My Creative Workflow
Sgurr nan Gillean and Am Basteir

They say artists don’t make good business types. They’re just too creative with wild imagination and for me this rings true to a certain extent. When I’m wandering the mountains with my camera and notebook, contemplating a sublime view and thinking about how to turn it into a photograph, the last thing on my mind is the actual technical process of getting it from my head to a finished print. I’d much rather concentrate on the fun parts. Working the composition, waiting for the light to be right, examining my reaction to the scene and perhaps creating some poetry in the form of a gaiku to match up the atmosphere of the place and my mood. I envision the finished print but contemplation of long hours at the computer to get there has no place in my “creation space”.

However, once I have the raw material for a photographic print I need a consistent way of turning that vision into something I can offer for purchase. Something I can use to share my vision. Not all my work is for sale. Some of my images are purely documentary to allow me to illustrate articles or blog posts but now and then I’ll decide to work on turning vision into reality and bring that work to a wider audience. Thus I need to minimise technical chaos in order to maximise time in my creative space. To that end I’ve come up with a workflow that tries to make it easier to deal with the technical side of things.

As I discussed in foundations of style I try to minimise technology in my creative space by avoiding plugins or presets and increasingly I’ve been working more and more in Lightroom alone. Lightroom has become my monk’s cell, my hermitary, my eremitic space where I can relive the experience and feelings I felt when I was up on the mountain gathering the raw material for the photograph. Lens correction, white balance and off I go. If I want to have more control over tones in the image I’ll go over to Photoshop and work using luminosity masks.

So how does the workflow go?

Prepare the base version.
Create the source image in Lightroom. Here I’ll do the lens correction and set the white balance. Colour space is ProPhoto RGB as it comes out of the camera. I’ll also begin the keywording process here.
LR keyword = lr-src

Work on the image in Lightroom in accordance with my previsualisation.
Next I’ll create a virtual copy of the lr-src image and work on it in Lightroom. If black and white I’ll perhaps use one of the presets such as B&W Look 3 as a starting point and work on the colour channels to manipulate tones and contrast. If none of the B&W presets work for that image I’ll do it from scratch. The nice thing about Lightroom presets is you can see what they do by looking at the sliders in each section. Not only are they a starting point but they are a good learning resource as you get to grips with tonal control using colours and their complements to control aspects of the image such as local contrast. Working on a virtual copy lets me revisit the lr-src image, if I want to create a colour version for instance. Each artwork will extend the base lr-src image which I keyword as lr-master. For example, a B&W version would be lr-master-bw, a colour one lr-master-colour and so on.
LR keyword = lr-master

Refine the vision in Photoshop if required.
Quite often I can create my vision in Lightroom alone but sometimes I like to use techniques such as luminosity masks in Photoshop to create a photograph that’s nearer to what I envisioned when I was in my creative space. In this case I’ll open lr-master in Photoshop and edit to my taste. I’ll still be using ProPhoto RGB as the colour space. After saving, it appears in the Lightroom catalogue.
LR keyword = ps-master

Creating the base image for the print.
At this point I have an artwork I’m happy with and am now thinking about printing. For this I open ps-master in Photoshop, save as a different file, choose a print size I’m happy with and crop accordingly. Usually I’ll use 18x12in as the base print image as this matches the native resolution of the camera in terms of (mega)pixels. This step contains a process which is potentially the most laborious, tedious and yet ultimately satisfying. That process is the creation of the sharpening mask. Rather than sharpen the entire image ready for printing, I use creative sharpening to emphasise aspects of the image and lead the eye through the visual story. The mask is the last outpost of my creative space where I fine tune the image to fit my vision and once created I can apply it to whatever size of print I want in future, not just the initial 18x12. I’ll use unsharp mask as this version of the image will be used for the web, illustrating a blog post perhaps or as the image in the online gallery. The image is still in ProPhoto RGB colour space. Again, saving the file allows it to appear in the Lightroom catalogue.
LR keyword = ps-master-print-18x12

Creating the print ready image.
This step is dependent on the printer I’ll use. If I’m going to be selling the print in my online gallery I’ll use The Print Space in London to create the physical print as and when it gets ordered. So I need to open the image in Photoshop, convert to 8 bit, set the colour space to Adobe RGB (1998) if it’s a black and white print and set the resolution to 300ppi. I’ll also soft proof against their ctype matt profile but convert the image to Adobe RGB (1998) profile. I’ll use Nik’s output sharpener using a continuous tone setting for the print size of the image, one of the last plugins I use in fact, although I’m working on test strips for different methods of sharpening for print. I’ll then open the ps-master-print-18x12 image and save the sharpening mask as a selection in this print ready image. The sharpening layer won’t have a mask at this point so loading that selection then adding a mask to the layer automatically applies my creative sharpening from the print master. Finally, I’ll add a curves layer at the top of the stack with no adjustment but with the blending mode set to Screen and an opacity of 30%. This is to compensate for the darkening you get when printing. At this point I save the file to let it appear in the Lightroom catalogue and also save a separate JPEG to upload to The Hub and set the print prices for the various sizes from 18x12 down.
LR keyword = print-tps-18x12-300-ctype

Publishing in my online gallery.
With the print ready artwork safely ensconsed in my account at The Hub I now need a way to present that print to my customers. I do this via my online gallery but the process is so tedious, involving lots of HTML and image manipulation that I developed an Apple Swift script that does it all for me. I initially created the gallery by hand then separated the important bits into HTML snippets which the script wires up. It also takes the ps-master-print-18x12 and resizes it to create three versions. A 300x300 pixels version for mobile devices, 400x400 for larger ones and watermarks the main image the gallery page will use. It also copies these images to the correct directories for that gallery entry. I then FTP the new files to my website, announce the new image via the front page and perhaps my blog and that’s it. Vision to print. Done!

There used to be an extra step at the end which I no longer need to do. Publish to Facebook. I decided that Facebook wasn’t for me. I decided to concentrate on my artisan shop front rather than disappear into the hypermarket on a dusty shelf in a little visited section down a deserted aisle. But more on that in a later post.

I produced the image at the top of this article using this workflow and I’m very pleased to say you can now purchase it as a CType print in two sizes from its page in my online gallery.

I hope you enjoyed reading this glimpse into my creative world as much as I enjoy working in it.