Developing a Photoshop Workflow

This image shows the results of a standardized workflow with a histogram adjustment and crop in Photoshop. The original untoned image is visible on the right with the toned version on the left. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

This image shows the results of a standardized workflow with a histogram adjustment and crop in Photoshop. The original untoned image is visible on the right with the toned version on the left. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

STANDARDIZE YOUR APPROACH

Do you have a Photoshop workflow? A set processing approach that you always start out with? If you don’t, you need to develop one. It will form the jumping-off point for further image toning, but with a set approach, you’ll always be starting with properly-toned basic images. What follows is my Photoshop workflow for non-RAW files.

Open the image in Photoshop. Well, this is obvious.

Go to Image>Adjustments>Levels. (Cmd-L Mac, Cntrl-L Windows)

Levels is always my very first toning adjustment in Photoshop. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Levels is always my very first toning adjustment in Photoshop. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

In Levels, bring the Shadow and Highlight sliders just in to the edges of the histogram ‘mountain.’ Hit okay.

The highlight slider in this histogram needs to be dragged to the left. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

The highlight slider in this histogram needs to be dragged to the left. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Levels is so critical because of what it represents. The histogram ‘mountain’ takes your photograph and turns it into a two-dimensional graph with shadows on the left, midtones in the middle and highlights on the right. A properly toned image almost always* needs a real black tone (96-100% black with the eyedropper, grayscale K value), and a true white (0-5% white). By adjusting the shadow and highlight sliders right to the edge of the tonal ‘mountain,’ you create an image that will print properly and look good with the proper tonal and contrast range.

[* ‘almost always’: with some high key images, you may find you have a histogram with an abundance of highlight information. But even then, I think you’ll usually find that the toned image looks better if somewhere in that image you still have a solid black, however small it might be.]

With the histogram sliders properly positioned, this image brightens up considerably. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

With the histogram sliders properly positioned, this image brightens up considerably. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Select the Crop tool. I like to make my default image resolution 300 dpi, so I’ll insert that in the box at the top of my window at this time. The largest I ordinarily print anything is 18 inches on the long axis, (on an R1900 Epson), so I’ll frequently go ahead and insert that information too. Make your crop now.

I like to crop 18 inches on the long axis at 300 dpi as my default. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

I like to crop 18 inches on the long axis at 300 dpi as my default. (Copyright 2011 / Andrew Boyd)

Now go to ‘Save As’ under the File menu.

I like to have a destination folder for images that I like, that I think I might want to print. Or conversely, maybe you have a different holding bin set up for these photos. I’ll usually include a date in the file name as well to help me keep things straight.

So maybe this image becomes ‘BoatDock1_021611’; that would be the first boat dock image saved out on February 16, 2011.

That’s it for the basic workflow.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ‘IMAGE>DUPLICATE’

Beyond this, lots of things might happen. If I had an image that I liked but wanted to tone a few different ways, the safe approach is always to go back to your saved, basic toned image, and first go to Image>Duplicate before you start. That way you haven’t lost your starting point since you may not like what you come up with. If the new toned image contained extra image layers (and most of mine will), then I’ll save out that file always as a .psd Photoshop file.

I frequently make conversions to an RGB black and white version using the Black/White tool in Adjustment Layers. This is something that would also get added as an experiment to a duplicate version of an image that had the basic toning done.

I also make web versions of images for articles like this one. Those get recropped 600 pixels wide @ 72dpi. 600 pixels is the width of the content well here at The Discerning Photographer, so that’s my standard size for these photos. So I’ll usually end up with large and small versions of the images.

What about you? Do you have a standardized Photoshop workflow? Or do you do your basic toning in Lightroom? Some other software package?

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Related articles on the web:

Photoshop Workflow at The Luminous Landscape A much, much more involved workflow. This is the advanced, graduate-school version!

A Photoshop Workflow from Adobe. This is a downloadable pdf file.

Photographic Workflow from Lightroom to Photoshop from Layers Magazine.

Posted in: Photoshop

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

9 Comments on "Developing a Photoshop Workflow"

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  1. We still need to develop something, don’t we? lol

  2. Hi Andrew,
    you are describing pretty much the activity I do manually on selected photographs within Apple’s Aperture 3. Until now in most of the cases I just apply tone mapping to my images. I am still amazed how much you can improve the images with just only applying this actions. Nevertheless with some images this does not seem work, at least not using the Auto button in my software. For sure it just does calculates “stiff” points using an algorithm. So I cannot complain about it and just needs to manually work on it until I am satisfied.
    Additionally I like the way Aperture – and maybe also Lightroom – handles the situation. As soon as I apply any post-processing it duplicates the image, which means in its database a second working image will be placed. The original is never touched.
    When publishing photographs on the Internet I usually just add a border and a watermark via the very nice Plug-in BorderFX for Aperture, nothing else.
    Cheers, Bernd

  3. Hey, thanks for the great comment Bernd. One of these days I’m going to have to try Lightroom or Aperture. I like the auto-duplicate feature you’re describing.

  4. cutiepink says:

    “Photoshop” is my favorite subject since i was in first year college ,i love to Photoshop any kind of things..This is it..I love it..Thank you for this nice information..

  5. Michelle Garcia says:

    You are opening my eyes to the simplicity behind these things. I admit, I am not the most techie person around and I am really scared of tweaking my software, but thanks for this post I am starting to learn more and more stuff. Great job! This is a great way to educate people who are not very proficient in using computers but are willing to learn.

  6. I’m planning a new ‘Photoshop Basics’ series of articles, so stay tuned, Michelle.

  7. Michelle Garcia says:

    I will stay in tune! Thanks =)

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