Lossless Workflow for Photo Editing

May 8, 2024

There are times to have wordy explanations about topics. This is not one of those times.

There is a proper methodology to taking and editing images. This method allows for the ability to restart if things go wrong or you need to adjust images days, months or years in the future. So here is the methodology for lossless photo editing and processing.

Step 1- Capture in RAW

RAW refers to the image format that camera records in. The standard is jpeg. Jpeg is a processed version of the image that you see on the back of your screen of you camera or phone. That image is a processed version after the camera records the data and then make a decision on what "looks best." The raw data though can be recorded and this file format is called RAW. So step one is set your camera to RAW or RAW+JPEG.

Step 2- Edit in Lightroom

Now the pesky thing about RAW images is that they are unprocessed. That means they have no shape or form until given a command. A true mist wraith. So to see these images they need to be uploaded into a program that can reed them. This can be done in a variety of programs include Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom. In general my process is take the RAW files off the SD card and put them on a solid state drive (SSD) and have all the files on there in specific folders. Then I open lightroom and import those files from the SSD to Lightroom. In Lightroom you can now edit the images in any way or shape you want to achieve the best results. If you are happy here, you can export the file as a jpeg and call it good. If you want to go to Photoshop to do more steps, lets talk about that.

Step 3- Open as Smart Object in Photoshop

There is a proper way to edit an image in Photoshop. When in Lightroom right click on the image you want to edit and do the following Edit In-> Open as Smart Object in Photoshop. Select this. If you have multiple exposures you are blending together do the following: Right Click the image -> Edit In -> Open as Smart Object Layers in Photoshop. If you are focus stacking do Right Click the image -> Edit In -> Open in photoshop as Layers. Doing this allows for for auto align layers function in Photoshop.

When the image is opened in Photoshop as a smart object it is carried over to Photoshop with all the edits accessible through adobe camera RAW. I think it might be a DNG file that photoshop reads as a smart object layer. What ever. The image can be reset in PS by double clicking on the image on the layer tab. This will open the image up in Adobe Camera RAW and allow you to tweak the base edits you made in Lightroom and have those changes show up in the image in Photoshop.

Step 4- Work in layers, not on your main image

Layers were the great innovation for Photoshop. So before you begin using the dodge and burn tool in photoshop directly on your image... don't. Learn to create a new layer above that and use things like the brush tool and various adjustments and utilize masks. Doing this will save you heartache and time in the long run. If you need to do sharpening on your image, create a copy of your image and then sharpen on that new layer. Don't do it on your base image.

Notice on the above image. The image is a smart object (you can tell by the little symbol on the image on that bottom layer). I then use a series of layers above that that have adjustments. On the layer titles Layer 1, I use a mask and paint on the layer itself to get my desired effects. I can undo any of these layers if I want and revert to what I got out of Lightroom.

Step 5- Save as a Tiff with all layers

At the end of the day, you finish your image and then go save it. The default setting for saving is the PSD file in photoshop. This is fine, but comes with some drawbacks, mostly computers can't read PSD files. Save your image as a TIFF and save all layers. Once again this saves all your adjustments but if you want to you can adjust them and save again.

Step 6- Save a high res jpeg

Now save a high resolution JPEG using the Save as a Copy under file. This will give your the color profile you want to work with. It will also be the standard file format you can print from. Most images don't need a TIFF to get the best results. They just don't.

Step 7- Save a low res jpeg

After you save your high resolution JPEG save a low res JPEG by using the following sequence: File-> Export as a JPG. Save the image with a 1600pixel width on the long side. This works pretty much all over the internet and if you keep the file size below 1mb your web pages will load nicely.

An image showing the aurora in full swing above joshua trees

On May 10-12 the world was graced with a huge geomagnetic storm that caused aurora's to appear way further south then normal. Of course for the first day of this event, the largest of the events, I had cloudy windy awful conditions to photograph in. I did what I could, but it was on day 2 that I got this beauty. I went out one more time and lo and behold, the aurora showed up one last time for just a few minutes in my area before they retreated back north.

A sharp hook of the sand dune backlit by the sun at sunset.
Fish Hook

I first saw a composition like this by Michael Shainblum I do believe. In some form or another it has been repeated by a handful of artists including Sara Marino and Alex Noriega. The exact shape is neither the same, but how the light plays across the dunes where sharp edges are formed in a landscape of smooth edges. I didn't set out to recreate this type of image, but the opportunity stumbled upon me. While amongst the dunes I noticed how the light played across a dune next to me and as I pointed my camera at the dune, I realized I had stumbled across an image I in some form or another had seen for a while.

As I worked the scene a biological shape began to stick in my mind. Though the image is named fish hook, it actually reminds me of a group of insects called tree hoppers, in particular the group that mimics thorns. These insects body are shaped into large hooks to both hide but to prevent consumption.

I guess I am a biologist at my core.