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My Elements 2020 Photography Workflow

One of the questions I get asked the most is “What is your suggested digital workflow?” (Which actually means, “What order are you supposed to do all this in?” That’s all “digital workflow” means.) I wrote this book in kind of a digital workflow order, starting with importing and organizing your photos, correcting them, sharpening them, and then at the end, printing. But I thought that seeing it all laid out in one place (well, in these six pages) might be really helpful, so here ya go.

Step One:

You start your workflow by importing your photos into the Organizer (we learned this in Chapter 1). While you’re in the Photo Downloader (shown here), I recommend adding your metadata (your name and copyright info) during this import process. Also, while you’re in the Photo Downloader, go ahead and rename your photos now, so if you ever have to search for them, you have a hope of finding them (searching for photos from your trip to Hawaii is pretty tough if you leave the files named the way your camera named them, which is something along the lines of “SK2_1751.JPG”). So give them a descriptive name while you import them. You’ll thank me later.

Step Two:

Once your photos appear in the Organizer, first take a quick look through them and go ahead and delete any photos that are hopelessly out of focus, were taken accidentally (like shots taken with the lens cap still on), or you can see with a quick glance are so messed up they’re beyond repair. Get rid of these now, because there’s no sense wasting time (tagging, sorting, etc.) and disk space on photos that you’re going to wind up deleting later anyway, so make your job easier—do it now.

Step Three:

Once you’ve deleted the obviously bad ones, here’s what I would do next: go through the photos one more time and then create an album of just your best images (see Chapter 1 for how to create an album). That way, you’re now just one click away from the best photos from your shoot.

Step Four:

There’s another big advantage to separating out your best images into their own separate album: now you’re only going to tag and worry about color correcting and editing these photos—the best of your shoot. You’re not going to waste time and energy on photos no one’s going to see. So, click on the album, then go ahead and assign your keyword tags now (if you forgot how to tag, it’s back in Chapter 1). If you take a few minutes to tag the images in your album now, it will save you literally hours down the road. This is a very important step in your workflow (even though it’s not a fun step), so don’t skip it—tag those images now!

Step Five:

Now it’s time to start editing our location portrait shot. My workflow always begins in Camera Raw (whether I shot in JPEG, TIFF, or RAW. See Chapter 2 for more on working in Camera Raw), and the first thing I do at this point is figure out what needs to be done to get the image where I want it, so the question I ask myself is simple: “What do I wish were different?” Well, I wish I had composed the portrait a little tighter, cropping off the top 1/3 of her head to create a more intimate feel. I also don’t like how bright the background is, so I’ll need to pull that back. I need a bit more light on her face overall, and in particular her eyes. This was taken late in the day, but I might add a little cooler white balance, too.

Step Six:

Let’s start with cropping the image while we’re here in Camera Raw. Get the Crop tool (C) from the Toolbox and let’s crop in quite a bit tighter, bringing the subject forward in the frame a bit. (We looked at cropping in Camera Raw in Chapter 3, as well as cropping in the Editor in Chapter 4.)

Step Seven:

To deal with that bright background, let’s drag the Highlights slider to the left to lower the overall brightness. In this case, I dragged it over to –45, which was far enough for now (plus, sometimes if you go too far, really bright areas may turn gray). Next, the whole image looks a little dark, so I raised the overall exposure a bit by dragging the Exposure slider to the right to +0.20, and then I increased the Contrast to +19.

Step Eight:

Let’s wrap things up here in Camera Raw by making the whole image just a tad cooler by dragging the Temperature slider over to +5000 (to add just a little more blue into the image). I also increased the Tint just a tiny bit to +13. Now, click the Open Image button to open the image in the Editor.

Step Nine:

Let’s zoom in a bit (using the Zoom tool or by pressing Ctrl-+ [plus sign; Mac: Command-+]), and then get the Spot Healing Brush tool (J) to remove a few little blemishes and stray hairs on her face. Make your brush size a little larger than the blemishes you want to remove, then move your cursor over each blemish and just click once to remove them. (See Chapter 9 for more on the Spot Healing Brush.) Remember, this is just a tweak, not an in-depth retouch, so don’t spend too long on this step—a minute or two, tops.

Step 10:

Next, let’s create an adjustment layer to add some highlights to her hair, eyes, and lips. So, click on the Create New Adjustment Layer icon, at the top of the Layers palette, and choose Levels (see Chapter 6 for more on Levels adjustment layers). In the Levels palette, drag the middle gray Input Levels slider (beneath the histogram) to the left to brighten the midtones, and then drag the far-right (white) Input Levels slider to the left just a bit to brighten the highlights. Now, press Ctrl-I (Mac: Command-I) to Invert the layer mask attached to this adjustment layer and hide those adjustments behind a black mask—that way, we can paint in the highlights where we want them. Get the Brush tool (B), and with your Foreground color set to white, paint over the highlight areas in her hair, her eyes, and her lips to bring them out. Once you’ve painted them all in, at the top of the Layers palette, lower the Opacity of this adjustment layer until it looks realistic (here, I lowered it to 75%).

Step 11:

Our overall exposure is pretty good, but I’d like to add a soft spotlight to her to separate her from the background a bit. So, create a new merged layer at the top of the layer stack by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E (Mac: Command-Option-Shift-E). Then, using the Elliptical Marquee tool, create a selection around her, invert and feather it, and add another Levels adjustment layer to add the spotlight effect (we learned how to do this back in Chapter 8). Now, choose Flatten Image from the Layers palette’s flyout menu to merge all those layers down with the Background layer. That should wrap this up!. :)

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