The term workflow has been closely associated with digital photography. I think this is a misnomer. The core idea is, and should be, photographic workflow. Indeed, before the advent of digital photography, photographers talked about this very subject, perhaps not with the same name, but the same concept nevertheless. It was important to know the essentials of exposure, exposure adjustments, developing the film, making proofs, choosing images, making test prints, studying and marking them for the desired results, printing, making local adjustments, dodging, burning, local developing, arresting development, water baths, two-developer processing, washing, drying, toning, touch-ups, mounting, displaying. Now, if this is not a workflow, nothing is!
Everything that is important in analog photography remains the same in the digital workflow, only the tools change. We can follow the same workflow I have outlined above for film-based photography in the digital domain, in fact, I do exactly that. In fact, the more experience you have with the traditional film photography and darkroom techniques, the more digital tools will make sense to you, they are derived from the darkroom and film tools of yesteryear.
Know, or be willing to learn how to photograph
No digital camera I know comes with a “great photograph” button, I wish it did. You, the photographer, still need to develop your eye, learn the rules of composition, know the effect of exposure, and exposure adjustments. There is no difference between the digital and the film photography while you photograph. None.
Know your equipment and tools
The fact that digital photography does not require a darkroom does not mean that we can produce better photographs using computer software. Remember the adage GIGO, garbage in, garbage out. Digital photography can produce better photographs from ordinary snapshots, just as good as I can play the violin using digital music tools. (Ouch!)
In terms of the knowledge of the camera gear, the digital domain is more demanding, there is more to know and know it well. The film-based camera has fewer settings beyond the shutter speed, the f-stop, the light meter. The digital camera, on the other hand, has myriad of menus, settings, image formats, compression settings, image sizes, white balance, and so on. The first step in producing high-quality photographs is to know your camera and know how to choose your lenses depending on the circumstances. There is nothing in the digital workflow that will fix the mistakes you make here. Yes, there are ways in which we may be able to extract a little more information from the digital image under some conditions, but the same is true for film by using push or pull processing with the accompanying adjustments in exposure.
Just as the film-using photographer chooses his or her film, the developing method, which is particularly important in self-done B&W developing, the digital photographer needs to choose the software to use to “develop” the photograph. Some software is already embedded in the digital cameras, without this software, no digital camera can produce images. Even if you decide to let the software embedded in your digital camera to develop your images, you still need to learn, and carefully use the different settings the camera offers. These include, but are not limited to the image format, compression, contrast, sharpening, color balance, and so on. Of course, you may decide to do these steps using an external software which may give you greater control over their implementation.
Know how to make the best presentation for greatest impact, in print or on-screen
The proof of good photography is in its presentation, slide (screen for digital) or print. This too is not different from film photography. Remounting a slide for better composition, sandwiching a couple for creative expression, poring over a print in the darkroom dodging, burning, local developing show markedly superior results when done right. Likewise, doing the same in digital domain makes eminent sense. Conceptually, there is no difference in the presentation and the path we follow to come close to an ideal image.
Suggested workflow summary
- Capture the maximum amount of information in camera
- Shoot in RAW format if your camera allows
- Allow minimal processing in camera in JPEG format
- Copy the image to your computer
- Review and delete
- Renaming is a personal preference, I leave the original names and directories
- Never edit the original image, leave it intact
- Convert RAW with care like developing film
- Convert to TIF if using external RAW converter
- If using ARC (Adobe Raw Converter) built into Photoshop CS, CS2 and Photoshop Elements, save the converted file in Photoshop format
- Study the image very carefully, have a vision for the finished product
- Always use nondestructive editing
- Save your layered file in Photoshop format, not in TIF, more efficient
- Correct geometry, crop
- Global edit, color correction, tonality
- Local edit, color, tonality
- Sharpen, never sharpen until ready to print
- Dry (yes, dry!)