Qimage's interpolation and output sharpening algorithm take care of everything for me. I find this process to be much easier to use for prints up to A3 in size. For $50, QImage is one of the best values in photography software out there - an excellent up-sized and printing software in one. Once I have the image sharpened to the point where it looks good on screen, QImage does an excellent job of ensuring that it looks great on print. For really large prints, however, I first manually up-res the image in step 6, (just as I would for a stock submission).

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