Monday, November 18, 2013

How I Edit Photographs - My Three Step Post-Processing Workflow

Q: How do you edit your photos? Do you have a specific post-processing workflow? What programs do you use? 

I do have a very specific post-processing workflow. It includes three major stages. I use this same workflow and editing process for every single photo shoot. Here's how it goes:

1) Culling: I usually take about 300-500 images during a portrait session. I import my RAW files into Lightroom and zoom through the collection 3 times. The first time I flag any images that are "potentials." This usually cuts the collection down to about 120 images. The second time through, I give 5 stars to the images that I like the best. This takes it town to about 70. During the third cull, I look at the images in groups. If there are multiple shots of the same/similar pose, I choose the best one. The rest are demoted to 4 stars. This third stage is the most difficult because I'm weeding and pruning. I have to say goodbye to some good images but they aren't as good as the ones I keep. I forget about them. I use this third cull to take the collection down to the final 20-30 images.

2) Retouching: I take all of my images into Photoshop. I set the timer on my iPhone and race the clock. I give myself 2 minutes per image. I use the Portraiture plug-in that smooths skin. I erase the areas that I don't want to be smooth — I want sharp hair, eyes, nose and lips. I use the clone tool to soften skin and even tones. I use the healing tool to remove pimples, blemishes and spots on the background. I increase the brightness of mid-tones and I desaturate the entire image. I use the Liquify & Wrap tools to change body shapes.

3) Finishing Effects: I bring the images back into Lightroom and I use AlienSkin Exposure 4 software to add textures, color tones, borders etc... I usually get carried away at this stage —it's way too much fun and the presets all look so cool, it can be very challenging to decide on just one. I inevitably create new presets for each woman too. Sometimes I apply three different presets and then compare the images side by side. Sometimes I have to come back the next day with a fresh visual palette. I do my best to pick one final finish for each image but sometimes I just have to create one color version and one black & white version. Clearly, if any part of my workflow needs to be more efficient, it's this third segment. haha

Below, I've included sets of images that represent these three stages I've just mentioned. The first image is straight out of camera. The second image has been Photoshop-ed. The third image is the final version. Enjoy! :)

Oh, and Step 2 is absolutely essential (trust me I've tried skipping it but it's crucial). I get a little sick of it sometimes. I've been contemplating how lovely it would be to outsource this middle stage. Has anyone had any luck with outsourcing retouching (not general adjustments but fine detail retouching)?