There have been a few questions about workflow and file formats lately, so I’d like to share some thoughts here.

I’m going to make a suggestion about workflow. But please understand that there are as many workflows as photographers, and the one that’s right for you is the one that works for you. Feel free to embrace, adapt or ignore as you please.

This is a Photoshop-based workflow. I don’t use Lightroom, and I refuse to do so until they fix the color space issues. Anyway …

Part 1. The camera file

Whether you shoot Raw or Jpeg is immaterial in this context (of course, shooting Raw is very important in a general sense). If you shoot Jpeg, you can open your image directly into Photoshop. If you shoot Raw, it goes through ACR first. Either way, it ends up in Photoshop.

Your camera file (Raw or Jpeg) is the precious original. You work from it, but you don’t delete or change it.

Part 2. The PSD

Once the image is in Photoshop, the first thing you do is “Save As” and save it as a PSD file. A Tiff file is fine too (I use PSD because it’s the easy default, and I’m lazy, and I see no reason to do otherwise).

PSD and Tiff are the Great Almighty File Formats. They can be high bit, have layers, have extra channels, etc. They’re big (because there’s no compression) but they’re beautiful.

Part 3. The editing

Ok, so you go ahead and do your thing. Edit however you please (layers, actions, whatever) and save frequently. As you know, I do not recommend cropping, resizing or sharpening this master file in any way.

Part 4. The archiving

Once you’ve created your masterpiece, you back it up, archive it, and keep it forever. You might choose hard drives, or DVDs, or online storage … it doesn’t matter. The point is, you keep your magnificent work of photographic art safe for the rest of your days.

As well as that PSD, you can also archive your original camera file. Well, you don’t have to, I guess, but it’s probably not a bad idea.

Ok, so that’s the whole workflow, from camera file to archive. A lovely straight road to follow.

“But what about output, Damien? I don’t edit my photos just to archive them. I want to print them, or at least show them on the web.”

This is where we come to “Disposable Jpegs”.

After you’ve created your PSD masterpiece, it needs to be saved as a Jpeg for any form of output. All photos for the web need to be Jpegs, and while there’s a few labs who will print PSDs, most will expect Jpegs.

So, you flatten the layers in your PSD, crop/resize and sharpen appropriately for the intended output, then save as a Jpeg. Then you upload your Jpeg – to your server if it’s a web image, or to the lab if it’s a print. (Or maybe it’s going on a CD for a client). Once you’ve uploaded it …

DELETE IT.

There is very little point to keeping these Jpeg output files. They’re just annoying little files that clutter up your hard drive. If you need another Jpeg tomorrow, just make it again from the PSD.

I know for a fact that a lot of people are keeping Jpeg copies of their files all over the place. I encourage you to take a look at your workflow and ask yourself “do I really need to keep this Jpeg file?” You might well find that the answer is “Um … actually, no.”

Food for thought.