Digital workflow: part one / 29 comments + post
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This is the first section of a multi-part tutorial devoted to digital workflow which, over the coming months, will build into a comprehensive resource detailing a variety of topics: from capture to output to storage.

In this, the first part of this tutorial, we will discuss the pros and cons of shooting RAW images and two issues relating to determining an optimum exposure.


oldest comments first
comment by Mike at 01:21 AM on 1 February, 2008

Thanks for the tutorial. I am still hungry so. I just feel this is beginners stuff, sorry, i though i did pay for advance stuff... i did prefer the other tutorials... All this could have been resume in 2 paragraphs.... my 2 cents.

comment by djn1 at 01:39 AM on 1 February, 2008

Hi Mike. When I started writing this tutorial I initially thought that I'd cover more ground in less space, but I realised that there were some topics that needed to be included if the series was going to provide a thorough overview of digital workflow. The downside of going down that route though is that some of the more experienced among you will feel as though I'm covering stuff you already know. This may also be true for some of the next one in this series too, but I'm going to release that one alongside February's tutorial on masking (which will be pitched at much the same level as the previous tutorials).

The good news is that the rest of the series will cover more advanced material – I just didn't want to write a set of tutorials that skipped the material that a) provides the background to the more advanced topics that will follow, and b) the less experienced among you would find useful.

And finally: I've also created a thread in the forum for discussion of this series, so if you do have any topics in mind that you'd like me to cover, please feel free to mention them there.

comment by Garri at 07:51 AM on 1 February, 2008

Nice stuff, but nothing new.

I´m still willing to know a great photographer´s real workflow.
Come on, Dave, let us know yours, but not in 5 months-time...

Kind regards

comment by djn1 at 10:16 AM on 1 February, 2008

Garri: ok, I'll post a condensed version of my own workflow over the next week or so.

comment by Mike at 12:43 PM on 1 February, 2008

Garri is right, that's what we need to know. I hope the mask one won't be an introduction... We need the reel tricks, masking hair, using an additionnal channel, duplicate it, fade it with overlay, adding contrast to it... You know what i mean.. stuff you don't have in the photoshop for newbie book... HDR workflow would be could also... i'm sure people would like it... just look at flickr..

comment by djn1 at 12:58 PM on 1 February, 2008

Mike: the masking tutorial will have the same format (i.e. it will be based around four downloadable PSD files) and will be pitched at much the same level as my previous tutorials. As for an HDR tutorial: I have one planned for release at some point later this year.

comment by Craig @ at 01:41 PM on 1 February, 2008

Dave, thanks for this tutorial, its clarified quite a few elements of RAW file conversion that I wasnt aware of. Who'd have thought a simple 1 stop error in exposure could result in that much tonal detail (2048 levels) being lost to the right of the histo. As a result of this I am definately going to adjust the way I shoot, and will be looking a lot closer to the cameras histogram interpretation albeit and RGB image. As for the 16bit over 8bit conversion, this tutorial proved beyond doubt that there is a huge difference in processing images, especially with the JPG artifacts that you highlighted. Overall this is a great starting point for me to adjust my workflow, I thoroughly enjoyed it. If I had a complaint, it would be that I am ready to read more NOW NOW NOW, but hey thats the beauty of this format, I know it will always be here for me when I need to refer to it. Also it met with my technical abilities, but i can see how a beginner would also benefit from your clear and conscise text, and

comment by David at 04:48 PM on 1 February, 2008

Hi Dave, Excellent Totorial as usual, thank you. This is probably a bit of a beginner question but keeping in mind what you are saying about capturing as much info as possible through proper exposure, should you treat the process of captuing an image as a an effort to get as much detail as possible at time of capture and then make desisions about creative under exposure or over exposure on your PC after the event. I suppose put simply should creative exposure decisions be made in camera on afterwards on the PC. I hope I'm not opening up some can of worms here but I really would appreciate your thoughts on this.



comment by djn1 at 05:07 PM on 1 February, 2008

David: I think the answer to your question depends on how extensive you think the subsequent post-production might be. For example, if you're shooting a relatively dark scene (which will produce a naturally underexposed image), and are confident that you won't need to do anything drastic during post-production, then yes, you can creatively underexpose in camera. On the other hand, if you think that an area of the image will require anything more than minimal alteration, then you should aim to capture as much data at the time: leaving the creative underexposure until post-production.

