I use a very simple workflow and for years I hid it from others because I thought it unsophisticated and backwards. As I listened to other photographers talk about their process, I was embarrassed to let them see my rudimentary procedures. What if they started talking about layers, I didn’t even understand them!
Fortunately with time I came to the realization that it’s not about the process, it’s about the image. Nothing else matters.
There are many ways to use Photoshop and I doubt many photographers use more than a small percentage of its many tools. There is no right way or wrong way to use it and not one workflow will be right for everyone. My procedure works for me and I’d like to share it to illustrate a point: that you don’t need to know a lot about Photoshop or have a complicated workflow to produce beautiful images.
Here are the six tools that I use to process most of my images:
1. RAW Converter – I use Photoshop’s RAW converter to set my image to a 16 bit, 360 ppi, 10X15 TIFF file.
2. B&W Conversion tool – I like Photoshop’s b&w conversion tool and play with each color channel to see how it affects the different parts of my image.
3. Levels – One of the most basic secrets to a great b&w image is to have a good black and white. I use Levels to set the initial black and white point and I use the histogram to judge this, never my eyes. Throughout my processing I keep my eye on that histogram to maintain a true black and white. Something else I do while in Levels is to adjust the midtones, which can radically change the look of my image and tends to set the direction I will take it.
4. Dodging and Burning – This is where I do most of my processing and where I have the most fun! I feel most at home with dodging and burning because that’s how I did things in the darkroom. However the primary difference today is that I can take my time and exercise minute control over every part of the image. I use a Wacom tablet to dodge and burn because you CANNOT do a good job with a mouse.
5. Contrast Adjustment – After I have the image looking great on screen, experience teaches me that it will print flat, and so I add some contrast. A monitor uses transmitted light and a print uses reflective light, so that means it will take a lot more work to get your print to look as snappy as it does on the monitor. Contrast helps.
6 Clone Tool – I use the clone tool to spot my images. Cloning is so much better than the old days when you had to spot every single print and your mouth tasted like Spottone all day!
My point isn’t that you should imitate my workflow, but that a workflow need not be complicated. Did you notice that I didn’t make mention of special b&w conversion programs, plug-ins, curves or layers? I also don’t use monitor calibrators, profiles, RIP’s or special inksets.
I use Photoshop and six tools. Ofttimes there’s beauty in simplicity!