Workflow: DSLR Tips for Photographic Art

Saturday, August 9, 2014 9:04 PM By Stephen J Christophers

In this article you will cover the basic process behind producing photographic artwork for print. Insights into camera requirements and software workflow tips. The article also contains examples of photographic art created by using this workflow method.

The Camera: Camera companies would have you believe that their product best suits your needs. However, to produce high-quality photographic art it is as much in the skills of the artist as in the equipment they use. Nikon, Canon and Sony all produce high-quality cameras that differ in size, functionality and price. Nevertheless, what is not achievable with one camera, in camera, is often achievable with editing software or optional equipment.

As mentioned in my article DSLR vs iPhone, it's more pressing that we start out with an image at a base-line print quality; losely, 300dpi (ppi) at a size of no less than seven megapixels for magazine quality prints. Thankfully, camera manufactures have moved forward in recent years and the base-line standard required to capture good print quality images has been far surpassed. More importantly, as a digital artist, I find the most important aspects of the capturing process - sensor aside - is lens quality and a high degree of camera functionality. Such as, good optics with vibration reduction (VR), f/stop, ISO and shutter speed functionality; in, manual mode(M), Aperture-priority mode (A) and a good automatic function (AUTO). It is wise to know which settings work best under different circumstances and conditions, which means not only shooting in Manual Mode or AUTO. I will get into why I use these settings more than others in a later post and reference it. For now, let me give you an insight into why these things matter by guiding you with an example:

Lets say I'd like to capture a street scene: Firstly, my camera needs to introduce a high-quality image to a good quality sensor at or above standard. For those without a tripod, good optics on a VR lens will reduce movement or camera shake, while minimizing distortion and chromatic abrasion. Even though your options for lenses are wide and varied, most models of DSLRs offer 'Vibration Reduction' as standard. Secondly, having the option to adjust DOF (Depth of Field; f/stop), ISO and Exposure Values (EV) gives you more control over the general mood of your photograph. Finally, the most important thing for me, is to capture a sharp and well exposed image. These are the hardest aspects of the post production process to fix. They can mean the difference between a great shot and an average one. The best way to achieve this is good focus and exposure. So, at this point, it's not that important whether your camera is made by Sony or Nikon, if it does that job well. Let's say we took one great shot. It's now time to edit your work in post.

The Software: For the process of editing "Bitmap" images apposed to "Vector" based images we use the standard photo editing tool Adobe Photoshop editor - it comes in various editions. I personally use Photoshop Elements, which is a lighter version of Photoshop. For the artist who requires a set of tools to manipulate images, Elements does that job well. Although, Elements is lighter on masking options and layer styles, etc, it offers all the important features needed to create high-quality artwork for print. Therefore, it is the first stop for my new digital image fresh from the memory card. "What about Lightroom?" I hear you say. "Fuck Lightroom!" I say. But, seriously, I personally find Adobe Lightroom to be more of a hindrance than a help with my hardware set-up. Most often, I prefer to select and import either a batch of images directly into Photoshop for Panorama or a single image respectively, before converting it to High Dynamic Range ( Creating HDR ).

After adjusting contrast, levels and color the image is cropped to composition and converted into those files required by Photomatix HDR. Photomatix is the next step in creating a professional looking image. Photomatix software merges two or more differing exposure values to create a dynamic range image. That is, an image which looks more like that which we see with our naked eyes. Most photographers have their own opinion on HDR imaging. Nevertheless, as an artist using the process, it is just one small step among many that is used to create the final artwork. The majority of my editing is done using Photoshop, in it's Elements form. The most important feature beyond basic tools is the layering feature. My images are comprised of anything up to and exceeding fifty layers. Layering and how you manipulate these are the key to post processing your final work.

Once you've achieved the look and feel of your image it is time to clean and finish it. There are lots of different Photoshop plug-ins. They vary in quality and as such I find myself drawn to just a few to help me create that final result. Topaz offers a range of Photoshop plug-ins that give your image a professional finish, as do, onOne and Nik effects, etc. Nevertheless, if your image is just a nice capture and collection of effects, it might not be grounds for good artwork. In support of this, I wouldn't categorize all of my work as "Art", more a work in progress. As they themselves are not yet art in the true sense of the word, Art.

Note: As I mentioned earlier, your finished image should be at a minimum standard format or above. In the case that you are wishing to publish your work or print your image in the future it is best that the standard be exceeded where possible. It is better to take the time to render as best a quality image as possible, than to work with speed at low resolution. Your work can then be used as stock imagery for future projects.

I hope this article helps you get to grips with my personal workflow process. The images on this page were personally created and are examples of this process in action. If you are interested in purchasing a signed and certified print(s) please feel free to contact me.