Digital Workflow (Janurary 2007)
This workflow is based on using a Nikon D200 and a cornucopia of software including Nikon View, Nikon Transfer utility, ACDSee Pro 9, the Nikon Raw Editor (Nikon Capture Editor), Photoshop CS2/ACR. I have added some thoughts at the end of this page on the selection of a raw converter.
- Of course, the first step in any workflow is taking the photo. I generally shoot NEF (the Nikon raw file format). The D200 permits saving the file as a NEF and a JPG, and I used to take advantage of this, to facilitate fast image culling, but do not anymore, as raw converters read and cache NEF files quickly enough now. I have added a few notes on when to use RAW vs JPG at the bottom of this page.
- Ingestion is the term used for the process of copying the files from the compact flash card to the hard disk. I have used two image ingestion utilities: ACDSee Pro 9 and Nikon View. Nikon View has the advantage of being free and has the unique option of embedding the nikon shooting data in the IPTC caption field. ACDSee Pro is more reliable, versatile and faster. When I ingest the files I rename them and put them in a structured folder system. I use the naming convention y My name_yyyymmdd_xxxxyyy.NEF – for example dallara_20070101_0017WNS.nef. Ingestion automates setting basic metadata including my copywrite, photographer, and depending on the type of shoot, keywords and other IPTC information. I maintain my folders in the hierarchy Decade | Year | Month | Day and save the raw files in a subfolder for the day, as shown to the right …
- Now comes the tough part – culling the poorer photos. I have found it better to select the keepers than the culls. I am more demanding, saving less photos and it is faster. I use Adobe Bridge (ARC) to review the NEFs I have ingested and “tag” the keepers. If in doubt I will tag a file. Sometimes a file that does not look that great at first will grow on me. Frequently I will take several photos of the same subject, hoping that one will be better than the others, especially when handheld in marginal conditions. ARC has the capability of opening up to 4 different photos in separate panes, which can all be magnified and panned independently or locked together. This allows me to scrutinize critical parts side by side and decide on which is the best. I only tag that one. I delete all the untagged files.
- At this point I have all the raw NEF files sitting the destination folder. The next step is to apply keywords and metadata. I edit the IPTC title for any images I intend to upload to pbase. I use Bridge to update the keywords to the NEF files into the sidecar files. By adding the keywords and metadata before raw conversion I am insuring that all versions of the file contain the metadata.
- Conversion happens next. If I am on the road, using my notebook computer, then I use RSP to convert, as it is the fastest converter and runs well on my notebook. At home I am now using the Adobe ARC as my preferred converter. This requires importing the NEFs into the LR library and making edits in the develop module. If I anticipate any WB issues, I will include a WB card in the shoot. I will set the WB off the card and synchronize the rest of the photos. As required I may adjust the tonality, color, vibrance and cropping. If more sophisticated processing is required, such as localized tone/colours, local noise reduction and sharpening or cloning, then I switch to CS2. Once I have adjusted all the photos I save in the Pro Photo color space, either as 16 bit TIFs or 8 bit JPGs, depending on what further processing may be required and the end use for the image by exporting to the parent folder in my folder heirarchy.
- For most photos I batch convert from TIF to JPG to save space, but keep exceptional photos as TIFs. For most applications I cannot tell the difference between a TIF and JPG, but I leave this to the last step. During processing, significant changes in white balance, contrast, saturation and shadow enhancement can cause posterization in an 8 bit JPG, while a 16 bit TIF file will maintain smooth tonal transitions.
- Finally, I backup the entire folder structure to a DVD including DNG’s.
NEF vs JPG
In general, it is best to use NEF as it confers the benifits of 12 bit capture and later adjustment to exposure, tone and white balance. Shooting JPG in-camera is faster, allows more images to be stored on the compact flash card, and greatly speeds up the post processing time.
I find JPG to be the best medium when shooting events where I am taking a large number of photos and many participants will want a copy in a short period of time.
The rest of the time, for me, the extra quality and tweaking possible in a RAW file far outweighs the inconvenience. Why spend a fortune on a digital camera and the best lenses, only to throw out 4 bits of data and compress the rest by using a JPG?
Which RAW converter should I use?
Until recently I would have said the answer would be Nikon Capture (NC), but Nikon’s inability to fix the slow execution speeds, huge memory usage and instability has been depressing. NC also does a poor job of rendering highlights. It is unrealistic to use NC for large conversion jobs due to it’s inefficient and unstable workflow. Add to that the encryption of the WB in the recent Nikon cameras, in a bare faced attempt to keep sales in NC and it is not a pretty picture. Capture NX adds an inefficient UI to all of the above.
Now there are alternatives that are better than NC/NX in all respects, except perhaps colour rendition and localized editing. Bibble is fast and stable, although I personally do not care for the interface. Raw Shooter Pro is fast and has a wonderful user interface, but I have a difficult time getting the colours and tone just right, and it is no longer for sale after the Adobe buyout. That leaves photoshop CS2 and ACR3, which, when combined with Bridge make for a very versatile and efficient workflow and a new contender, Adobe Lightroom. However, setting up ACR3 is not for the faint at heart, as it works best if calibrated to the camera, which involves photographing a Gretag Macbeth color checker and then running a calibration script. My one issue with Bridge is that it does not have the capability to view photos at 100%, so it is not that useful for image culling.
My workflow is based on Rory Hill’s workflow and would not be possible without Rory’s great program “Ditto”. Thanks Rory for all the great work that went into this wonderful program.