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Digital SLR Photography Workflow

Workflow is a hot topic among digital SLR photographers because they do more than simply toss photos from their cameras into their computers. This type of photographer often develops, processes, edits, and perfects photos saved in RAW file format them before converting them to a standard finished image file format such as TIFF or JPEG.

A photography workflow has a couple of meanings. In a larger sense, it describes the process you follow as you work with your photos, beginning when you take them to when you’re ready to archive them for long-term storage. Workflow also means the more limited process you follow to edit and publish your shots.

Workflow is a huge topic of debate, and the more detailed the workflow, the more people love debating it. Favorite topics include whether you should sharpen before you reduce noise or whether you should adjust brightness and contrast before you correct color. No universal workflow exists — all are based, in part, on opinion.

The following general workflow is a good one to start with:

  1. Take photos.

    Although it starts here, you’ve already made decisions (camera, lens, file format, software, and so forth) that affect later steps.

  2. Transfer (and import) photos.

    Moving photos from your camera to the computer is to transfer. In many cases, this means simultaneously importing them into your photo management software. It’s a good idea to immediately back up your photos after you transfer them to your computer.

  3. Manage.

    Organize, sort, rate, geotag, filter, delete, and add keywords to your photos.

  4. Standard processing.

    Develop and perfect the photos that you think are worth spending time on. For example, adjust exposure, white balance, color saturation, clarity, brightness and contrast. Sharpen and reduce noise, if necessary. Crop and straighten. This step applies to RAW images as well as JPEGs.

  5. Complex editing.

    Perform more complex edits, if necessary. Some photos (especially HDR and panoramas) need more work than you can make with all-in-one software solutions.

  6. Publish.

    The entire point of the workflow is to create materials worth publishing, such as a JPEG to place on your web page or Flickr photostream, or a high-quality TIFF file to print.

  7. Archive: Save your work for long-term storage.

You can tailor this workflow example to suit your needs. In fact, you’ll do a lot of tailoring, depending on several factors:

  • Movies: Do you need to change your workflow to work with movies that you've shot with your dSLR? That means more software and a substantially different editing and publishing process.

  • Other people: Do you have to fit into a process created by other people? Does someone else need to view or approve your work? Are you doing the approving?

  • Time: How much time do you have? Do you want to spend a lot of time or as little as possible per photo?

  • Photos: How many photos do you take? Must your workflow be able to handle tens of photos a week, or thousands?

  • Hardware: Do you have the camera and computer hardware to manage your workflow and run the software? Do you need to be able to take your computer with you, power, or volume?

  • Software: What applications are you using? Are they current? Can they handle raw files from your dSLR? Do you need anything else (panorama or HDR software, noise-removal plug-ins, other creative solutions)?

  • Priorities: In the end, deciding what to do (and what not to do) has a lot to do with your priorities. What's most important: speed, quality, compatibility, mobility, or something else?

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