My Basic Workflow (as of March 2016)

I dated this workflow as it is a living thing. I constantly am learning and changing (I like to think improving).

First, the software I use:

  • Lightroom CC
  • Photoshop CC
  • NIK

There is NO single method for post processing that works for every image. The following is a guide to be followed loosely.

My workflow always starts by importing from camera to Lightroom (I change from the NEF camera raw format to DNG during import) and then adding Keywords. This is essential for me to be able to locate an image in the future! I then go through the new imported images and give the images I want to process one star. At this time I delete the images I know will never be used.

I have created a preset that contains the items I always apply when beginning post processing. This preset is actually called out in the image import so the first time I see an image in LR it already has this preset applied. This basic preset has the following settings: (in the order they appear in the LR develop module)

  • WB: Daylight
  • Highlights: -100
  • Shadows: +100
  • Whites: +10 (will be modified for each image further down)
  • Blacks: -45 (will be modified for each image further down)
  • Clarity +35
  • Vibrance: +10
  • Saturation: +5
  • Enable Profile Correctins: On
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration: On
  • Profile: Camera Standard

For “People” images, I will generally drop the Highlights/Shadows to someplace between 0 and +/- 50 and reduce Clarity to 0 before starting.

I next make the following edits for each image:

  • Adjust the image crop to focus on subject and be sure the boarders are free of distractions. I level the horizon at this point.
  • Remove dust spots in sky and still water
  • Frequently I make no changes to Temp and Tint, but I do look at these to see if I want a different “mood”. At times I add a bit of yellow to the temp and a bit of magenta to the tint.
  • I may make an adjustment to Exposure to lighten or darken the whole image.
  • I adjust the Whites to just not clip (hold the Alt key and move the slider so that there are no white spots showing. I then look at the image and may back it down more depending on how it looks.
  • I adjust the Blacks again just to the clip point. I often do let the blacks clip.
  • Make minor adjustments to the Presence controls if necessary
  • If there is a color I want to punch up, I will use the HSL Luminance target, place the cross hair over the color I want punch and right click and push up/down. I often use this to darken the background of flower shots or to reduce a color that became too strong in the preceding post processing.
  • In the Basic Lens Corrections I adjust prospective if required  (use the Alt key to prevent resetting crop)
  • I move the Dehaze slider back and forth to see if it helps an image.
  • I also may look at different Profile options.
  • I then go back and check to see if fine adjustments are needed.
  • I make Local adjustments to areas that need special attention. This includes adding Radial filters to lighten local areas (creating complex light) but not in a way that one will notice the change.
  • Then I right click on the image and go to Edit in Photoshop CC.

Photoshop Edits:

  • First I run NIK Color Efex Pro 4 using the following settings:
    • I use the Pro Contrast filter
    • Correct Color Cast: 0%
    • Correct Contrast: 50%
    • Dynamic Contrast: 75%
  • If the effect is too strong, I bring down the Opacity of the layer to the point I like. 90% of the time I do not do this.
  • I then run the NIK Output Sharpener
    • Adaptive Sharpening: 50%
    • Output Sharpening Strength: 100%
  • If there are parts of the image that I do not want sharpened (like the sky), I add a layer mask and mask out the area (i.e. paint Black in mask)
  • I then run the NIK Dfine 2 (Noise reduction)
    • Normally I use the default settings. In rare cases I go to Manual and select the area that has the noise I want to reduce.
  • As in Sharpening, if there is an area I do not want noise reduction I add a layer mask and mask out the area.
  • I then merge all of the layers. I do this to save space on my hard drives.
  • if I want to add my own Vigenetting or “play” with the light a bit:
    • Duplicate the layer
    • Change blend mode from Normal to Multiply
    • Add a layer mask
    • Adjust the brush size and make it very soft, set Opacity to 100%
    • “Paint” Black on the main subject of image. Be sure to paint on the mask not the image!
    • Possibly reduce Opacity to 20% with larger brush and smooth around subject. Also bring back other areas in image that can use a bit more light.
  • There are many other things that can be changed in Photoshop such as removing unwanted objects (power lines, trash, etc), smoothing skin, making local adjustments, etc. In my general workflow I normally do not need to do these things.
  • Again merge all visible layers (if there are more than on layer)
  • Click File, Save
  • Click Close. Close the image, not Photoshop.
  • Minimize Photoshop and go back to Light Room.

The image from Photoshop will now be in Lightroom. Continue by:

  • Click on the image from Photoshop. It will be #2 in a stack automatically made when it was brought back into LR
  • Collapse the stack and assign the image more stars.
  • Look at image to see if there are other adjustments that need to be made. I make a quick pass down through all of the Develop settings.
  • It helps to leave the image and come back latter and have another look.
  • Export to jpg
    • for web I use Quality :80, Color Space: sRGB
    • Resize to Fit: On, Long Edge, 2500 Pixels, Resolution: 72 Pixels per inch
    • Sharpen for: Screen, Amount: Standard

If all goes well I end up with a “pretty picture” that does not look “fake” or overly processed.