Photoshop Workflow

The workflow which follows is one which I have developed over a considerable period. It is by no means the only possible workflow, nor is it perfect. No doubt it will continue to develop over time. You may find it useful as a guide to assist you in developing your own workflow.

Until very recently I used Lightroom to prepare images for editing in Photoshop. I found myself doing less and less in Lightroom as any changes made in Lightroom are hard-wired into the image which is sent to Photoshop. In addition, several of the Lightroom tools (such as the HSL panel) are more limited than their Photoshop equivalents. As a result I no longer use Lightroom.


A couple of points are worth noting:

  • not every step in the workflow will be needed for every image.
  • the order is only a rough guide. Sometimes it’s a whole lot messier! For example, I may crop at a much earlier stage if I’m certain of the composition.

1 Capture images

I’ve included this in the workflow as it’s the origin of post-processing. It’s important to underline the connection between the thinking that goes on when images are captured and the subsequent post-processing. This helps to make sure I’ve captured the information I’ll need to post-process effectively. For example, if I am shooting a scene that has a very high dynamic range, then I’ll often bracket shots with a view to merging them later in Photoshop.

2 Import RAW files (to your computer’s filing system)

There are many ways to organise images in a filing system. There’s no right answer but it makes sense to have a coherent structure in which files can be easily found. Many photographers opt for a time-based approach, perhaps supplemented by keywords, collections and/or favourites. I favour a subject-based structure.

I use Adobe Bridge (and sometimes Windows File Explorer ) to manage my files.  I copy files directly from my camera cards to the relevant folders. I’ve found it liberating not to have to worry about importing files into Lightroom and maintaining a catalogue.

  • Files are organised by subject in a folder hierarchy which has a single parent folder: ‘Photography’.
  • This hierarchy has 4 main sub-folders: Miscellany, Natural World, People and Places.
  • Each of these folders is also broken up into sub-folders.
  • At the bottom of each route through the hierarchy is a folder containing edited images.
  • Within every single one of these destination folders is a sub-folder called Originals. This is where my RAW files are stored.

Click the image thumbnail below to see a full-size snapshot of Adobe Bridge.

3 Open and Edit in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR)

When RAW files are opened in Photoshop, ACR  will open automatically. At this initial stage, any adjustments made are global in that they will affect the entire image. Editing in ACR is covered in Module 4.

4 Open as Smart Object in Photoshop

The advantages of opening images as Smart Objects are also discussed in Module 4.

5 Content Replacement

I do this as a first editing step assuming there are things I wish to replace. It means that any subsequent layers will already be ‘clean’. Using replacement tools on new empty layers is the best approach as it is non-destructive.  However, this is not possible with the simpler version of content-aware fill. In this case the Smart Object will need to be copied to a new layer which then needs to be rasterised (converted to an ordinary image layer) before editing can take place. Once I have completed any replacements, the layer is converted back to a Smart Object.

6 Adjust Tonality/Colour

Next I will adjust the tonality and colour of the image. These adjustments are normally selective in that they will usually be applied only to targeted areas of the image. I make adjustments using any or all of these tools:

  • For tonal adjustments I use the Levels and Curves tools. These are applied non-destructively using adjustment layers.
  • For colour adjustments I use the Hue/Saturation tool applied non-destructively as an adjustment layer.
  • Camera RAW filter. This can be used for a wide variety of tonal and colour adjustments which can be applied to selected areas or to the entire image. Using ACR is also non-destructive so long as it is applied to a Smart Object.

There are other tools which can be used to adjust tonality and colour. Most can be applied as adjustment layers. The tools mentioned in the two sections above cover most of my requirements although I will use others at times.

7 Apply Filters

The Filters menu offers a range of filters, many of which fall into the category of special effects. At this stage, I haven’t included filters in this course. This may change!

8 Crop

This is covered in Module 5.


Adjustments described in steps 6, 7 and 8 can be carried out in any order and will depend on the specific image.

Filters Menu

9 Finishing

This step is relatively straightforward and includes the following steps:

  • Denoise – I use the Define module for this. It is part of the Nik Collection which is distributed by DXO Software.
  • Resize – I will only resize if I am creating an image for screen display. (See Module 2)
  • Output Sharpening – I will only use this for screen display images. I use Sharpener Pro 3 which is also part of the Nik Collection.

10 Save

This is covered in Module 2.

Although the course modules loosely follow this workflow, it is not until the final module, ‘Putting it all together’, that this workflow will be demonstrated.