Digital Workflow – Using Bridge, Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop by Barbie Schwartz
In this digital age of photography, many photographers struggle with their workflow, and getting the time spent processing images down to a manageable level. Photoshop is such a powerful application, and has many tools and features built in to help with this problem. In this tutorial, I will explain how I process my images on a Mac Pro desktop, using Adobe Photoshop CS3, Adobe Camera Raw, and Adobe Bridge. Most of the tools and features I use are also available in other versions of Photoshop.
First, I upload images to my Mac using a fast card reader. Never upload directly from your camera—a power surge or power outage could damage your camera beyond repair, and leave you with a very expensive paperweight.
Take a moment to set up a Metadata Template. You can do this by finding the Metadata window in Bridge, and using the fly-out menu to select Create Metadata Template. It fills in the copyright notice, copyright status, and rights usage terms, my name, phone number, address, website, and email. I have a Basic Info template for each calendar year. This fills in all the information that doesn’t change throughout the year, regardless of what or where I am shooting. I can go back later and add information that is specific to each image or session. Once this information is attached to your RAW file, all files created from that RAW file will contain the same metadata information, unless you specifically strip it out.
You may ask why you want all that information in your metadata. Well, if you post images on Flickr, for example, and you don’t hide your metadata, if someone wants to purchase usage rights on your image, they have the information to contact you. Also, it confirms that the image is not public domain, and therefore using it without your consent is a violation of the law. With all the stories we hear in the news about images being stolen and used commercially without the photographer’s consent or compensation, this is something we all need to be concerned about.
I have my computer set to use Adobe Bridge for uploading. While in Bridge, go to FILE>Get Photos from Camera. A new window will open up, allowing you to designate where the new files will go, and what they will be called. You can even have them upload to two different places at once, allowing you to create a backup copy on another drive at the same time. This is also where you can check the box to fill in your metadata during the upload process, and tell it which template to use.
I upload all the raw files into a folder named RAW, which is inside a folder named for the client or event. This folder is inside a folder named for the calendar year (i.e. /Volumes/Working Drive/2009/Denver Pea GTG/RAW would be the file path). Once the images are in Bridge, I keyword them all. This makes searching for an image or images based on content much easier and faster. And using the sorting tools in Bridge has proven to be quite convenient, too. So I highly recommend you set up all your keywords and use them as soon as you have uploaded images. Once you keyword the RAW files, any file created with that file–a PSD or a JPG–will have those same keywords embedded. You won’t need to add them again.
I open the RAW files in Bridge, and using ACR (Adobe Camera RAW) make any adjustments to exposure, white balance, clarity, contrast, etc. I can make batch adjustments to similar images by making the adjustments to one, then selecting all the others, and clicking Synchronize. After all the adjustments are made in ACR, I click FINISHED without opening the images.
I know that 99.9% of the time, I am going to process my images at settings shown below, so I saved these as the Default settings for ACR. I can adjust the White Balance and Exposure for each particular situation.
Next, I select all the images in BRIDGE that I want to use/show the client. This is usually about 20-25 from a typical session. It might be 30-35 for a senior session with multiple locations and outfits. After I have selected all the images, I run the IMAGE PROCESSOR by going to TOOLS>PHOTOSHOP>IMAGE PROCESSOR. When the dialog box opens, I select PSD files, and for location, I select the client/event folder. When the IMAGE PROCESSOR runs, it creates a new folder named PSD in the client/event folder, and creates PSD files of all the selected images with the adjustments made in ACR. You can even run an action during this process, and I usually have mine set to run the MCP Eye Doctor and Dentist actions (which I modified to run together as one action.) This way, when I open the PSD file, the layers for that action are already there.
By the time I am finished with a session, there will be several folders wthin the client/event folder. The PSD and JPG folders were created by the Image Processor. I created the Blog folder for when I resize JPGs for web viewing. I will eventually create an Order folder or Print folder, too.
I then open that PSD file in BRIDGE. From there, I can open each image in PHOTOSHOP, and do more extensive post-processing.
I use the HEALING BRUSH to correct any blemishes or stray hairs.
I use the CLONE TOOL at 25% to brighten and smooth under the eyes if necessary. I also use this tool at varying opacity for any distracting elements in the rest of the image.
I use the LIQUIFY FILTER to correct any clothing “malfunctions” or perform any digital liposuction or plastic surgery desired. This is mostly done on glamour images and some bridal/wedding images and of course, with self-portraits!
