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Image-Editing Workflow

You’ve already slogged through a lengthy exploration of post-production workflow, but there’s one more little workflow topic we have to cover, which is the workflow that you’ll use when you’re actually image editing.

Photoshop Camera Raw presents a huge assortment of tools that allow you to make dramatic adjustments to your images. When you then add the rest of Photoshop’s image-editing toolset, you have an even larger range of image-editing possibilities. However, to get the best use of these tools, it’s advisable to perform your image-editing tasks in a particular order. As we work through the editing process, you’ll see why it’s best to approach your edits according to the following workflow.

Cropping, rotating, and straightening

While the Crop tool may not be one of the most technically sophisticated or impressive editing tools in the Photoshop toolbox, it’s definitely one of the most important. The humble Crop tool allows you to completely recompose your image, shifting the arrangement of your composition to take a mundane image and turn it into a well-balanced, compelling photo.

Straightening an image always involves a crop, so straightening is included at this stage of the workflow. Camera Raw includes both crop and straighten tools (Figure 4.7).

Figure 4.7

Figure 4.7 I started my edits on this image by straightening it and then adding a little crop to play up the sky and to remove a couple of distracting elements from the edges.

You want to perform any operation that will result in a crop as early as possible, just to be sure that the image is one you really want to work with. You also want to take care of your cropping chores early so that Photoshop’s histogram shows a more accurate view of the tones in your image. You’ll learn about the histogram later in this chapter.

Spotting and cleanup

If you’re working with raw files, you’re most likely shooting with a digital SLR. As you might already have discovered, because of their removable lenses, digital SLRs are susceptible to sensor dust problems, which can leave annoying smudges and specks on your image. The next step in your work-flow should be to attack these problems.

If you’re keeping your sensor clean, this will rarely be a problem. But for images that do have dust problems, you’ll want to attack the dust first for the simple reason that if you can’t successfully remove the dust, you might decide to abandon the image. You want to know that before you invest too much time in editing the image.

Tone and contrast adjustment

Your image adjustment will begin in earnest with basic tone corrections. In photography, tone refers to how bright and dark the whites and blacks are in your image. These two parameters dictate how much contrast there is in your image.

In music, you speak of an instrument as having good tone when the sound the instrument produces is very clear, with no extra buzzing or noisy sounds. Image tone is the same way. When you’ve got the white, black, and contrast adjusted properly in your image, it will appear much clearer and most likely will have more pop (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8

Figure 4.8 After we’ve adjusted the tone in our image, it has more punch, and both contrast and saturation have improved.

However, because colors also have tone, as you make tonal adjustments, the color in your image will change as well. Increasing contrast, for example, will most likely make colors in your image appear more saturated. The eye is far more sensitive to contrast than it is to color, though, so getting tone adjusted properly is critical. Fortunately, you’ll often find that correcting the tone and contrast in your image also fixes its color problems. For that reason, we adjust tone before contrast.

Color adjustment

With the tonality of your image adjusted, you’ll be ready to move on to color adjustments. Sometimes, you adjust the color in an image to make it more accurate, while at other times you adjust color to achieve a specific feel—warming an image, for example, to achieve a different mood (Figure 4.9).

Figure 4.9

Figure 4.9 I wanted the image to be a little warmer, so I applied some simple color adjustments.

Additional edits

At this point, you’ll be ready to consider additional edits. Very often, these will be what would traditionally be considered retouching edits—removing wrinkles or lines, smoothing flesh tones, removing annoying background elements such as telephone poles and wires, and so on. With a program as powerful as Photoshop, this stage can also include complex compositing operations, dramatic alterations of the content in your image, the addition of text, and on and on.

Resizing and sharpening

With all of your edits done, you’re ready to start preparing for output. Whether your final destination is an electronic file or a print, your image will probably need to be resized. That step happens after all of your image adjustments and edits.

As you learned in Chapter 2, all JPEG images have a slight amount of sharpening applied to them, to compensate for softening that’s inherent to the way your sensor interpolates color. Your raw files most likely need a similar step, and that step is performed after you’ve resized your image.


Finally, you’re ready to produce your final, edited image. The output step can be printing or electronic output—perhaps you’re producing files for a Web site or creating source files that will be printed by someone else. Either way, this is the last step of your image-editing workflow.

Alternative editing workflows

As with all things that really matter, the guidelines provided here are not steadfast and absolute. There will be times when you do some of these steps out of order. For example, we discussed how you want to perform your cleanup and cropping before you commit to additional edits on an image. If you know that you plan on performing difficult retouching operations to an image, retouching that is difficult enough that you may not be able to pull it off, you may want to perform those operations early in your workflow to ensure that they’re possible before you continue.

Similarly, if the color in your image is wildly inaccurate, you may want to take a stab at basic color correction before you start adjusting tone, just to be sure that the image will work.

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