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