Creating a Lightweight Photoshop Workflow
Rough seas, Norway, March 2012
Copyright: Robin Whalley 2012
Last night I was the guest speaker at a Camera Club; something that I like to do a number of times each year in order to share my knowledge, but also to pick up information from others. The event went well and the presentation I delivered was entirely new, not only in content but in approach. The real innovation for the session was that I demonstrated how I use Photoshop to craft my images.
What became apparent from talking to people after the event was that my workflow in Photoshop was quite minimal yet achieved a lot. You see I have standardised my approach to be adequate for around 95% of my images and most of my changes can be applied in just a few minutes. Sure some of the better images I will spend longer on, but only if the additional effort is justified.
Here then is my approach:
- Clean up the image by removing dust spots etc on a new empty layer. I do however try to keep my sensor clean by using an Arctic Butterfly brush so that any cleanup work is minimal.
- Use a Curves adjustment layer to adjust brightness
- Use a curves adjustment layer to adjust contract
- Use a saturation layer to adjust saturation
- Add a new empty layer and stroke the image to create a frame
Whilst I didn’t demonstrate it last night I have created an action in Photoshop to automate the addition of the above layers so that all I need do is activate the action using Ctrl-F3 (which is the key combination I have assigned).
Consider also that all my adjustments are on layers which give rise to a number of benefits:
- I can turn the layer on or off to hide the effect
- I can adjust the opacity of the layer to control how strong its effect is on the image
- Each layer has a blending mode that you can use to make further enhancements
- Each layer has a layer mask attached to it which I can use to target the adjustment onto a specific area of the image
Once I am happy with the image I create a new consolidated version from all the layers by pressing Shift-Ctrl-Alt-E. I then sharpen this for output e.g. for paper or for the screen. My finished image is then saved as a PSD file with all the layers remaining in place. Again this gives rise to timesaving benefits:
- Each time I output the image to new media I can create a version of the image with the correct level of sharpening and simply turn off the other layers
- I can create modified versions of the same image e.g. versions with and without the frame
- If in a couple of weeks I decide I was a little heavy handed with one of the adjustments e.g. saturation, I can simply adjust the opacity of the relevant layer to control the effect
- If I later decide to work on the image further I have all my earlier layers already in place and ready to enhance further
By following my approach I find that I minimise the total time I spend on each image whilst achieving good results.