3.2. Process Stage
Even though it is certainly possible to go directly from capture to print (input to output), bypassing this stage, the process stage is the one stage that allows refinements: cropping, retouching, image enhancements, and advanced image manipulation. Adobe Photoshop is the primary tool for this stage, but you can make color, tone, and cropping refinements with other tools, including any RAW-processing applications if you have a RAW workflow.
The very first step in the process stage is to establish overall color and tonal corrections. This is where your monitor's calibration is most critical. Next is the enhancement step to remove any unwanted spots or to perform minor retouching and cropping before moving on to creative or advanced image enhancements. (These enhanced images should be archived with the selected RAW or original files.)
3.2.1. Process Refinement
Refinement is a critical part of making a successful image. It's what makes your work different from others'. For instance, let's consider a typical product shot. In the input stage, you set up the lights and then refine the lighting of the product and background for the desired effect. Similarly, in the process stage, you use various techniques, from color corrections to creative enhancements, to refine your image and make it your own.
It's helpful to divide the process stage according to the type of file you're working with: RAW, JPEG, or TIFF.
In a RAW workflow, establishing color and tone correction is relatively quick and easy because RAW yields a higher-quality file than other workflows. You can take an entire series of images that need the same correction and automatically apply it to all of the images by using any RAW image-processing application. Once you have processed the RAW files to the desired format, such as TIFF or JPEG, you can move to the creative, retouching stage.
In a JPEG or TIFF workflow, color and tone correction are the first step. If you have a series of images that all need the same correction, you can record an action in Photoshop and then automate the action to batch process all of the selected images before moving to the creative and retouching stage. Applications such as Aperture and Lightroom let you apply changes to all images, just as if you were working with RAW.
With either workflow, once you have established the color and tone, you can then move into the fun part of the processcreating the second half of the image and playing in Photoshop. Well, "play" might not be quite the right word, but it is fun to create enhancements, image montages, and have creative control. Naturally, this stage is when learning different techniques in Photoshop is most important. Other tasks you perform during the process stage might include assembling panoramas, designing albums, applying creative filter effects, creating image mattings, performing advanced retouching, and using actions to perform numerous image enhancements (more about this in the Creative Enhancement Techniques book in this series).
3.2.2. Processing Equipment
Your processing equipment consists of your computer workstation, your monitor, and the appropriate imaging software. Your workstation should have an ample amount of RAM and enough hard drive space to manage the files you process.
In this workflow chart of a directory structure, notice how the Local Computer will access the files to process from a server. In this type of workflow, all the image files reside on a server and the workstation will open, process, and save these files back to the server. With this type of workflow pattern, the Local Computer needs adequate RAM, the server needs enough hard drive space to store the files, and most importantly, the network needs to be high-speed.
A properly calibrated and profiled monitor is the most important tool in the process stage, especially with regard to color management. If professional imaging is your livelihood, then I can't say enough about the importance of having a high-quality monitor that is able to show accurate color and tonal gradation from shadow to highlight. Without a proper monitor, when making color and tonal adjustments, you may remove critical pixel data from the file. This loss of data may then require advanced correction, which in most cases would not be as complete as it would be if the original data were still there.