A PRODUCTIVE DIGITAL WORKFLOW MEANS A BETTER SHOT
ONE OF THE BENEFITS of digital photography is eliminating the need for third-party processing of film, which, of course, offers the photographer more control over the entire process. With that control comes more responsibility. You must now understand how to get your images from the point of capture to your end result, which is normally a printed image or a Web-based image.
I cringe when asked what's the best software to use or the best workflow process, because that's the photography equivalent of asking, "How long is a rope?" or "How deep is a hole?" The answer is, "It depends." The answer will vary somewhat based on certain criteria, including the type of camera you shoot with (compact vs. DSLR), what you plan on doing with your images (share with friends vs. publish professionally), and your willingness, or lack thereof, to spend time dealing with the process.
Generally speaking, there are a handful of steps to processing your digital images and creating the best end results. Previously, one had to use multiple programs to handle different aspects of workflow. But today, with programs such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Apple Aperture, the need for multiple programs exists only for those with the most discerning eye and willingness to optimize the process. There are even free options.
GETTING INTO THE FLOW
CAPTURE: The process begins the moment you depress the shutter. The more "work" you can do to ensure a great capture, the less time you'll spend behind a computer editing images. Techniques for great composition and exposure are universal digital photography has not changed that.
If you shoot with a DSLR and capture images in RAW format, using a high-quality RAW converter is the first step to preserving all data captured by your camera. JPEGs, by definition, maintain a fraction of the data captured. You don't need to convert JPEGs, but you shouldn't overprocess these files, as you are already working with less data and will sacrifice a margin of quality with each edit. RAW converters include the programs that come with your camera, such as Nikon Capture NX, Canon Digital Photo Professional (DPP), SilkyPics for Panasonic and Sony, or third-party converters like DxO Optics Pro, Adobe Camera RAW, Bibble or Aperture.
Organization is key when dealing with hundreds of images or more. Select a naming convention for your images and a specified folder or even a separate hard drive on which to store them. Add tags or keywords, which will allow you to easily find images based on the subject matter, destination, colors, etc. Most software gives you the ability to rank your images. A good rule of thumb is to delete your "nonkeepers" to prevent clutter and confusion.
If you captured a good image, you'll need minimal editing, but generally speaking, you will always need to run through a few adjustments to refine the final product. Advanced users have adopted Adobe Photoshop as the gold standard of image editing. However, if minor adjustments in color, contrast or saturation are all that is needed, Aperture, Lightroom or even Adobe Elements is fine. Some photographers might be intimidated by, or simply don't want to take the time to learn to use, a workhorse like Photoshop, and that's OK. The evolution of Aperture, and Lightroom in particular, allows you to handle all the workflow steps other than capturing the image.
It boggles my mind that many (possibly most) photographers don't back up their images. Remember, Murphy's Law can and will strike, and if you haven't backed up your images by that time, years of hard work and memories can be lost forever. Backing up work should be done both at home and, ideally, in the field. The cost of hard drives portable and otherwise is dropping significantly. To put it in perspective, a 1 terabyte desktop drive can cost as low as $250, and 160 GB portable drives that fit in your shirt pocket can go for about $150.
You can post your images to your website to allow for purchasing, share them on sites such as Flickr, Shutterfly and Kodak Gallery for the world to see, and post them for your peers to review on sites such as forums.sportdiver .com and divephotoguide.com. Don't let digital workflow intimidate you. It's only as complicated as you choose. Most software programs referenced in this article are available as free trials, so you can try before you buy. Alternatively, there are also free products, such as Google's Picasa or Apple's iPhoto. These are fairly turnkey and ideal for the technophobe or for the casual shooter who just wants to make life easier on himself. But remember, it's software, not magic! The best images are captured in the camera, and the software is used only for minor refinements.
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"For edit and catalog work, we use iView MediaPro, Photo Mechanic and Adobe Photoshop CS3 for RAW-file conversions."
"I keep it simple and use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, although it's a fairly new program. The workflow of the program is well thought out and easy to use."
"I try to limit my time at the computer to an absolute minimum." Software used: Photo Mechanic, Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop CS3