Complete Guide to Photo Editing Workflow

Learn how to edit photos quickly and efficiently by developing a custom photo editing workflow

When faced with processing thousands of images as a digital photographer, developing your own consistent workflow is essential.

Reducing the amount of time you spend in post-processing and photo editing will make you more efficient, so you can get back behind your camera faster.

After your shoot, when you have a memory card full of images to edit, there are really two different types of photo editors you’ll want to consider.

The first is a layer-based pixel editor, like PaintShop Pro . It’s perfect for all of the heavy lifting associated with working on a single photo—whether that means removing unwanted people or objects, making major alterations and airbrushing, or compositing several images into one. In terms of workflow, a pixel editor is often the second stage of an edit, usually coming after the RAW conversion and adjustment process.

Today, most mid to high-end cameras capture images in both JPEG and RAW – the camera maker’s own proprietary file format (you can learn more about the differences between RAW and JPEG here ).These RAW files must be decoded before they can be used; so, the second editor you’ll want to consider is something specifically for RAW conversion, file management, and workflow. With a program like AfterShot Pro, you can open your camera’s RAW files, process hundreds or even thousands of photos in seconds, and then convert them to a universal format (like TIF or JPEG) that you can bring into your pixel editor.

AfterShot Pro is the industry’s fastest RAW editor, giving you a powerful one-two punch when it comes to perfecting your photos. You can get a slimmed down version, known as AfterShot, with PaintShop Pro Ultimate; or, for a limited time, collect your fully-licensed copy from the Corel Discovery Center.

Quick Tips to Maximize Your Photography Success

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts of developing your photo editing workflow, there a few things you should always remember so you can set yourself up for success (or just skip right to the workflow).

Remember, capturing an incredible photo starts long before you click the shutter… and no amount of post-processing can turn a bad picture into a great one. Be intentional about each image you take and always keep the end product or goal in mind.

Keep these tips handy and you’ll be on your way to a professional-level workflow in no time!

Shoot in RAW

- When working with images, your end goal should always be to deliver the highest quality image. When you shoot in RAW format, your camera is writing all of the data to your card. Other formats condense, convert, and degrade the camera information when it writes.

Consider the end goal

- Before you perform a single edit on an image, you should have a clear understanding of your desired finished product.

Establish a good workflow and use batch editing

- Using software presets upon importing can help you save enormous amounts of time. Use them to adjust your exposure and compensation settings automatically so that you can concentrate on the fine tuning of each photo.

Be Brutal

- Keeping images that might be “fixable” is a waste of time. There are almost no exceptions to this rule. Ask yourself, “Can I make this image amazing?” If you can’t, it’s not worth it. Drop it and move on.

Backup, backup, backup

- This is one I can’t stress enough. It's not a question of if your drive will fail, it's when. Having multiple backups can prevent the loss of hundreds of hours of work. At a minimum, you should have a three-part backup system: A master working drive (your computer), A current backup (External drive), A Historical backup, (An offline drive that's kept ins a separate physical location).

Stick to the original image dimensions

- Artificially scaling or adjusting your image will reduce the quality of your image.

Make sure your equipment is setup correctly

- Make sure that your screen's brightness is turned all the way up and calibrated properly. Otherwise, you might make adjustments and then notice on export that everything is washed out and colored wrong.

The Workflow

OK, first things first… A photographer’s workflow is both personal and customizable. Today, we’ll go through a basic photo editing workflow designed to get your RAW photos ready for a pixel editor, where your final edits will be done.

It’s important to remember there are all kinds of ways to post-process your images. The following workflow is a suggested method to get you started down the path of developing your own process that work best for you. It’s a very subjective process and will take time to really master.

The main thing to keep in mind when editing is: Always make global changes (the ones that affect your entire image) first, then work your way down to local adjustments (the ones targeted at a specific area or region). Be sure to keep lots of notes as you develop your own workflow, so you can come back and repeat the process or refine it for your next editing session.

Using a quality photo editing software like PaintShop Pro in partnership with a RAW photo editor like AfterShot Pro, you will create a powerful photo workflow that can be optimized over time, so you spend less time in front of the computer and more time behind your camera.

Ready…? Let’s jump right in!

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1. White Balance

As amazing as cameras are today, there are still a few areas where they struggle. Take the color white for instance.

The human eye is incredible when it comes to determining colors under a variety of light temperatures. Digital cameras, however, have difficulties adjusting to the variety of light sources, resulting in unattractive and inaccurate color hues. The ability to change white balance is one of the key reasons we suggest you shoot in RAW.

  • First, see if one of the White Balance presets gets your image close. Concentrate on areas of your image that should be white, and adjust until it looks right.
  • Sometimes, presets won’t be enough. You’ll need to use your temperature and tint sliders to tweak the white balance until it is exactly how you want it.
Before/After image of White Balance

2. Exposure Compensation

Even after slaving away to make sure you get an accurate exposure when you capture an image, often, your image may need a little extra love from the exposure compensation tool.

Before/After image of Exposure Compensation
  • Use your image histogram as a reference guide (Awesome Tutorial)
  • Beware the extreme - Make sure that you don’t have any blown out highlights or super dark shadows.
  • Set limitations - If you're adjusting the exposure too aggressively, either way, your image quality will suffer. Noise will occur in the shadows or blown highlights will emerge on the other end of the spectrum. If your image is deteriorating because of your exposure compensation, you may want to consider working on a different picture.

3. Noise Reduction

noise reduction in photo editing

When capturing images while using a higher ISO setting, you may end up with image noise that you want to remove. There are two types of image noise that you’ll be dealing with: Color noise and Luminance noise. The process to correct either noise type is similar. Your photo editing software should have a “Noise Reduction Tool” that consists of three sliders for each noise type.

