Jan 5 2013

Photoshop and Six Tools

2008-7-26 Flaming Gorge Clouds No 1 - Final 7-14-2011 750


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!



Feb 27 2009

Dear Abby, I’d like to get into digital photography, but…

Dear Abby;

I’d like to get into digital photography, but I’m afraid.

Afraid because there seems to be so much to learn about Photoshop!  Profiles, curves, masks, adjustment layers, RIP’s, and etc.  I’ve been reading the manual for 4 hours a day for a month now and I still feel like I know very little.

Please help!  Signed “Reluctant in Rochester.”


Dear Reluctant;

I feel your pain!  Technology can be overwhelming and the size of the manuals today, Oy Vay!

But there’s good news, you don’t have to read the manual before you start using Photoshop and you certainly do not need to use all of it’s features to produce wonderful images.

My close friend and FANTASTIC photographer Cole Thompson (smile) says that he generally only uses the contrast tool, and dodging and burning.  He uses the same techniques in Photoshop that he used in the darkroom, it’s a very simple and effective approach.

In fact, a few years back Popular Photography did an article on him entitled The Photoshop Heretic.  They said of him:  “Cole Thompson breaks every rule in the book, but he makes digital black-and-white prints that will take your breath away.  Just don’t try this a at home.”  (I think they were just kidding about not trying this at home though)

An approach Cole favors is to just jump in and try something, and once you get stuck, then look up the answer.  He says that he only uses about 2% of Photoshop’s features anyway, so don’t be intimidated by all of them!

Go ahead, give it a try, it’s not as complicated as you think!

Signed, Abby Thompson


Click Here to Read the Photoshop Heretic