I think the key point here is that there is no way to recover the data that is lost when you underexpose an image so I would advise setting the final exposure during post-production.

comment by at 02:45 PM on 3 February, 2008

Dave, I applied your technique today, just picking up where I left off, and shooting with the histogram in mind the whole time was, let's say, a challenge, but once I got the knack it became second nature. What was strange initially tho, was leaving the scene, with a good histogram, but a displeasing image in the viewfinder. It's almost as if you end up shooting to appease the post production, which in my case seems to work, as most of what I shoot I have to play with afterwards, so thanks again, it was indeed very useful. Now I cant wait for the next chapter, as I need to become far better organised at filing...... CSJ @

comment by Jennifer at 10:06 AM on 10 February, 2008

What did Julie Andrews sing - 'Lets start at the very begining, a very good place to start' ;-) Interesting - though I always shoot raw and already knew a fair bit of that there were some valuable nuggets in there. Thanks

comment by naomi at 06:28 AM on 20 February, 2008

Hi there, just read this tutorial, and like others have mentioned - it's introductory material but always good to brush up on the basics.

I do have a question though - what are your thoughts on Aperture? I've been using it for awhile now and while I initially bought it because I thought it would help with my workflow, it seems now to just be a glorified file sorter... My current workflow is to import the images into Aperture, make some minor adjustments to the raw file, then use the "edit in external editor" option to edit the image in photoshop.

What I'm wondering is if this process degrades the image? Aperture stores the edited image as a psd file (huge).

Sorry for the long question...

comment by djn1 at 11:06 AM on 20 February, 2008

naomi: Aperture, like Lightroom, is a great solution when you don't intend or don't need to do a great deal of post-production work on an image; i.e. you specify the changes and the file is converted from RAW using the settings you specify. If, however, the post-production is likely to be more extensive then they're both less useful. What I can say though is that any changes you make as you convert from the RAW file (rather than afterwards in Photoshop) will be ‘cleaner’ than if applied in Photoshop (for the reasons outlined in this tutorial).

In short, Aperture and Lightroom are workflow solutions that work well if you don't need or want to do extensive or complex post-production.

comment by naomi at 08:00 PM on 20 February, 2008

Thanks for the quick reply... I do like Aperture for it's file sorting abilities... what about doing my editing to the raw file via the photoshop camera raw plugin and then importing the edited raw file into Aperture?

comment by djn1 at 11:41 PM on 20 February, 2008

naomi: yes, that would be a good solution, not least because ACR (Adobe Camera Raw) is a lot more flexible than Aperture; i.e. you have more control over the conversion process.

comment by Tom A at 08:44 AM on 21 February, 2008

Thanks for another excellent tutorial David. As someone who is more at the 'beginner' end I found it really useful and better explained than other material on the same topic. I teach online courses and trying to pitch the material correctly for everyone is an impossible task given that people have such a huge range of skills and experience. So I just wanted to counter some of the more experienced folk who are clamouring for all your secrets ;-) to say that for me this was a really valuable read and I am now shooting exclusively in RAW.

comment by djn1 at 10:18 AM on 21 February, 2008

Tom: thanks, it's good to hear you found it useful.

comment by Lex at 12:19 AM on 24 February, 2008

I've been shooting RAW and using PS for a few years but have gained some interesting background info and at least a couple of valuable tips in this tutorial; notably, exposing a little more to the right to capture more information. Thanks.

I'm looking forward to the next workflow one and especially the one on masking. I know with masking there is no magic formula to replace the laborious process but I'm sure it'll improve my self-taught skills.

comment by joerg at 09:22 AM on 25 February, 2008

Hi, thanks for the tutorial. It was too basic for me in most parts but I still have one question left:
Is there a difference between using a higher iso setting and "pushing" the exposure in camera raw?
I mean the light hitting the sensor remains the same so it should not make a difference as I presume higher iso multiplies the cmos-values in software. Or is this implemented in hardware in some kind of way to get better quality?

comment by djn1 at 10:21 AM on 25 February, 2008

Joerg: good question, and to be entirely confident of my answer I'd need to do some testing, but I suspect that you would be better off shooting at a higher ISO setting rather than pushing the exposure. The reason I think this is that I suspect that the algorithms used to convert higher ISO images are optimised to take account of at least some of the extra noise they introduce. If I can find a more definitive answer I'll post it here.

comment by Alejandra at 02:21 PM on 20 March, 2008

Hi Dave!!
I'm using Lightroom as Raw Converter, besides other things.
You said : "In short, Aperture and Lightroom are workflow solutions that work well if you don't need or want to do extensive or complex post-production."....

