Workflow #3 – Editing in Photoshop

The third phase of the workflow focuses on the finalization of the development of RAW files in Photoshop, after the primary adjustments already made in Lightroom. The image of the Brooklyn Bridge is already much improved compared to the initial shot, but it still needs some processing to be ready the microstock market, as well as it needs a certain amount of photoretouch to eliminate some elements that could lead to a rejection from the reviewers of the microstock agencies (see “legal issues” in microstock). So let’s open the raw file in Photoshop: it will automatically recognize all adjustments made with Lightroom and saved to the associated xmp file. The image now looks like the following screen:

Post-Produzione PS1

The first step that I make usually when I open an image in Photoshop is to control the tonal values (in “image” -> “adjustments” -> “levels”): you need to check the histogram to see if it’s distributed up to the edges of the graph. If it’s not, it means that the image is not using the full tonal range available and you will probably have a low-contrast image. The solution is to drag the slider of the white point (the right) and the slider of the black point (the left) until they coincide with the ends of the histogram. If necessary, you can also use the middle slider to adjust the overall brightness of the image in case it was excessively corrupted by the adjustments of the other two sliders. The result of this operation will be a sharper and less “foggy” image.

Post-Produzione PS2

Another preliminary step that I make at this stage, but only for images that really need it, is to use the filter Dfine from Nik Software, which allows me to reduce or eliminate digital noise without altering the overall quality of the image, nor the sharpening previously applied. Basically it is the same kind of operation already made in Lightroom with the noise reduction tool, but in this case it is even easier because you only need to launch the filter Dfine and wait a few seconds: the image will be automatically cleaned and the digital noise will be reduced or eliminated.

Now let’s talk about the photo retouch. As you can see from the next screen, there are several flaws that make it impossible to sell this image on microstock sites.

Post-Produzione PS1bis

In the red circles I highlighted the following elements to be corrected:

– presence of recognizable people: this is something that concerns the legal issues of an image, a pretty common situation in street photography and in general in photographs taken in close proximity to tourist attractions and monuments. It’s hard to shoot in total absence of people and when there are recognizable faces you need to obtain a release form by those subjects. Obviously this is quite impossible when we don’t know these people. In these cases there are two possible solutions: If the image is somehow newsworthy (not in the case of a photo of your cat), you could try to sell this image as “editorial“, without the need of any release from the people portrayed – albeit accidentally – in your photo. However, not all microstock agencies accept editorial images for sale (see table); the other option is to use photo retouch in order to eliminate or make unrecognizable the people in the image.

– other flaws of the image as for example reflections and flares due to the front light, or dirt stains on our lens and other defects that lower the quality of the image, making it simply unacceptable for the sale through microstock agencies.

To solve all these problems you need a little patience and a working knowledge of the tools “clone stamp“, “healing brush“, “spot healing brush” and the command “content aware fill“. You can see the result of the photoretouching of the picture on the screen below.

Post-Produzione PS3

The last step is a further sharpening (this time we talk about “output sharpening“) obtained through the use of the Unsharp Mask (menu “filter” -> “sharpen” -> “unsharp mask”) that allows you to make fine adjustments on the contrast of our image.

Having reached this point in the workflow, it is my habit to save the image in PSD (Photoshop): this format will allow me any further re-editing without any loss of quality, restarting from all the adjustments carried out so far. Once the file is exported to JPG in case you need to re-edit the file, it will be highly inadvisable to work on the JPG itself. Every time you save an image in JPG the software necessarily performs a compression. If you edit a previously exported JPG file and you save it again, a new compression will be applied and so on at each new saving, gradually reducing the quality of the image each time you save. So if by chance we exported an image to JPG and then we realize that we need further adjustments, it will be better to re-open the PSD file of the same image, make your changes, and then export a new JPG. Only this way we will be sure to maintain the highest possible quality for the file.

So, back to the workflow, I first export the file in PSD format, then I export a first final version of the image in JPG format at the highest quality and no further adjustments, which will be my “standard” version of the image. After that, when I want to have some fun and if the image is suitable for further processing, I use to re-open the PSD file and play with Photoshop filters to create artistic effects or simply to give a different and eye-catching look to my image. I specifically use the Nik Software filters, and among them “Color Efex Pro” to create really impressive effects, “Silver Efex Pro” to create images in black and white and “HDR Efex Pro” to create the HDR effect from a single image instead than merge multiple shots. When I am satisfied with the results (I’m still working on the PSD file) l export to JPG at maximum quality a different version for each filter applied. Here are some processing examples of the image of the Brooklyn Bridge with the filters mentioned above.

Post-Produzione PS4

Image processed with “Bicolor User Defined” preset of “Color Efex Pro”

Post-Produzione PS5

Image processed with “HDR Efex Pro”

Post-Produzione PS6

Image processed with “Silver Efex Pro”

At this point the editing process in Photoshop is over and I find myself with 4 JPG versions of the same image: a “standard” version, which is the mere export of the image without the application of any artistic filter; the other three versions, which are precisely those processed with the application of Nik Software filters to the standard image (albeit starting from the PSD). All 4 images are candidates to be sent to the microstock agencies. Talking about the artistic filters, it must be said that some agencies tend to reject overprocessed images, unless the filters applied add an effective value to the communicative power of the image. In any case it is worth to try: I often receive approval for the same image “packaged” in different versions.

Before we can send these files to agencies, we must go through the crucial step of keywording them, ie to find the proper keywords to be appended to the file metadata. These keywords will make our pictures able to be found by customers in search results on Microstock websites.

Go to the next phase of the workflow:

4. Keywording


Go back to the previous phase of the workflow:

2. Editing in Lightroom

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Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.