July 27, 2012

My Workflow—Part 1

A few weeks ago, my friend, Doug, from the Bay Area Photo Club, asked me how I go about processing my photos.  Rather than try to tell him in words (the old problem of trying to accurately writing instructions of how you would go about sharpening a pencil), I decided to show him my basic processing on a given photo.
This photo, to me, is about three things:  the details in the flower, the starburst of the sun and the bokeh.  To get a good starburst, you must use a small aperture—here, I chose f/19.  This aperture would also make my bokeh-circles very small. I though that this combination would look pretty cool.
I shoot in RAW about 99.99999999999% of the time.  I do this because I feel that it provides me with the best file to develop the photos into the image that I want.  The image that you see on the back of your camera will not look like the one you open-up in your RAW processing program unless you do some basic processing of the file. 
Why is that?  Because what you see on the back of your camera is actually a JPEG image that is embedded within the RAW file.  The JPEG image that has been processed in accordance with the “Picture Control” (Nikon’s term; not sure what other manufacturers call it) that you selected in your camera.  Nikon has six Picture Control settings: Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait and Vivid.  Based upon which one you select, the photo displayed on the back of your camera will show varying amounts of: sharpening, contrast, brightness, saturation and hue.
I do not believe in redoing things over and over.  I also like things to as consistent and easy as possible. As a result, I have developed a series of Lightroom presets for each of the Nikon Picture Control settings.  Before I start to shoot, I select the Nikon Picture Control Setting that I believe will produce images that are most consistent with what I want.  I rarely change this setting during any shooting session. 
As I import my photos into Lightroom, I apply the appropriate preset to the photos.  What does this do?  Well, it makes my photo look very much like what I was seeing on the back of my camera as I was shooting.
How did I develop the various presets?  First, I took photos that used the different Nikon Picture Control Settings in both JPEG and RAW.  I then imported the photos into Lightroom.  Next, I applied Lightroom’s Camera Profile (you will find it in the Develop Module under Camera Calibration tab) to the RAW file.  I then tweaked the sharpening, contrast and saturation of the RAW until it matched the JPEG file.  Finally, I saved the settings for sharpening, contrast, saturation and Camera profile as a preset for that Nikon Picture Control Settings.
The first photo today shows the RAW file as it would look without applying any preset to it.  The image is basically flat and definitely not what you were seeing on the back of your camera. 

The second photo shows what the image would look after applying my Nikon Camera Standard Control Setting preset.  Notice how the colors are richer and there is generally more details throughout the photo.

Camera settings:  Nikon D4, 70-200mm f/2.8 at 90mm, ISO 1600, f/19 at 1/60th of a second on a tripod.
Post Processing:  
Lightroom 4—see above.


  1. I always look forward to your descriptions of the workflow you use. I know you like spending time behind the camera and not as much in front of the computer. I feel the same way. I think if we all spent the up front time that you do to make presets for our work, we could do the same; spend more time shooting. I look forward to the series of posts to come.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I plan on making my own presets.

  3. Thank you for answering my question as to why my downloaded raw files did not look like what I saw on the back of my camera. I will do what you suggested.

  4. Thanks for sharing...perhaps I need to learn Lightroom.

  5. Good info. Thanks for sharing this with us. I know it will help me. Look forward to the next installments.

  6. Keep the good info coming. I look forward to your next comments.