My RAW Workflow Explained

I’m taking today off work and heading to Austin, Texas to visit the McKinney Falls State Park, Bastrop State Park and Buescher State Park. McKinney Falls is the only waterfalls within 200 miles of Sugar Land, Texas and I’m finally going to have the opportunity to use my Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter to hopefully create some nice images of flowing water. Given the lack of rain we’ve been experiencing the past few years, this wonderful neutral density filter has been gathering dust (figuratively speaking) on my shelf for much too long. Wish me luck!

Seeing that Nik Software has recently made all their plug-in filters compatible with Lightroom, I thought I’d run through my updated workflow to give you an idea of how I process most of my RAW images these days.

Nik Software for Lightroom

This image illustrates how I use the Nik Software products to enhance my images and reduce the amount of time spent in post capture processing.

  • I begin by cropping the image in Lightroom and applying some basic settings in the “Develop” module to correct the white balance, increase the contrast and touch up any spots on my image.
  • Next I export the image to Dfine 2.0 where I analyze and correct any noise present in my image. Dfine does an excellent job of reducing noise without reducing image sharpness and makes it easy to apply the noise reduction only to those areas that need it.
  • Next I export the image to Sharpener Pro 3.0 using the RAW Presharpener settings to selectively sharpen some areas before processing further. This RAW Presharpening is very subtle to detect.
  • Next I export the image to Viveza to selectively enhance the image’s contrast, saturation, warmth, etc. If I do nothing else to an image, Viveza is the one tool that I almost always use.
  • If needed, I next export the image to Color Efex Pro 3.0 or Silver Efex Pro depending upon what effect I’m trying to produce. Both programs contain a wide variety of color or black & white presets to help you obtain just the right look.
  • Finally I export the image to Sharpener Pro 3.0 and apply the required output sharpening, either for print or web. I generally dial down the intensity of this final sharpening to prevent the creation of noise or JPEG artifiacts.
  • Then I export the image from Lightroom in whatever format I need.

20 thoughts on “My RAW Workflow Explained

  1. Thanks, Jeff – why didn’t I think of that? 🙂 Then you can also control how much effect each layer will have, separately. Excellent!

  2. Thanks Jeff. I remember seeing somewhere that I should do noise as one of the early steps – but I keep forgetting, so thanks for the reminder. Nik has some great software, don’t they?
    Hey a quick question – Is there a way to “add” filter effects in Color Efex Pro without leaving and re-exporting for a second or third filter?
    Mike Hendren

    • Mike,

      Thanks for reading. The best way I’ve found to use multiple filters within Color Efex Pro is to export my raw file from Lightroom to Photoshop as a .psd and then apply the Nik filters from PS, each on it’s own layer. Once you’re satisfied with your image, just flatten the layers and save the image.


  3. To further clarify, my understanding is that if you don’t get the Photoshop plugins but just the LR plugins, this means that you cannot edit “nondestructively” ie, each time you use another plugin you are reopening/resaving the file, slightly degrading the image each time.

    What I’m wondering is if any degradation is significant if you start with a raw image and then edit a Tiff (or, I guess, psd) version of it. I know of course that if you reopen a jpeg it quickly degrades the image. What I don’t know is if this is anything to worry about with tiff exported from a raw file in Lightroom. Maybe it is so minor that it isn’t worth worrying about, but I don’t know…

    thanks a lot,

    • Bob,

      You are correct. The only non-destructive workflow is within Lightroom itself (or Camera Raw) but it’s no different than working in Photoshop. Each layer in Photoshop is destructively changing pixels. Whether or not this “degrades” or “enhances” the image is up to you and your skill. Reopening a .tif or .psd image does not change it. When you export the final image as a .jpg you are deciding how much information you want that image to contain. Your original RAW file contains all the information your sensor recorded. Any changes you make in Lightroom are changing that information. The difference is that the changes don’t really take place until you export the image.


  4. Hi,

    It sounds like you are using Lightroom with the Nik Photoshop plugins, right? do you think your workflow would work if you were using the Lightroom Nik Collection? In other words, creating a tiff and then reopening the same tiff for each Nik plugin.

    I’m wondering how well this would work as I’m considering buying the Nik Lightroom collection which is much less expensive than the complete “Ultimate” collection which also includes the Photoshop plugins.

    Thanks a lot,

    • Bob,

      Thanks for reading and for your comments. I do use the entire collection from Nik Software and their license includes both the Lightroom and Photoshop versions.


  5. So you are always editing the original PSD (“edit original” option in LR) once created after the export to Dfine. Also, do you recommend PSD over TIFF?

    • Marc,

      Yes. During my post capture workflow I’m editing the initial .psd file created by the first step. If you use Photoshop CS4 you can also do these steps, each on a different layer or Smart Layer and then flatten or merge the layers at the end. I do prefer using Adobe’s native PSD format over a generic TIFF format since the file sizes are generally smaller.


    • Marc,

      Thanks for reading. I end up with only two images, the original raw .dng file and the fully developed .psd file. I then export from Lightroom to create a .jpg file.


  6. I got tired just reading about your workflow! Think I need a nap now… 🙂

    • I guess I deserve that after my vest comments on your blog yesterday, but I just couldn’t help myself. Those Filson vests are just so damn sexy. 🙂

  7. Pingback: RAW Workflow with Nik Software Plug-ins - Digital Photography Tips and Techniques

    • Hey Michael!

      Actually, this entire workflow takes about 10 minutes for an average shot but if I’m looking for a certain effect in my image it can take hours of trial and error. Luckily, my friend Josh Bradley has written a wonderful book called The Official Nik Software Image Enhancement Guide that explains each plug-in in great detail with lots of real world examples (most of which I happily copy for my work).


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