I just want to share a couple of things with you that have come up in recent conversations I've had with other photographers. Quite often when I get together with other photographers sooner or later the conversation turns to workflow. Now I began teaching digital workflow to professional photographers fifteen years ago. A lot of things have changed in those years, with RAW files being the biggest and on to tools like virtual copies, history snapshots and smart objects if you are working in an ®Adobe environment. However there are a couple of hard and fast rules that still hold true since many more years ago when I was teaching film to digital workflows.
Now this is primarily directed towards photographers who like to have a lot of control over their image processing, so if you prefer to shoot with a point and shoot camera, on fully automatic, camera phones or the like that is fine but this is probably not an article for you. If you are happy with what you are doing and pleased with your results keep on doing what is working for you. Just know that the camera is processing the image for you and all is good. One thing that I believe it was, John Paul Caponigro once said was “In art there is no right or wrong there is just different”.
There is an exception to every rule but those two hard and fast rules are; #1. Save Regularly and Save Often and #2. Never, never, never do your edits on a JPEG file. Now these two go hand in hand. Someone smarter than me once said, “If you know the why, the how will be there”. So let me give you the why first even though I am sure most of you have heard this before. JPEG is a lossy compression file format. One of the beauties of a JPEG is that it is a compression format but because it is lossy, every time you re-save it you are losing quality and degrading your beautiful image. So if you are following rule #1, well I hope you get the picture. In my opinion a JPEG file should always be considered a final output file only.
Now if you truly want to have the most control over your image processing, my recommendation is to shoot in a RAW file format. This will enable you to work with the raw data captured on your camera image sensor. Even if you want to process the RAW file in camera you can have some control over that processing. Though I have used cameras by dozens of manufacturers over the past 56 years, I have been shooting mostly with ®Nikon cameras for about twelve or thirteen years now. If you are using a ®Nikon with an ®EXPEED 3 or ®EXPEED 4 processor there are some mighty fine tweaks you may do to fine tune your in camera raw processing. If you haven’t checked them out you should. It won’t give you the full power that post capture software will but it still beats just letting the camera apply its own algorithms without any input from you. I am sure the other major brands have similar options. Once again, if you are not into doing your own processing and are happy with allowing your camera to process the raw data to JPEGs then keep on doing what you are doing. However if you are doing any post processing edits at all, even if it is just minor cropping, you do not want to be doing that on an original JPEG file.
So with all the above scenarios in mind I have provided a graphic outline of the basic workflow for each that will provide you with the best results while not destroying your beautiful images by editing your JPEG files. This outline is created based on my own workflow using ®Adobe ®Lightroom, ®Photoshop and ®Nik plugins (now ®Google Nik Collection) but should work just as well with most other image processing software available as well. It is by no means an in depth workflow and not intended to be. There are many options and variations available to the discerning photo artist today. I hope some of you may find this helpful.
Have Fun and Stay Creative,