My Photographic Workflow

Workflow is a big subject in videography but I don't hear or read much chatter about it for still photography, so I thought it might be a worthwhile effort to devote some space to the subject.

It took me a while to become convinced of this as JPEGs can be so compelling good with in-camera distortion and CA correction, but these days I shoot exclusively in RAW. Of course, shooting in RAW also implies that I'm shooting in colour when most of my street images are black and white.

The key to shooting in RAW is that we're starting our editing process with an image that contains the maximum colour and luminance information. A JPEG image is compressed and it is a lossey format that will lose information when reduced in size. When I've taken a hard look at RAW vs. JPEG images, I've found that in continuous tone areas of the image, the RAW has a smooth appearance with adjacent pixels having all the same tone and colour. The same area in the JPEG image has a mottled appearance when enlarged. That mottling is an artifact of compression. So by using the RAW format, we're starting with the most information and the cleanest image.

On getting back to the computer with my images, I save them from the card to an external drive, in this case a RAID 5 unit that has protection against drive failure. I organize the files in folders according to the subject matter. When working in editing software, I reference the file rather than save the image in any internal library (e.g. Aperture library). Any external editing files produced by the software will be saved with the RAW image (e.g. Affinity Photo's afphoto files).

I first run through the saved images and delete any that have obvious flaws. There is no point keeping garbage on our drives. The initial scan is done in Finder Cover Flow view to delete the most obviously flawed images. Once I've reduced the number of images to a more manageable number, I'll use a quick loading viewer such as Apple's Preview to complete the selection process. There's no point in using a slow loading editing software to preview images when we're just selecting and deleting. Once I've settled on my final selection, I'll rename the image files to a more descriptive file name. I find that descriptive names makes the process of finding and selecting images at some later date so much easier.

At this point, choosing the images I wish to edit will depend greatly on their end use. Some I might wish to work with right away, while others may be held back for future use. I might chose to flag the best of the rest for quick reference at a later date.

Once the image is selected, I'll either use Apple's Aperture + Nik plugins or Affinity Photo for working with the image. The choice of the latter over the former depends on how much RAW processing I need and the degree of creative editing that will be needed. Aperture + Nik plugins has a limited RAW processing capability, so its use is limited to more straightforward processing. If I don't plan on doing much creative editing with the image, I'll stay in Aperture, using either its internal tools or plugins for any additional processing. Nik software plugins for Aperture contains an excellent black & white tool for converting colour to black and white. The Nik software suite also contains extensive colour tools for HDR and other applications.

However, if I need more RAW tools or plan on more extensive creative editing, then I'll use Affinity Photo. This application has a Develop mode that first loads when we open a RAW file. While in Develop mode, we can access an extensive array of RAW tools for processing the image. Once we develop the RAW image, other creative tools then become available for further processing.

With editing complete, the export format and size will depend on the intended final use of the image. Normally these exported files are stored in a different location for easy access, typically a Desktop folder. Once the image has been utilized as intended (i.e. inserted into a webpage) I'll delete it if no further use of it is planned.

My workflow approach is built on keeping only the best images, protecting them against loss, storing them well organized for rapid and easy access at later dates, selecting the best software tool for editing, then exporting the image in the best format and size for the job. It's a workflow that has served me well.