I use Ligthroom to convert my raw files, and then I choose "edit in Adobe Photoshop ...", then I make my "post-production", and return to LR. This have the advantage that LR stacks the edited file with the original.
I think that LR workflow works well, also making a complex post production.
The LR Develop module and ACR interfase are the same.
The question is: are there differences between both converters?
I'm a bit confused... :(
BTW, thank you for other great tutorial!!!

comment by djn1 at 02:28 PM on 20 March, 2008

Alejandra: I probably should have made my point a bit clearer. What I meant was that Lightroom – when used on its own – isn't the best solution if you have complex post-production in mind. Used in the way you suggest it would work perfectly well.

As for the similarities between the LR Develop module and ACR: as far as I'm aware they both use much the same engine. As such I wouldn't expect any noticeable differences between them.

comment by Rafa Madrigal at 01:34 PM on 10 April, 2008

Hi Dave,

I just subscribed to the members area and I have to say that so far these tutorials are being great. I just completed this one and, although it mentions basic concepts, I think it goes deep to their basic principles to really explain the 'why?' of many things. I'm really looking for the other tutorials.

One thing I would like to mention is a mistake -I think- it is on the chapter "SIX: bit depth". On it, you mention "16 bit images, on the other hand, have 16,384 possible levels of brightness, so a gradient that covers 5% of the available tonal range will utilise almost 820 shades of grey rather than just 13". Doing a bit of maths, 16 bits are 2^16, which is equal to 65,636, instead of 16,384 (which belongs to 14 bit images). Is this correct?

Thanks a lot for these tutorials.


comment by djn1 at 01:50 PM on 10 April, 2008

Rafa: you're absolutely right - I transposed the figures for a 14bit image. I've corrected the relevant section of the tutorial.



comment by mo at 10:26 PM on 4 May, 2008

Thanks for this tutorial, I definitely learned something. Just one minor thing: several times you say that an 8bit image only has 255 different levels, where it should be 256 levels (0 to 255).

Cheers, mo

comment by djn1 at 08:22 AM on 7 May, 2008

mo: thanks for spotting the error - I've changed the text accordingly.

comment by Chaitan at 06:34 PM on 19 June, 2008

Hi Dave, Thanks for the tutorial. I just subscribed today and started with this as this felt like a starting point to refresh my basics. this is great. There are bits and pieces I had no idea about. I have been shooting JPEG for about 2 years now (since I started) thinking I don't really need the extra information for my personal projects, but your detailed explanation convinced me that I have been losing a lot more than 'just a little' information. I do post-production heavily and knowing that there is so much more that I would be able to control when shooting RAW is very useful.

My Canon Rebel XT only has an sRGB Histogram and I try to expose it for well within the graph. But I had no idea about the highlight bias (50%!!!!). Very valuable information. I certainly also have to watch out for individual channel histograms during post-production. It's too bad I can't see those while shooting.

Thanks again. Excited to read the rest of your tutorials.

comment by djn1 at 07:02 PM on 19 June, 2008

Chaitan: I'm glad you found it useful, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the difference in quality between working with RAW files and JPEGs. It does take longer, and is more complex, but it's well worth the effort.

comment by 1861a at 12:59 AM on 8 July, 2008

Well, I have just joined up and I am finding the information very interesting. There is no possible way for Dave to know the skill level of each of the readers and for him to assume that someone already has the knowledge is not a practical approach in a tutorial. If some of the information is basic it will help a great many that need it and may even be beneficial to those that have formed bad habits but are non-the-less considered more expert. I'm sure there will be more than enough high level information for those that need it now and for those that are working up towards it.

Keep up the good work and help all of us - not just the gifted.