Digital Workflow Including
We often receive
inquiries asking about technical details regarding how we capture and
post process our digital images. This is a brief outline of our digital
workflow starting from image capture using the Nikon D2X to final finished
image. The goal of our workflow is to produce the highest quality image
possible with the least amount of time spent post processing on the
The Nikon D2X Camera and its Setup:
We delayed our transition to a pure digital workflow for several years. Our feeling was that we knew the film process and the scanning technology was there to produce very high quality digital files off scanned 35mm transparencies. Until a D-SLR came out that could match or surpass the quality of a scanned image why make the move? Well this reasoning worked great until the release of the Nikon D2X. After much research and review of test and example images, it was obvious that the time had come to make the move. The D2X has proven itself to be a real workhorse and is very capable of producing extremely high quality, eye popping results.
We shoot all our images in NEF (Raw File) uncompressed + Jpeg Basic Small format. Individual Raw files are in the range of 20 meg each and the basic Jpegs are an additional 500k each. This results in a storage hungry capacity of 96 images per 2 gig CF card.
Why use Raw? With NEF (Raw) format images, all camera settings discussed below, along with many others are stored as independent values in the NEF file. They have not been imbedded in the image data itself. This provides extensive flexibility to make modifications to the “raw image” during post processing. If Jpeg or tiff is used in camera, then all format settings are applied to the image data automatically during capture and you lose the flexibility of modifying them later.
Ok so why bother creating the additional Jpeg file? Jpeg Basic-Small results in a compact, highly compressed image, which is just what we need for the initial editing steps of our workflow. Read on.
Again the goal is to get as much as possible done correctly upfront in the camera, which minimizes the amount of time spent at the computer doing post processing later. Also as with film, no amount of post processing will save an image that is sufficiently blown when initially captured.
Key Camera Settings:
ISO/ASA - From our experience using the D2X, ISO settings between 100 and 400 will produce images with virtually no visible digital noise or artifacts of any kind. Above 400 there will be increasing amounts of noise, although the results are still quite impressive.
EV Composition – It has been our experience over the years that light meters in most Nikon cameras are biased towards underexposure. This makes since on Nikon’s part, especially in the past when considering the use of print film. A little underexposure could be easily corrected by the lab during print processing, but over exposure would result in an unusable image and unhappy photographers. The same is true with digital. A little under you can correct during post processing. But if its a little to far over, you drop it in the Recycle Bin. To correct for the D2X's slight over bias towards underexposure, our standard setup is +1/3 EV.
White-Balance – After much testing using the auto white-balance setting of the D2X, we have found that it works very well for outdoor shooting with or without strobe fill. Our standard setup is Auto. Individual images are adjusted during post processing if needed but this is rarely required.
Color Space - Adobe
RGB 1998 – Keep in mind, with raw files the color space is
not imbedded in the image data itself but rather is stored as a separate
format setting which is applied to the image data later during post
processing. It can be changed during post processing. To keep the description
simple, we use the Adobe RGB 1998 setting because it provides the widest
possible color space or gamut. The wider the color space the more colors
and subtle shades of color and contrast that can be recorded.
– The Color Mode on the D2X is an interesting setting. It allows for
in camera control of color bias. You can control whether you want a
very neutral color rendition or a more saturated color pallet much like
that produced when using Velvia transparency film. A Mode-I setting
results in the most neutral result, Mode-III the most saturated. Our
standard setting is Mode-III. For most scenic and wildlife shooting
we prefer the extra saturation. One caveat when using Mode-III, be watchful
of situations where you are shooting a very color saturated subject
especially in the range of red or orange. Mode-III will likely produce
an unnatural overly saturated result in these situations. You could
change the mode in camera before shooting or just be aware it will likely
need to be changed selectively during post processing.
FUNC Button - Located directly below the depth-of-field preview button the FUNC button can be quite handy. Through menu selections it can be preset to perform one of various functions. I keep it set for Spot-Meter. With this setup you can have the camera in Matrix or Center-weighted metering, then simply press and hold the FUNC Button to momentarily switch to spot metering. When the button is released, metering reverts back to its original Matrix or Center-weighted setting. To select the function that is assigned to the FUNC button, go to Menu, Custom Setting Menu, f Controls, f4 FUNC Button.
Post Processing Workflow:
So now we have a bunch of Raw+Jpeg images on a CF card, how do we get to the finished result?
1. Copy all images from the CF Cards to a holding or "in process" folder on the computer or laptop. This folder is separate from our finished image library folder structure. Don’t bother doing any file renaming at this point, batch or otherwise. At this point we also have backup software that is run to make a backup copy of all images to a second hard drive.
2. Do an initial edit pass. Use the image viewer of your choice to quickly scan through all the Jpeg versions of the images. Why the Jpegs? They already have all the in camera settings applied and more importantly, they load fast so you can quickly scroll from one to the next during the initial edit process. Delete all images, Raw and Jpeg versions, that are obvious losers. This is a great time to be ruthless with your editing so you can continue the process with only the best of your results.
3. Use Nikon Capture, PhotoShop or other Raw image editing software to individually open each Raw image that needs some type of attention, such as exposure adjustment or basic image setting changes, etc. Don’t bother making any changes to the Jpeg version of the images. Keep deleting all images both Raw and Jpegs that are found to not measure up.
4. Delete all Jpeg versions of the final keeper images. They will no longer be needed.
5. Use Adobe Bridge - Photoshop or other software to batch rename all the final Raw images in one step. Establishing and using a good file naming/numbering convention is vital to this process.
6. Use Nikon Capture, PhotoShop or other Raw image editing software to batch process all final Raw images to create a Tiff version of each. The resulting Tiffs are each about 36 meg in size. Why create a Tiff? In our case, most clients want a high-res tiff as the deliverable image. In addition however, I’m not convinced the Raw image formats used today will be well supported into the future. Every camera manufacturer currently has their own Raw format and in most cases every new camera model that comes out has a modified or updated version of the basic manufacturer specific Raw format. A tiff file offers the best insurance for future compatibility.
7. Backup / Archival - Copy the final images, both Raw and Tiff versions to an archival storage medium. Today that’s likely a CD, DVD or external hard drives. Note, if this will be your only backup, making at least two copies is cheap insurance.
8. Move all images both Raw and Tiff versions from the in process queue folder to their final folders in your image library. Run backup software to copy all images to a second hard drive and remove all backups of those deleted in the above editing process
9. The final tiff files are then batch processed to create our standard Jpeg's used for inclusion on our website. In general, all deliverable images for clients are also created from a copy of the final tiff files as well.
10. Get out and capture more
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