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building-a-post-production-workflow Tips & Tricks

Do You Have An Effective Post-Production Workflow?

By Max Bridge on February 24th 2016

For those that are not already aware, workflow is a term used to define a particular order of operating; be that while editing or otherwise. In this article, I’ll specifically be covering post-production and the importance that a clearly defined workflow has. Without one, you could be doing yourself a severe disservice and hopefully, by the end of this, you’ll understand that and have a good idea of how to develop your own post-production workflow.

Why Is Having A Clearly Defined Workflow Important?

Short answer: it will save you time and money, ensure your work is of a consistent quality, raise the standard of your editing, and aid you in your development as an editor. Sold yet?

You may be thinking “I’m a casual, amateur photographer, I don’t need this.” You’re so wrong. Aside from all the other benefits, which I’ll delve into more deeply, do not overlook the aid a properly defined workflow can have to your development as an editor and, by extension, photographer. After all, the two are so closely linked these days. Your workflow will be the backbone of your entire editing style. As you develop, so too shall it.

[REWIND: CULLING IS CRITICAL & LIGHTROOM IS THE TOOL TO DO IT WITH (IF YOU KNOW HOW)]

So, how does a post-production workflow do all these magical things? By knowing exactly how you’ll approach every photo and the steps you’ll be taking from beginning to end, undoubtedly speeds you up. The effect of that, for a professional at least, is to save you time and money. You can get through jobs quicker and then move on to finding more jobs.

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You may think that ensuring your work is consistent is again, something reserved for professionals. But you’d be wrong again. How on earth can you develop as an editor and photographer if you can’t repeat your work? Imagine that you created your best work ever a month ago. The photo and editing were spot on. The problem is, your edit was such a mess that if I asked you to replicate that image today, you couldn’t do it. The beauty of a workflow is it’s repeatable. If you did something six months ago, you could do it again. Therefore, when you make these giant leaps in your photography and begin to create stunning photos, you can do it again and again; getting better and better each time.

The Added Benefit To Amateurs

When you first start as a photographer (I still struggle with this), you may find yourself looking at a photo and scratching your head. What do I need to do to this? A workflow helps prevent that. You run through everything, from A-Z, and always cover every base. For amateurs, this is invaluable. You can skip the whole phase where you’re stumbling through photo editing not really knowing where to go next or what “needs” doing to your images. In all honesty, what “needs” doing is something which comes with experience but the workflow will help get you there quicker.

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When I first began fumbling my way through Photoshop and Lightroom, I did the “man thing” (Man need no instructions; Man need no help. Neanderthal logic). I eventually came across SLR Lounge, which was a huge help. (Make sure you look at all the free education we have here, as well as the paid for tutorials which are worthwhile investments). Around the same time, I also found CreativeLive. The specific course I took was by Jared Platt and became the basis for how I store and archive all of my files. If you’re a little hazy on this yourself, the course is excellent. It’s not the most fascinating of subjects but losing your precious photos because of a poorly thought out photo archive system is not cool. This is a little teaser video from that course.

My Current Post Production Workflow

As mentioned, a workflow should constantly be evolving with you, altering as you learn new techniques. However, I have now come to the point where the core principles of my workflow seem to remain the same. Within these principles are numerous editing techniques, which come and go, but the core methodology has been unchanged for a few years now (although it does differ depending on what genre I’m editing). This is what it currently looks like for product photos. For other genres of photography, I either work exclusively in Lightroom or in Lightroom and Photoshop. Thus, replace the first few steps as appropriate.

  1. Make basic corrections in Capture One; distortion, sharpness falloff, chromatic aberration, lens vignette
  2. Make basic adjustments in Capture One. My aim is to export a neutral image with no “baked in” attributes (e.g. heavy contrast adjustments which then cannot be undone in Photoshop). Basic adjustments are therefore to do things like; ensure no areas are clipped or blown out, white balance, small adjustments to structure and clarity.
  3. Export to Photoshop (as smart object, if in Lightroom)
  4. Create composite, if necessary. This would include significant additions or subtractions (for example; swapping heads in a family photo, creating masks and replacing backgrounds for product photos, replacing skies or using digital blending with landscapes). Essentially, here I create the photo which I will then edit in a more usual way.
  5. Liquify / warp, if necessary.
  6. Contrast corrections. Adjusting areas which need to be either brightened or darkened to correct the exposure. The word “correct” is key. This is not a creative stage.
  7. Color corrections. Same as above but for color.
  8. Creative contrast adjustments; localized contrast adjustments, global adjustments, dodge and burn, anything which alters the contrast of the image in a creative way.
  9. Creative Color adjustments. Same as above, using whatever techniques I deem appropriate.
  10. Sharpening
  11. Noise reduction

I may be forgetting a stage or two, I don’t actually have this written down, but that’s about right. Whether I’m working on a family photo session, product photo, wildlife photo, am in Photoshop, Capture One, Lightroom or a mixture of all three, that is the process that my mind goes through. If one stage is not necessary, I go to the next until I’m done.

[REWIND: LIGHTROOM’S QUICK DEVELOP PANEL COULD TRANSFORM YOUR LIGHTROOM WORKFLOW]

A lot of thought and logic has gone into the order of my workflow. My RAW processor (Lightroom / Capture One) serves, at least with product photos, as a way to neutralize the photo. I don’t want to get a long way into my edit and then realize the top of a shoe is blown out, for example. The composite is done first when entering Photoshop, as I want to have the freedom to adjust creative corrections at any time. If the composite were done at the end, I’d have to do it over and over again when any change was desired. The same goes for the corrective contrast and color phases. Finally, sharpening and noise reduction are done at the end because of the effect that everything else will have on them. If I were to do them first, I’d also have to do them again at the end.

Summary

Adhering to some form of Post Production Workflow is essential. If, after this article, you still think this doesn’t apply to you then I hope, for your sake, that you eventually come to realize the folly of your ways.

By all means, copy the workflow I use and refine it to suit you. I’m not saying my workflow is perfect; it WILL change. And, I want it to. Remember, it’s supposed to. As I develop as an editor, it will develop with me. It will help me grow.

I mentioned it before but it deserves mentioning again. CreativeLive and SLR Lounge have taught me a lot over the years. If you want to gain a solid grasp over Lightroom, Photoshop, your workflow, creative editing techniques, literally everything photography, make sure you look over everything on offer. Click here to be taken to the SLR Lounge Store and here to be taken over to CreativeLive.

About

Max began his career within the film industry. He’s worked on everything from a banned horror film to multi-million-pound commercials crewed by top industry professionals. After suffering a back injury, Max left the film industry and is now using his knowledge to pursue a career within photography.

Website: SquareMountain 
Instagram: Follow Author

2 Comments

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  1. Justin Haugen

    I stress workflow to new photographers so much. You should be able to get your photos in front of your desired audience as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    Great writeup! I’m interested in the capture one workflow.

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    • Max Bridge

      Hey Justin. I completely agree.

      I’m still figuring out how Capture One fits in. Initially I wanted it to augment LR, for those special images that I was going to spend a long time on. However, it’s not really possible to jump between the two and so I had to think of something else.

      I now use it exclusively for my product photography work and occasionally if I have some other photo that I feel would benefit from the C1 features. As such, it tends to just be a stepping stone before PS. It can do so much more than what I am currently using it for!

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