April 03, 2005

RAW image workflow...

Stop reading now if you're not interested in computer + photo + RAW images + boring discussions of improving your image editing workflow... One of these days I'm planning to separate the blog entries into categories. Actually, I've already done that, I just haven't gotten around to setting up a system so you can pick your category. Anyway,

I've had a few large digital editing jobs lately. And when it comes to artwork reproduction, "large" is anything more than, say, ten pieces. That's because working with RAW images can be a huge time-suck. My current system, just for the initial image edits, uses Adobe's Camera Raw Photoshop plugin:

  1. Load second photo with GretagMacbeth ColorChecker chart.
  2. Adjust white balance based on the grey 6.5 square. All other settings stay the same (no sharpening, AdobeRGB 1998, normal smoothness and noise reduction, etc.)
  3. Save ACR settings.
  4. Select middle 30% of white, grey 6.5, and black squares on the ColorChecker chart.
  5. Run action to apply gaussian blur, reset default colors, and apply 2px stroke to the above squares.
  6. New levels layer, set black point, white point, then grey point.
  7. Save image as PSD file.
  8. Open artwork image (first photo), go to "previous" settings (to grab the white balance from the ColorChecker).
  9. Save ACR settings.
  10. Open image, drag levels adjustment from above CC image.
  11. Make any necessary color adjustments.
  12. Straighten image.
  13. Crop image.
  14. Save as PSD file.

Tiring, isn't it? Repeat the above for each piece of work. Sure, I don't mind billing all that time (actually it's only a few minutes per image), but the needless repetition is a little annoying.

Enter some of those fancy RAW workflow products. Actually I've only played with Nikon Capture, Bibble, and C1, but as far as I know those are the only real players in the Mac + Nikon world. Bibble and C1 allow a more integrated workflow, compared to my system of many steps, saving ACR files and PSD files, and maintaining multiple folders for the different steps. They are much faster than using ACR for everything, and much much faster than the Nikon software. These tools should allow me to simplify steps 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 14 into just a couple of steps, but they have some serious problems:

  • Bibble can't use arbitrary black and white points. It's 0,0,0 and 255,255,255. What good are those? Real photographers are using greyscale charts all the time as references in their images, why can't this software keep up?
  • Serious dependency on cryptic icons.
  • Very non Mac-like interface. To think what Apple could do with this type of software! Apple's added some RAW support to iPhoto, but maybe there's some hope that with this new Adobe raw format (DNG I think it's called), and Apple's entry into more and more pro fields, they might come out with a serious RAW utility to work with Photoshop.
  • No integration with other RAW tools. As far as I know you can't do some work in Bibble, then use the same settings when you import the images into Photoshop with ACR. Sure, I could probably set the white balance on a bunch of images in Bibble, then save them as TIFFs for use in Photoshop, but that's really only saving two steps out of 14.
  • No PSD file support. Apple has added PSD support all over OS X, why haven't these programs?
  • No selective blur tools. Steps 4-5 above are pretty critical, and I'm not the only one that thinks so.

I could go on, but I'm boring even myself. There may be some hope for these tools in my workflow, especially when it comes to high-volume things like events and weddings. But they're no silver bullet.

Posted at April 3, 2005 11:40 AM, Categories: Photography
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