Color noise

occurs as the appearance of multicolored pixels that would typically display as a flat color.
  • The Threshold slider determines the strength of the denoising effect. Adjust it up or down until the color noise is reduced to an acceptable level.
  • The Detail slider affects the amount of detail that is preserved when reducing noise. A lower value will smooth the color noise but will cause colors to bleed into one another. Higher values will preserve hard lines but may remove some of the more muted or blurred tones.
color noise reduction when editing photos

Luminance noise

occurs when the brightness of a color is affected instead of the color itself. This takes place in a grain-like appearance made of different shades of the same color.
  • Start by adjusting the Luminance slider. The greater the value, the more work the tool is doing.
  • Next, use the Detail slider to control the luminance noise threshold - the sensitivity to the noise that the tool removes. Higher values result in more detail, but the results may be more apparent.
  • Finally, the contrast slider affects the luminance contrast. The higher the value, the more contrast. However, higher values result in more noise and mottling in the image so use with restraint. Lower values result in a smoother output at the expense of reduced contrast.

As you’re working your image, attempt to achieve noise reduction as opposed to noise removal. Using a graphic editing tool to remove noise will also cause a degradation of image quality. Try only to make local adjustments and make as few as possible.

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4. Sharpening

Sharpening refines the clarity of an image by exaggerating the difference in brightness of the edges within your image. Remember, using an unsharpen tool does not reconstruct the image, it only creates the appearance of sharper edges.

Many image-editing software allows you to adjust three settings and a good workflow is to modify them, again, starting with global changes and migrating to more local adjustments. in the following order:

  • Radius - Altering the Radius settings changes the size of the edges you intend to sharpen. The smaller the radius, the more detail will be visible.
  • Amount - Changing the Amount settings affects the overall strength of the sharpening effect performed. The value is typically listed as a percentage and can be scaled up or down as needed. Most graphic editors start with a value of 100%.
  • Threshold - Often called masking, the Threshold setting allows you to adjust the minimum brightness that will be sharpened. Threshold masking allows you to adjust the sharpness of more pronounced edges but leaves less important or more subtle edges unchanged. The threshold setting is a great tool to avoid sharpening noise.

Start with global sharpening (radius and amount) and then move to local edits by adjusting threshold masking. Remember, do not over-edit or you will create sharpening noise which can distract the eye instead of enhancing the clarity of your image.

Before/After Sharpening

5. Contrast

If your image was taken facing the sun or other bright light sources, you might need to correct low contrast. Use the Brightness/Contrast adjustment tool to tweak the tonal range of your image.

  • Increasing the tonal values (move the sliders to the right) will expand the highlights in the images.
  • Decreasing the tonal values (move the sliders to the left) will broaden the shadows.
Contrast Adjustment

High contrast can give your colors a more saturated appearance. However, overdoing the contrast may cause your image to look unrealistic.

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6. Distortion correction, Vignetting, and Selective Enhancements

There are times that the camera captures information that you don't want. This can be from lens imperfections, dust on the camera sensor, or any other little "extra" elements that your camera is capturing.

Lens Distortion

occurs most often when using a wide angle or telephoto lens and are using an extreme focal length.
lens distortion in your picture editing

If you do need to correct lens distortion, your editing software should include sliders to alter distortion on both vertical and horizontal planes. As you make adjustments, be sure to use a grid overlay to make sure you end up with straight lines.

Lens Corrections

As a general rule of thumb, unless it's distracting, don't try to fix it. And sometimes, it can lend to the artistic nature. Distortion is typically acceptable in landscape and candid photos but should be avoided in architecture photos or images with lots of hard edges and lines.


can occur when shooting at lower f-stops and refers to the fall-off of light at the corners of an image. It’s typically caused by either cropped sensors or using incorrectly sized lens hoods.
Vignette Photos

To correct, you can either crop your image to eliminate it or use the Lens Vignetting tool. However, many modern photographers add vignetting intentionally to highlight the center of an image and draw the viewer's eye. You may want to consider leaving it.

Selective Edits

are needed when there are extremely localized aberrations or flaws within your image. Dust on the lens, unsightly blemishes, selective noise reduction, and creative sharpening are all things you might run into while editing. Take some time to use the healing brush, layer masks, adjustment brushes, and clone tool to make minor enhancements or touch-ups to the image.

7. Straighten/Crop

Framing your shot is always best done from behind the camera. However, sometimes your image needs a little tweaking and adjustment to perfect your composition. Much of this step is left up to creative license but here are a few guidelines to follow.

  • Horizons should always be level.
  • Crop in a way that draws focus to your subject. The Rule of Thirds is always a good idea.
  • Crop your image to match your desired end use.

Finishing Up

Now that you are done editing, it’s time to export your image for the next step or, if you’re done, for print and/or sharing.

  • Output sizing - Always export your images to the end-use size. Don't rely on web programs or other people to scale, reduce, or enlarge your image. They'll get it wrong. Make sure that the size you send is the size they need.
  • Tag your images in meaningful ways to find later. There's nothing worse than hunting through thousands of images because you didn't label a photo shoot. Always include the date and keywords that will help you navigate back to a set of images in the future.
  • Always backup your processed images to an external drive in a layered format (like .PSP). This enables you to go back at any time and make additional corrections or edits and not have to start from scratch completely.

An efficient editing workflow ensures consistency and thoroughness in your post processing. Every photographer thinks through editing differently, so this particular workflow may not be ideal for you. Feel free to pick it apart and select elements that work for you.

Happy Editing!

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