Hi friends! I’ve been spending the last few weeks working on the non-making side of artist life (taxes, updating websites, setting up online store, etc). I also spent a lot of time taking photos and processing them. Today, I’m going to share my photo process/workflow. There are many wonderful guides online on taking photos and I’ll write my picture taking process soon.
How I developed my process
Now, I’m a researcher and info-seeker and not a professional photographer. The following is what works for me but I’m just sharing my process to help other creatives. I’ve combined all I learned from a high school photography class, lynda.com, reading a ton of other guides and through trial and error.
Before digital cameras, I remember having to maintain a record log of camera settings and spending hours in a darkroom testing. Now, its all digital. I’m fortunate I get to use Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom and Bridge. For those who don’t have Photoshop or Lightroom, there are many free software options (another future post, I promise) available.
Regardless of what software you use, the steps to do remain the same. Save often after doing anything. This habit will save you lots of tears in the future.
My Getting Photos Picture Perfect for the Web process:
1. Save your work as “YourProjectTitle-master”.psd (file type for your software)
This allows you to work on the photo without touching the original. I just like having this kind of back-up option when things don’t go the way you want them to. Save often.
Navigate to File > Save As > “YourArtwork”
Choose Photoshop as file type.
2. Rotate the photo
Navigate to Image > Image Rotation > Arbitrary
If the photo appears off kilter, then rotate the photo until it looks pleasing to the eye. I go the slow way of .1 degree per click. You can go 1 degree or 10 degrees or use the transformation arrows. CW is clockwise and CCW is counter clock wise.
3. Clean up the image
I love the spot healing tool in Photoshop. It allows you to fix any noise (dust looking things) or any spots that don’t just belong in your picture. This is especially helpful in preparing artworks for reproduction.
It lets you pick another spot as your source from the photo and “place” it on top of the part you want to. Holding Alt (Option key in Macs) while clicking on the image lets you mark that as your source. Make sure you zoom in and out on the photos to see how your corrections blend in. Undo any that looks unnatural with control Z or going to history window.
4. Adjust the levels
Navigate to Layer > New Adjustment Layer>Levels
Levels lets you adjust brightness, contrast and tone by moving a white, black and grey arrows. It lets you tell the software, its completely white/black at this point.
Moving the arrow towards the big mountains (peaks), add more of that (arrow) colour to the photo. I normally move it till it looks spot on then back away a little from the peaks. Why? I find it helps prevent the picture from looking over processed. Remember to save your file again.
5. Colour correction / Curves
Navigate to Layer > New Adjustment Layer>Curves
If your photo is well taken and well lit, you can avoid this step. I don’t always do this one depending on the photo or subject of the photo.
When I do, I adjust it colour by colour starting with red then green then blue. There are 2 arrows you can adjust for each colour mode.
Here’s from adobe help file:
“Moving a point in the top portion of the curve adjusts the highlights. Moving a point in the center of the curve adjusts the midtones, and moving a point in the bottom section of the curve adjusts the shadows. To darken highlights, move a point near the top of the curve downward. Moving a point either down or to the right maps the Input value to a lower Output value, and the image darkens. To lighten the shadows, move a point near the bottom of the curve upward. Moving a point either up or to the left maps a lower Input value to a higher Output value, and the image lightens.”
I normally just stick to moving the arrow most on the red adjustment panel. I choose the arrow that makes the colours on my pictures pop more. Its okay if it your whites are turning a little into that colour tint. I use the green and blue adjustment panels to bring them back to white. I move the arrows on the green panel less than I did the red (just trying to balance the colours. Lastly, I barely move blue panel arrows.
Now if you are moving the arrows a lot to get the colours right – I’d suggest you stop and retake the photo in better lighting. This step is just to make the colours on your photo sing not fix a badly taken photo.
Don’t forget to save your file again.
6. Zoom to view the image to 100%
Yep. You will have to look over the whole picture using your arrows. Here you will check to see if anything needs to be undone or redone. If your eyes are tired, do this on your next session. Its better to review photos with fresh eyes.
7. Crop the image
Crop out the unnecessary stuff, or something you forgot to hide in the background. I now save a copy of the file as “Yourproject-master-edge.psd”. This way I have 3 files the untouched image, the master with all the image correction and the cropped version.
I do this for consistency and added options. If you decide to just have a master file saved and decide to crop again. You may not end up cropping it the same way you did in the past or you decide you want to crop the image a different way.
Some suggest cropping as your first step, but I do it after major edits in case of spot correction. You may find good sources from the parts you plan to crop. Once you crop, you lose that info on your photo.
Don’t forget to save again.
8. Resize the image
Depending where you are putting your photos or sending it to, you will need to follow their requirements. My Etsy team suggest images with a max width or height of 1000 pixels. As screens and devices are getting better resolution, some new places advice having 1200 pixels.
For my artwork, I tend to go with 1500 pixels. You will find you have different requirements for each submission. If you tend to use a certain file size often, I will save another version called “Yourproject-size.psd” e.g. Marigold-1500.psd.
Sharpening is subjective and can be skipped. I find that it adds a little more oomph to my photos. What’s perfect for one person may be too much for another. As the creator/artist of your work, you decide how you want to share your work. There’s a really handy guide here from Damien explaining the feature and how he does it.
The settings I use for Unsharp Mask is 100, 0.2, 1. Its not a magic number for all images but it works for mine.
Radius of 0.2 / 0.3 px for web images. Prints need around .3 to 1.0 or more based on size. Yes you should have a different final file for web and print.
Threshold is adjusting the balance between detail and noise. I start with 3 to 5.
Amount, you start with 250-300. Lower numbers are more subtle lines, higher are more dramatic lines.
We’ve come to another save point again.
10. Add a watermark
Damien has a great tutorial on creating watermarks. I know many of us don’t want to mar our images with big ugly names/signatures. You probably feel you don’t need it until your image gets stolen. Protect yourself, it is so easy to share and screen capture photos. Let people know you care about your work and who made it.
Make sure you place your watermark and flatten the image. I usually place my watermark on an important detail where people can’t crop out easily.
11. Save your file as jpg for web
I use the “Save for web” option in Photoshop and select JPG around 80% for quality. I like 83% but that’s my preference.
12. Fill in the metadata
Here’s a great site covering various softwares on how to embed metadata.
I fill out these fields on IPTC (legacy) & IPTC core using Adobe Bridge. I tend to highlight all the photos of the same project and edit them in one go.
Headline and Title: “Title of the Artwork”
Description, Copyright and Caption: “Copyright, My Name, Year Artwork Made”
Artist, Credit: “My Name”
Rights: “Copyright ©Artist Name, Year”
Lastly, set copyright status to Copyrighted. Apply and save your changes.
13. Post your image online
You are now ready to post your pictures online on your blog, website or store.
Here’s a summary checklist for you to have while working:
- Save your work as “YourProjectTitle-master”.psd (file type for your software)
- Rotate the photo
- Clean up the image
- Adjust the levels
- Colour correction / Curves
- Set to view the image to 100%
- Crop the image
- Resize the image
- Add a watermark
- Save your file as jpg for web
- Fill in the metadata
- Post your pictures
Why I wrote this guide
I hope this guide helps you in creating a photo-editing workflow. I found many guides covering different parts of this process but not all in one go. I’m always willing to learn, so please feel free to share any advice. I wrote this for my friends who have access to photoshop and similar software but not sure what to do. I will post a guide on preparing photos for reproduction printing soon.
Until then take care and enjoy your day.