Home > ACR, AOI, Lightroom, Photoshop > 4 Phases of Processing the Digital Image

4 Phases of Processing the Digital Image

Camera Image

Final Image

With my many years in photography (Polaroid R&D Emulsions; Nikon; US Patent in Color Printing; Olympus; teaching; etc.), the single biggest evolution in photography was not Film to Digital but the non-destructive processing of digital camera raw image capture.  (a.k.a. Parametric Image Editing – P. I. E.).

There are many aspects to consider in the digital image workflow (exposure considerations, raw data converters, etc.) which I will address in other articles.  In this post,I will address the single biggest evolutionthe non-destructive processing of the digital raw image data.  I will chart the 4 distinct phases of processing the digital image and the parallel steps to B&W film processing. And, at the end,  I will show an example with the digital processing applied for each of these 4 Phases.  Let’s begin…

It is become apparent to me that there are distinctly 4 Phases when processing the digital image:     1. Import        2. Global       3. Selective       4. Expressive

Note: I have to mention that at the base of these 4 Phases of non-destructive processing is the capture of the camera raw data.  This digital raw capture (really phase 0) will be the subject of another article (click here). However, I have included a thumbnail and address this captured data (0. Capture) as a point of reference for the other 4 Phases.

Comparing the “4 Phases” of Digital Processing to B&W Film Processing

Phase Digital Processing (P.I.E.)B&W Film Equivalent
0. Capture{Digital Raw Capture}: Expose for highlights (ETTR)Film's Latent Image: expose for Shadows, develop for Highlights
1. Import{Apply Camera Defaults}: Standard Clarity, Sharpen, Noise Reduction; Camera Calibration; Lens Profile; etc.Standard Development: Time/Temp., Developer Type, Agitation, etc.,
(Zone System N +/-)
2. Global> Tone: Black/White Points; Shadows, Highlights, Contrast, etc.
> Clarity, Saturation, Vibrance
> Tone Curve
> Sharpening, Noise Reduction
> HSL (image dependant)
Selecting proper paper grade to match contrast range of negative
3. SelectiveSpot Removal, Red-eye Removal; Adjustments Brush; Graduated &, Radial Filter; etc.Dodging and Burning; Photo-Retouching
4. ExpressivePixel Editing; Nondestructive, Re-Editable Digital ToolsPaper Surface, Toning, Localized rubbing of warm cotton swab on paper, (limited, not reversible)

“4 Phases” Example:
Location: Florida Keys     Conditions: Bright sun; 12:56 PM June

Phase KW "Bikes" Digital ProcessingFinal Image
1. ImportWB: "As Shot"; Clarity = 33; Sharpening = 40/0.8/35; NR = 0; GH3: Lens Profile & Camera Calibration
2. GlobalExposure = +0.44; Highlight = 16; Shadow = 38; Black = 5; Brightness = 34; Contrast = 52; Clarity = +33; Vibrance = 0; Saturation = +13
3. SelectiveAdjustment Brush on” green window”
4. ExpressivePhotoshop = “remove grate under window”

*These numbers were not manually entered but arrived at using the targeted adjustment tools. (T.A.T.)

** In this example, the 4th “Expressive” phase needed Photoshop to replace pixels.  This “trip” to Photoshop is always part of the 4th “Expressive” phase but not necessary in many photos.  For more examples see my Anatomy of an Image Page (click here)

A Quick Note:
– Check out ASMP’s site www.dpbestflow.org – a great source for best practices in the digital image workflow

Categories: ACR, AOI, Lightroom, Photoshop Tags: , ,
  1. Hank
    September 24th, 2011 at 13:19 | #1

    The RSS came through fine, (as did all the other “older” RSS links since I had to add your RSS link to my laptop in Maine and it caught up on ALL you RSS history). I like the summary when the mouse hovers over the RSS link.

    Text and photos look fine as does the zooming on images when closer inspection is needed.

    I think the only thing that needs to be added is the statement that the first 2 steps (capture and input (ingest) are automatic with no user inputs (Camera default settings and develop preset applied at ingest) so only the final 3 steps are image processing specific.


  2. Paul Casco
    September 24th, 2011 at 11:28 | #2

    This works great— I am able to click on the 5 images and by draging the tab over to my big screen and lay them side-by-side. In this manner I could folow your processing path.


  3. Paul Casco
    September 24th, 2011 at 10:11 | #3

    I could see the changes/variations on your work on the bike image ( with my iPad).
    Do you do your “auto tone B/W point, on 1-import OR 2-global?


    BobD Reply:


    You could do the “Auto-Tone” (finding your B & W points) during Import [Phase #1] OR as the first “Global” adjustment in [Phase #2]. There could be a slightly different B & W point if you do it before “White Balance” but I always check may “black-point” prior to moving on to [Phase #3] – Selective adjustments.

    Thanks, Bob


You can add images to your comment by clicking here.