I wrote an action that then creates a DUPLICATE MERGED LAYER (OPTION-COMMAND-SHIFT-N-E) on top, and runs PORTRAITURE on the merged layer at the default settings and reduces the opacity to 70%. Sometimes I will reduce the opacity even further after the action has run, depending on the image.
Next, run an action which creates a contrast bump, a color saturation bump, and sharpens slightly. These are very minor adjustments. More is not always better!
I have made modifications to many of my purchased actions. Many of the actions you purchase flatten your files at the beginning of the process, and again at the end. I don’t want to flatten those eye pop and portraiture layers in my original files, in case they need adjusting later. To avoid this, I modify the actions to create a duplicate image, run on that image, maintaining all layers which are then put into a set. The set can be dragged onto the original image, and I can adjust the opacity of the whole set, or of the individual layers. Knowing how to write and to modify actions means that you can make the most of them in your own style and workflow. If you know you have to tweak an action every time you run it, then it isn’t really saving you time, is it? Learn how to edit the action so it continues to do the work for you.
Now, in the case of my workflow, I could save even more time by batching those last two steps. I could save and close my file after the Liquify step, then when I had completed all the images to that point, I run a batch action in Bridge to apply those Portraiture and Contrast/Color actions to all the files at once. I can even cook dinner while my computer does the work for me!
Once I have finished what I call the artwork on an image, I save the layered PSD file. I always and I mean always, save all those layers because it allows me to go back and make minor changes without having to start over from the beginning. How many times have you stayed up late editing, only to look at those images the next morning with fresh eyes and decide something isn’t the way you want it?
Now I am ready to create JPGs that can be prepped for printing or web display. I view the folder of PSD files in bridge, selecting the images I want to make into JPGs. Next, I go back to the Image Processor, and click JPG instead of PSD. If I know I wont want to crop any of the images, and want to prep them for web display, I can specify right here in the image processor what size I want to constrain the final images to. For my blog, they can’t exceed 900 pixels in width, so I enter 900 under width. Since a vertical image will likely be less than twice the length of the width, I would enter 1600 for vertical size. The dimensions of the final image will not exceed the constrained proportions you specify. I run the image processor, and it creates a folder of JPGs for me, in the size I specified! You can also have the image processor run a web sharpening action at the same time, and save you that step.
If the images might need to be cropped for composition, I do not enter any dimensions for constraint. I create full-sized JPGs, crop those for composition, and then resize and sharpen for web display.
I love to use MCP’s Finish It actions to prep my images for web display. I select the images in Bridge (after any compositional cropping) and run batches based on orientation (MCPs action set comes with separate actions for left, right, and bottom color blocking.) The action automatically resizes to 900 pixels across, and comes with additional actions to resize to other specifications.
Nearly everything I do is done with actions–actions I have purchased, or actions I have written myself. Actions and batch processing is the way to keep your workflow manageable. If you know you are going to do the exact same thing to 25 images (or 500!) Photoshop can do it much faster in a batch than you can one at a time.
When I am ready to print an image, I go back to the PSD and make a duplicate of that image. The duplicate image is what gets cropped and resized for printing. Never crop or resize your PSD–this is your Master file. Your RAW file is your negative. Never crop or resize it, either. If you shoot in JPG, keep a folder of the original files, straight out of camera, and do not alter them in any way. Treat them as your negative. Only alter copies of these files. You always want to be able to go back to your original if you have to.
Another big time saver is Presets. All the tools in Photoshop allow you to create presets. For example, I have presets of the Crop Tool for all the standard print sizes. I just select the preset for the size print I want to order, and the ratios are already set for an 8×10 at 300 PPI, for example. I create both landscape and portrait orientations of each size.
ACTIONS! I create actions, I buy actions, and I modify actions.
BATCHES! Anything that can be done in an action can probably be done in a batch. It saves TONS of time!
SCRIPTS! The IMAGE PROCESSOR is a script that simplifies and saves time.
PRESETS! Any tool settings you use on a regular basis can be made into a Preset. Saves you the time of entering in all the variable settings.
Barbie Schwartz is the owner of Lifestyle Images, and partner in Pope & Schwartz Photography, based in Nashville, TN. She’s a wife and a mom, to both human and fur children. Lifestyle Images and Pope & Schwartz have been bringing beautiful custom portraiture and contemporary school portraits to the Nashville area since 2001.