My Digital Workflow and Why I don’t use Lightroom

workflowOk, so I thought it might be useful to let people know how I go about working on my images after I have captured them with the camera. This is not a tutorial, just some steps that I take, a word on the software that I use and some thoughts behind why I use it.
I’ll start with a statement that will likely surprise many photographers; I don’t use Lightroom, at all.
In a perfect world things would be much simpler than they are and I would absolutely love if Lightroom was my answer to everything, but it’s not. “Why?” You ask. I’ll try to make it as short as I can: I really don’t like certain textures that Adobe Camera Raw creates (this is what both Photohshop and Lightroom use to interpret RAW files) and I don’t like how it handles color. The textures often look “too computer generated”, progressions of really dark tones to a really light ones are a little too harsh, too sharp and sometimes pixelated. The colors and the tones often seem to blend with each other and the image takes on a somewhat de-toned, de-saturated look. 
I feel that Capture One 4 Pro handles RAW better, it’s not perfect, but for most part I find it superior to anything else. I must note that the aim of this post is not to start a debate on which software is better; I’m simply sharing my thoughts. If you want to see for yourself, download a trial of the current Capture One, experiment and see if it’s for you. I came across the software after being unhappy with Lightroom’s and Photoshop’s handling of RAW files that I wanted to make into rather large .jpegs, which would later be turned into 20X30 inch prints. Sometimes it takes a large print to see whether an image holds up or not in terms of quality. I could create large prints from images made with Lightroom and I have done it, but boy did that task take a lot of unnecessary time.
And so as a result of living in a not so perfect world of computers I use a combination of programs to achieve my goals:
iView, (now Microsoft Expression Media 2) – to sort through the files and catalog them.
Capture One 4 Profor conversions from RAW to jpegs.
Photoshop (still CS3, although that may change soon) – for in-depth editing of images.
Adobe Bridgefor keywording and descpriptions.
expression-media-21After I download my day’s shoot onto the computer I create a “catalog” in Expression Media 2 and import all the photos there. Then comes the selection process. In Expression Media 2 you can assign colors to images. I usually only assign colors to the images I want to keep – green, basically every image which I think is pretty decent is marked green. There is an option that lets you sort images by color and by the end of my selection I choose this option to bring up all the images that actually don’t have a color under them – these go directly to the recycle bin. I look through the decent, green images again, pick some standouts and assign another color to them. If I want to make the selection even tighter I simply repeat the steps and use a new color. I love Expression Media 2 because it’s very simple, fast and it doesn’t eat up HDD space with its catalogs.
capture-one-proNext comes the RAW to JPEG conversion. All the images that I want to work on are downloaded into a temporary folder. This folder is opened in Capture One. The software has a great option called “variables”, it let’s you create multiple copies of an image and allows you to compare these copies/variables side by side. For quite some time I have been doing a thing that some people on the net call HDR portraiture – all this means is that I create multiple images from a single RAW file. I do this because the tonal range of all digital SLRs is still somewhat limited – if you shoot a person against a bright sky, either the person will be really underexposed (very dark) or the sky will be really overexposed (very bright). I shoot such situations in a particular way, you could say that I expose in the middle, so the person is not too dark and the sky is not too bright. When I bring this RAW file up in Capture One I will usually make three images from it – one underexposed, one overexposed and one neutral. That’s basically what I use Capture One for.
These three files are opened in Photoshop and are “blended” into a single image that now has a greater tonal range than anything the camera can produce by itself. I use curves or levels adjustment layers, as well as dodging and burning tools to apply the finishing touches.
The finished images are key-worded and described in Bridge and the RAW files are sometimes copied from the temporary directory into a permanent one, which is basically a backup of all the images that I consider good.
That’s about it. As I mentioned this is not a tutorial, I haven’t gone into much detail on anything, but these are the steps that I go through. Perhaps, if people are interested, at some stage I will release an in-depth tutorial on post-processing images with techniques that can also be used with Lightroom and Photoshop. I don’t want to just post something “half-baked”; I’m against formulas and quick fixes and all for in-depth understanding of each process.
One question I get asked quite often is: “How much post-processing do you do? How do you achieve a particular look in an image?” I guess this post has shed some insight on how I achieve the “particular look”. In the next post I’ll share some “before” and “after” images that will give a better idea of just how much or how little post-processing I do.

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6 Responses to “My Digital Workflow and Why I don’t use Lightroom”

  1. CW Says:

    In Lightroom you can choose the manufacturer’s RAW parser (converter as you call it) instead of ACR. If that doesn’t address your concerns, I’d suspect something else is misconfigured. It’s in the manual 🙂

  2. Mitchell Says:

    CW, this has nothing to do with configuring anything in Lightroom. You can use other profiles, but even so, to me the results are never as good as Capture One’s. Perhaps I have made Lightroom’s shortcomings seem too dramatic, it is not that Lightroom produces unacceptable results, it’s just that they are never quite as good as those of Capture One, no matter how you tweak the settings. The difference is not something that will totally blow everyone away, but for me it is significant enough. I know that most people are fans of Lightroom, great, I’m not trying to “convert” anyone, just sharing my opinion. Those curious enough will always check things for themselves. In any case, as I said earlier, I’m not debating which software is better, I know which is better for my needs and maybe some other photographers will feel similar. I should also add that I am not set on using only one software package, if or when Lightroom gives me superior results I’ll use it:).

  3. Matt Brandon Says:

    Mitchell, If I thought Capture One would get my images looking like yours I switch in a heart beat. Dude, I am loving your stuff more than ever before. You are really in the zone these days.

  4. Mitchell Says:

    🙂 Well, it is a great tool, Matt.

  5. Glen Goffin Says:

    Mitchell … I can’t thank you enough for sharing your techniques! Speaking as a novice photographer, you have saved me countless hours of trial and error! Not that I’ll stop experimenting but this gives us such a jumpstart! Thanks a million times over 🙂

  6. prashant Says:

    Well, I’m one who moved from Capture One to Lightroom. To me it offers everything I need for my workflow plus database. I’m happy with the raw conversions. I was frustrated with the support of Phase one team. It took a while for 4.0 version and I personally find it inferior to 3.7, at least for landscape images.

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