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 adjustments for multiple image attributes simultaneously and for individual adjustements as well.  These auto adjustments work well and can be used to get most images close to a desired target very quickly.

  • White balance (for appearance, not for exact balance)
  • Levels (white point, black point and gamma) and curve, if needed
  • Highlight and shadow recovery
  • Exposure, contrast, brightness and saturation
  • Selective hue, saturation and luminosity
  • Dust spotting
  • Local adjustments and minor repairs via layers
  • Mild sharpening and color noise reduction
  • Rotate (if needed) and crop to desired composition and format
    • Print crops are to standard print formats
  • Convert and save file
    • Prints: 16-bit TIFF, ProPhoto RGB, 300 dpi
    • Web:  8-bit JPEG, Adobe RGB, 96 dpi

Only the most difficult images need be sent to Photoshop 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 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.


If you would like to express thoughts on this subject use the link to send an email. © 2016 Michael W. Masters
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