Back To The Starting Line for a Better Workflow

Back To The Starting Line for a Better Workflow

by Mark Alberhasky, December 4, 2016

One of the pitfalls encountered by experienced participants in any activity is to occasionally lose sight of the basics. Re-visiting the starting line instead of only focusing on the finish line can sometimes yield surprising results. With this in mind, let’s take a look at first steps in an Adobe Lightroom workflow.

Having used Lightroom for years you might think there shouldn’t be much left to learn about this stage of the workflow but, much like a sprinter at the starting line, optimal form is essential to blast out of the blocks. Doing so with your digital image files is more than just moving them from your memory card to your computer and the Lightroom catalogue. Let’s take a closer look at how to maximize this opportunity.

Most serious photographers have abandoned jpg capture because of the advantages in file quality and processing latitude raw format promises. So the first glimpse of a photo in Lightroom can be a puzzling experience. If you closely watch what happens to your imported raw file there is a clue something is amiss. A second or two after the image appears in the library, the raw file preview will suddenly change  to a version which lacks the color and contrast initially evident immediately after import. This “negative pop” is the Lightroom preview shifting from the appearance of the jpg embedded in every raw file to the unprocessed raw data. The version after the “negative pop” can be a much less enticing starting point for what’s to follow. As a result many people wonder, “Why can’t my raw file start out looking as good as my jpg?”

In a recent blog post I discussed the potential advantages of shooting jpg + raw, sometimes embracing jpg for the ease-of-use and serendipitous beauty that can arise from in-camera processing, especially from large, high resolution sensor cameras. (see previous posts, Out with the Old and The Chimeric Photo, for some thoughts about the often maligned jpg). But for the committed raw-only shooter what comes next could be an eye opener.

The setting in question is a sleeper, buried in the very bottom panel of the Lightroom develop module: Camera Calibration. I’ve always taught that the development module is best used from the top down and that the intent of the Adobe engineers was to present tools in the order that made the most sense from top to bottom. In that light Camera Calibration would appear to be either the last thing to think about in a workflow or an afterthought rarely to be considered. I’m about to argue that just the opposite is true.

Convincing you that Camera Calibration is a topic you want to sink your teeth into sounds, even to me, like a Herculean task. Who in their right mind wants to tackle something that sounds as droll as calibration? Yuck. But it’s much easier than you think. Yes, true calibration done as a custom event for your specific camera would be a chore. But what you’ll find is that Adobe has included bundled profiles for your camera that can make a significant difference.

Let’s make a believer out of you. Choose an unprocessed raw file in your Lightroom catalogue. Something you’ve not touched and which has the characteristic drab appearance you’re accustomed to for a freshly imported raw file (after the “negative pop”). Take it to the Develop module and before you do anything else, open the Camera Calibration panel (at the very bottom of the panels). The first pulldown menu, Process, will likely read: 2012(Current). Leave this alone. The next choice will be Profile and my guess is the profile selected will be Adobe Standard. Now click the pull down menu and instead choose Camera Standard. Notice the shift in color balance that occurs? It might be subtle or it might be marked, depending on the file you’re experimenting with. If you’re like many photographers who prefer a bump in their colors, a la Fuji Velvia, choose Camera Vivid instead. Is that a smile on your face? Now set the profile back to Adobe Standard. Switch back and forth and decide which version you want at the starting line.  ; D


Raw rendering Adobe Standard profile (L), Camera Vivid profile ©IMAGEMA 2016

Once I discovered that using a better camera profile could make my raw files look pretty gorgeous right off the line it was a revelation. For years I’ve been very pleased with my processing, but this quick start for my workflow means much less is needed in post to achieve a great result.

Decide which camera profile best suits your style and create a Lightroom preset* to apply that profile. Enhance your media card imports by applying the camera profile preset you just created to every file as they are copied from your memory card into the Lightroom catalogue (see Apply During Import in the import window). Voila! You will instantly see a change in how your raw files are rendered and they will look noticeably improved. To supercharge this approach, also dial in basic choices for White Balance, Clarity, Vibrance, Detail, and Lens Correction (see below). Create a preset (I call mine Basic Develop) that includes all these settings in addition to the camera profile you’ve decided to use. Make the Basic Develop preset your Apply During Import choice and your raw files will come into Lightroom pre-processed to taste, which will likely approach the appearance of a developed jpg. This is the optimal form from which to start your digital workflow. Your preprocessed raw files will suddenly look amazing and you’ll only be making small processing adjustments unique to individual images.

This approach can save you hours of processing every time you shoot. Over a year the benefit can be huge, adding days of productivity back to your calendar.


*If you’ve never created a Lightroom preset, you must first apply all the settings you want to include to an image using the develop module. Once done, click the “+” button next to Presets on the left side panel in the develop module. When the dialog opens name your preset (Basic Develop), check off all the develop settings you want to include and save the new preset.

Mark Alberhasky is a Nikon Mentor for the Mentor Series Worldwide Photo Treks,

and leads destination photo tours for PhotoZoneTours.com.

Join him as he travels and share his enthusiasm for photography and learning.

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