What is your workflow in PSE?


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Well-known member
Apr 26, 2004
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I know there would be no shortage of hits if I Googled "workflow and PSE". However, I think I have a lot more to gain right here than anywhere else. I backtracked through this forum page by page to 2010 and didn't find anything so here goes.

When you open a pic in the PSE editor is there a particular manner or order in which you study the pic and then go about editing it? I'd be interested in learning how other people exploit the power of PSE. (I would suppose that I use less than 10% of PSE's capabilities and hope to learn how to "open it up" more and get better results.)

My approach is totally intuitive and empirical and the order in which I edit pictures tends to vary according to what I see in front of me. The questions I ask myself from the get-go are: Is this picture worth spending time on? And, what would improve this picture?
I have PSE7. Here's my basic flow:
Create a catalog and throw the pics in.
Open the editor.

RAW photos will trigger the RAW editor to open.
- first tab: adjust white balance; exposure; recover any blown out highlights; contrast; very light touch, if any, with saturation (hate the over-cooked oil-painting look)
- second tab: usually leave the sharpening at the default values....works ok for me.
- say OK, Open Photos.
This opens the PSE editor.....I usually use the Full editor
- change the bit range from 16 to 8 (otherwise can't straighten or save as JPEG)
- straighten and crop
- do panos here (rare)
- don't do much with levels or layers........still learning

- same stuff as above, but all done in the PSE editor (obviously no RAW editor will pop up).

Lots of stuff out there saying you shouldn't sharpen til the end, or do this first, then that..........I'm sure some of it is valid.
But I'm still learning. I don't have a ton of time. I just want to make the photo represent as much as possible what I saw when I shot it.
Three simple things that make a huge improvement in my pics are white balance, exposure adjustment, and cropping ... assuming of course I did a half-decent job at the
basics when I took the actual photo.

Edit to add: Maybe tonight when I go home to my 102 degree house, assuming I don't pass out from the heat, I'll post two pics.
One unedited (without makeup), and the same one after editing in PSE7 (with makeup).
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Lots of stuff out there saying you shouldn't sharpen til the end, or do this first, then that..........I'm sure some of it is valid.
Two reasons for leaving sharpening to the end:
1. Sharpening shows up differently on different devices (eg screen or print) and sizes so one shouldn't sharpen until one knows the output device and size.
2. The visibility of sharpening (which also increases the noise) is affected by other processing (eg curves or levels adjustment) so it is best left til after the other processing.

Several tutorials on workflow:

FWIW, I generally just shoot JPEGs (fine) from the camera and do minimal, if any, postprocessing. If I am shooting something that I believe may need some postprocessing (eg high dynamic range), I usually shoot JPEG(fine)+RAW and postprocess the RAW if the JPEG is inadequate.

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I'm using the full version of Photoshop, but the work flow is probably similar. The first thing I ALWAYS do is open the images for the first time and save them in a sub directory/folder called "PSD's" and save them as a Photoshop document (.PSD). JPEG is a compressed format and every time, EVERY time, you open and save a JPEG it gets compressed a little more. PSD is a non-compressed format so you can open and save it 'till your heart's content without suffering image degradation.

Once I've saved the image as a PSD, I usually do an "autolevels" on the shot and see if I like what it does, press ctrl-z a few times to go back and forth between applied and not applied.

Does Elements have LAB color space? If so there's a LOT you can do from here, but that gets into a long story. Do a search for some of my posts from years ago in the Nature Photography forum and you can see some of my editing. Try not to use the contrast adjustment. Use curves instead, another topic that can get very long winded...

Well, here's my "workflow". :)

I probably only use a few percent of PSEs total capacity and don't consider myself a power user by any stretch of the imagination. I shoot with a Canon G10 set to manual.

After download I copy all of the pics into a sub-directory that I call "best" so now I have two copies (jpegs) of each shot. Then I go through the best folder (using the windows 7 viewer) 3 or 4 times and wind up deleting at least half.

Then I open the remaining pics one at a time in PSE. First thing I do is just look at it and ask myself if and how the picture can be improved upon.

Then (roughly, with quite a bit of variation from what follows) I will do this:

view full screen (ie Ctrl-0)
maybe zoom and crop some more
The next step is nearly always levels, I do it manually and separately on 2-3 selections and most often I move the leftmost slider to the right bringing it to just under the curve of the histogram then dragging it back and forth to see what looks best. I rarely do the colours separately (I believe its called "all channels"). This usually brings everything into nice relief, as if a gray foggy veil has been lifted off the image. It also darkens the image a bit.

I don't use layers unless it's a real special picture and I know I'll be spending (for me) a lot of time on it, undoing decisions and trying different things.

Next I check the colours and often enough I'll desaturate the blue channel and less often increase the total saturation by a few percentage points (maximum = 10).

My last stop involves sharpening and is the one I seem to have the least amount of assurance using.

As mentioned in the previous post I also use Ctrl-Z and -Y a lot going back and forth. Also, I find that after 10 pictures I tend to over-shop so I either stop or back off on what my subjective eye calls for.

Some pics only get a single tweak (a crop or a levels correction to the sky, say) and no pic gets more than one save. What I will do is a save-as up to 2 or 3 times if I really like a picture. I don't know for certain if doing save as several times off the original causes deterioration. The original gets opened and closed in PS but never saved.

Then I'll play with the exposure, or brightness and will tweak it here and there.
Once in a while I'll play with lighting effects but I find this time consuming for the result.

That's it! I run them through a thumbnail creator (which creates new copies, shrinking the originals down to 600 pixels (my choosing) high and 72 dpi) and upload them. Latest batch.

I noticed that they look quite different and are a lot bigger when I view them at work versus at home. I have played around a bit with the resolution of my screen at work without making them any smaller.
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