This article will focus on how I do my image selection using Adobe Bridge. Also, it will explain how I do the first stage of image processing using Adobe Camera RAW, from now on referred to as ACR.
This is my ‘normal workflow’ when I don’t have a very short publishing deadline or an assistant tethered to my camera over WiFi.
An efficient workflow makes image selection and post-processing less time consuming, more enjoyable, and the final images are of a higher quality. These are the primary reasons why I broke my workflow down into smaller complete steps. By complete steps, I mean I will first finish all image selections, I won’t suddenly go and post-process a few images in the middle of the selection phase. When image selection is complete, I will start and finish any white balance or exposure corrections. Having this batch based approach gives me continuity and a color awareness of how the final images flow together as a set.
My 2 Primary Rules for Image Selection
- Be Decisive
Indecisiveness slows down the workflow. It may result in your storage solution filling up with many more images than you need or want. Perhaps it might become full of ‘seconds’. Seconds can be images which weren’t good enough to make your first choice for submission to an agency or upload to your website. They could be duplicates. They can also be images that have problems which you believe one day you will go back and fix. We both know it is highly unlikely that you ever will!
- Focus on Sharpness (pun intended!)
If the image isn’t sharp at 100% viewing – delete it. When panning at very slow shutter speeds, only part of the image, usually the part you are focussing on, will be sharp and this is normal. Yes, it is entirely possible to take a poorly focused image, resize it to web resolution and it looks fine. I don’t as I strongly believe in standards for my published work and the images I offer for sale and printing. Be proud of your high-quality photographs!
Why were you at the event? Why is that important?
It also helps to remember why you were at the event and why your images are important to your target audience. Understanding this will drive which images you select, and just as importantly which you don’t.
Generally speaking, an agency pro would want action; a racing car collision, the flash of flame from the exhaust, dynamic panning shots, the scoring player, the victory dance, etc. Images without that action ‘wow’ won’t get published. An event pro would want dignified, classic photos, for example, a horse rider showjumping artfully over an obstacle. A picture like this might be one the competitor wants to remember and use to showcase their skills. The hobbyist would be learning, developing their skills and be proud of any sharp, nicely composed, interesting images they captured.
An example of what not to publish online? The horse rider showjumping artfully over an obstacle, landing badly and headbutting the neck of the horse. Blood flowing down the riders face, and the side of the horse might make an excellent action image. In the close-knit community of equestrian event photography though, the rider most likely won’t want to remember the painful, embarrassing event, no one is likely to buy the print and it probably won’t make you any friends.
Setting up Adobe Camera RAW Properly
After your images are on the computer, the first thing you want to do is look at them in Bridge. The first thing Bridge then does is to apply a set of Camera Raw Defaults to them. This is actually the first step of Bridge helping you with automation, albeit in a rather invisible way.
Out of the box, or today out of the Creative Cloud, these are Adobe defaults. How you change these settings is based on a combination of personal preference and the basic corrections you almost always make. Remember, these are some of the adjustments that you would have manually made later in this process, so let Bridge and ACR do the work for you.
To me, the 3 most relevant tabs in ACR are Basic, Detail and Lens Corrections.
Basic represents the white balance and exposure-related controls. From experience I know that generally my Nikon D3x and D810 images can benefit from a very slight exposure increase, this is where I configure it. I also add positive values to Contrast, Blacks, and Vibrance. I always leave White Balance set to ‘As Shot’ as to me there is no reason ever to change it.
With the Basic tab, it is important not to get carried away. I recommend thinking of ACR as your helper adjustments, they pave the way for more effective changes later in Photoshop, they don’t replace Photoshop.
Detail primarily controls the amount of pre-sharpening applied to the RAW file. Proper image sharpening should always be done with a combination of pre and output sharpening.
Lens Corrections simply removes Chromatic Aberration and applies a lens specific profile for the correction of distortion and vignetting.
My ACR Defaults are my foundation adjustments as they get applied to all of the images I take. Yes, there are always some exception shoots which require a different set of foundation parameters, but ACR makes these changes very simple too.
Using your own set of ACR defaults turns the first use of automation into a much more useful one. Plus, these minor but commonly made adjustments will enable you to make a better and quicker assessment of images during the selection phase.
In Adobe Bridge, Labels menu, I will assign a color to each of the images. Green – good, makes the final selection. Yellow – might need it. Red – delete. If I am working with HDR, then I label these as Blue and group each set of images within a stack.
This is where a tablet comes in very handy. My Wacom tablet has 2 quadrants of buttons, top left, and top right. I have configured the top left buttons with the appropriate keyboard shortcuts for the above labels, or colors.
As I am browsing the images, I tap the button for the color I want, this marks the image and then shows me the next one. If a closer inspection of the image is required (and it usually is), then within the preview pane in Bridge, I can click anywhere in the image, and the loupe is displayed so I can see a small portion of an image at 100% view. For a really detailed inspection, I will open the image in ACR, and then I can zoom to 100% and scroll around to check the finer details.
The first pass through this process is what I call ‘my first cull’ and is quick and decisive. Above I wrote that Yellow is ‘I might need it’. At this point in the process, it is more like an ‘ok, interesting; a better shot might come along, will decide later’ classification!
The objective now is to get to a final set of images for editing, the green ones. Using the Bridge filter panel, I will view only the ones marked green and yellow. This final image selection is often a little more time-consuming and involves spending more time in ACR viewing the images at 100% to ensure the best images are selected and kept.
Once my final selection is complete, I will view only the red images and delete them. Then using Bridge, Tools, Batch Rename, perform the rename to my standard. This is based on an abbreviated event title_date taken_sequence number. For example, D1GB_061017_001.nef.
Final Image Preparation in Bridge
Good, I now have a final set of RAW images from the event! The last adjustment steps in Bridge (ACR) are white balance and temperature corrections, then any final exposure changes.
If the same values need to be applied to multiple images, there is an easy way to do this. Simply make the adjustments to one image, highlight the others that require the same correction, right-click, select Develop Settings and Previous Conversion. Voilà!
The final step in Bridge is to prepare the green images for further editing in Photoshop. This involves doing a batch conversion of the images from RAW to TIFF. Following my complete task methodology, the images have to be converted to something. As Photoshop Layers are an integral part of my workflow, the choice is only TIFF or PSD. Why TIFF? Habit, I guess! Many versions of Photoshop ago, I had corrupted file problems with PSDs so using TIFF just stuck.
Using the filter panel, highlight green and select all. Then in Tools, Photoshop, select Image Processor. The picture shows the simple conversions options I typically use. Click Run to start. Photoshop will then convert all the RAWs to TIFFs based on the ACR settings for each individual image. This is usually a good time to relax and enjoy a coffee!
I will not cover the use of Photoshop Actions in this conversion process now, although the capabilities are many and very powerful once mastered.
Under the ‘current year’ folder on my NAS, I then create a folder named with the event title and under that another folder called RAW. Once the image conversion is complete, I move all the RAW files and their accompanying .xmp files to that directory. The .xmp files are important as they contain the ACR parameters for each individual image.
Image selection is now complete!
The third article will show how I take that final set of images through Photoshop quickly and efficiently, leveraging the power of Actions wherever possible.
I hope this article was useful, please leave a comment if you liked it. I am also happy to answer any questions you may have.