For those who shoot RAW, conversion software is an integral and vital part of the workflow.  While Photoshop remains a singularly powerful image processing tool, RAW converters have become so full featured that most, if not all processing can now be done there.

Although I have tried many RAW converters over the years, the one that I have stuck with is Capture One.  However, there are several that give satisfactory results and that have comparable features.  The steps that I follow are given below, and they would be about the same in any of the alternatives.  Note that Capture One has auto adjustment features that work on individual images or multiple images simultaneously.  These auto adjustments work well and can be used to get most images close to a desired target very quickly.

  • Grade and mark images: best for further processing, worst for deletion
  • Adjust white balance if needed (for appearance, not for exact balance)
  • Adjust exposure, contrast, brightness, saturation and clarity via pre-stored styles
    • Populate EXIF fields as a part of applied styles 
  • Use (auto) levels to set white point, black point and gamma, and adjust curve if needed
  • Perform (auto) highlight and shadow recovery; fine turn as necessary
  • Perform selective hue, saturation and luminosity adjustment
  • Remove dust spots from image
  • Repair minor defects using layers and local adjustments
  • Adjust crop, rotation and keystone to desired composition and format
    • Print crops are to standard print formats
  • Adjust sharpening and noise reduction as needed
  • Convert and save file
    • External editing: 16-bit TIFF, ProPhoto RGB, original resolution
    • Print:  8-bit JPEG, Adobe RGB, 300 dpi
    • Web:  8-bit JPEG, Adobe RGB, 96 dpi

Much of this can be performed by bulk/auto adjustments and pre-prepared styles that are applied to large groups of images at the same time.  Once images are graded, the time needed to make a first adjustment pass is greatly condensed.  At one time, every image required individual attention -- and still may if an image is to be printed.  But use of bulk steps has greatly reduced the time needed to produce good quality proof images.  Files that need individual attention are usually easily recognizable and can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

Only the most difficult images are sent externally for additional processing, usually those that require some sort of image repair that cannot be handled within the capabilities of the RAW converter.  For high ISO images, a trip to Photoshop in order to run a noise reduction filter such as Neat Image as a plugin may also follow RAW conversion.  Also, Photoshop's print proofing capability is generally superior and may be used  as well.

Finally, for web images, Photoshop actions are used to create drop shadows and custom web pages based on hand modified Photoshop web templates.

Image Repairs

In addition to the above described rather standard and widely accepted adjustments, I also remove minor distractions and make peripheral image repairs.  Repairs such as cloning out dust spots are not disclosed but modifications such as removing a minor distraction are labled in the image title.  The types of modifications are discussed below and are based on  techniques developed by Robert O'Toole and described in his "how to" guide, "Advanced Photoshop Techniques and Tips Simplified" (APTATS), which may be purchased by following the above link or by directly visiting Arthur Morris' BirdsAsArt web site at the following link: APTATS Purchase.

A useful repair for some images with compositional defects is to add canvas to the image. This only works so long as the background allows this to be done seamlessly. I also use various masking and selection techniques to isolate subjects in order to selectively blur backgrounds -- in effect simulating a shallower depth of field than originally captured.

Occasionally an image element is clipped by the edge of the frame or an unwanted element appears in the frame. Sometimes these images can be saved by judicious repairs. In the case of image repairs (wingtips, perches, etc.), the degree of repair is always small and peripheral in relation to the primary subject.

It should be noted that I never add elements to a natural history image that were not in the original scene unless the image is an obvious composite or some other unambiguous presentation of digital art -- in which case the image is clearly labeled as such. (An example of the latter would be my lunar eclipse composite showing the Moon at various stages during the progress of a total lunar eclipse.)


These processing steps have evolved over a number of years. Most are not my original creation but rather have been borrowed from the many talented Photoshop practitioners who are willing to share their skills, creativity and ability to teach.


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