Editing Workflow part 2: Optimising Photoshop CS5

Welcome to the second part of my editing workflow series. In the last post, which looked at setting up Lightroom 3, I gave some tip on performance boosts to make Lightroom run just that little bit smoother. In this post I will take a look at Photoshop and how to optimise it to make it run that bit quicker and efficiently.Again to start with, it makes sense to have the fastest computer you can afford, RAM is one of the most important aspects of running design software like photoshop, so fit as much in as possible. I currently run 8GB Ram, which works fine for most things, but some complex tasks still take a bit longer to process.

Now before I start with the program side of things, there is one thing that vastly improves performance and is relatively inexpensive is a Solid State Drive (SSD) these are like giant SD cards, and have no moving parts. The information is dragged from the drive without the delay you get with standard hardrives. Good practice would be to install photoshop onto the SSD and also use it for the Scratch disk (will talk about that later), this will drastically improve the speed which photoshop works on files etc. They are now relatively cheap like this 120gb Corsair on amazon. They are not the most reliable of items, so I wouldn't use them for storage of precious documents, but in terms of a performance boost they fantastic.

Now for the software tips.

Memory Usage.

Handily photoshop has all of the most important tuning parts in one window. This can be found by going to Edit => Preferences => Performance. I believe this is the same as CS4. You should now have something similar to the image below.

Photoshop memory usage


As with Lightroom, Photoshops default memory usage is quite conservative. As a rule of thumb if you are running windows or Mac 32bit operating systems you can have it set to about 70% memory usage, this will mean that photoshop should run smoothly and not seize up other operations. If you are running a 64bit Windows or Mac, you can ramp the usage right up to 100% as photoshop will automatically take into account system RAM usage. As I tend to run Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time I have mine set between 75% and 80% whilst running 64bit windows.

Assgining the scratch disk

The Scratch disk is where photoshop saves temporary information which is too big for the RAM, but is still required for editing. Using a SSD for this would be ideal.

Scratch disk

The ideal scratch disk would be a fast HDD that is not the boot drive for the OS. It is very important to keep this drive de-fragmented and clear of clutter. I will be investing in a SSD soon for this purpose. The scratch disk needs plenty of space on it.

History and Cache Preference

This is very complicated to explain and there are a lot of permutations.

History and Cache


Essentially this is where you tell photoshop what sort of files you will be working on, giving pr warning as to what to expect. This makes it a little quicker in determining how to handle your file. I won't go into too much detail here as there is already a good article on the Adobe website. With today's cameras running around 10mp or higher the best settings are "default" with a cache level of about 4, depending on the amount of RAM, again the more RAM the higher you can push that number, but 4 is adequate. If you are running a processor later than a Pentium 4 you can set the cache tile size to either 128K or 1024K if you are running a Pentium 4 or AMD processor set them at 132 K or 1032 K.


That was a very quick and basic run through, more detail can be found on the adobe website, but this will get you set up and running much smoother. The next part of this series will start looking at my importing and editing workflow. Any questions or feedback please comment or email me

Nik Software is brilliant

For a while now I have using the Nik software collection of photoshop and Lightroom plugins. They can be bought separately or as a complete collection. These plugins have shaved hours off of my editing times and although they cannot quite replace the hard work of manipulating every aspect of an image manually, they do help speed up the every day process.

I love these plugins and as a collection they cover all aspects of the image editing process. They are designed primarily to turn Photoshop into Nikons Capture NX2 which I think is a wrong way of looking at it. It does however bring capture NX2 style editing to Photoshop to those who wish to use it in that way. I personally don't. I use photoshop for a reason and don't use capture NX2 for other reasons (although the results from capture NX2 are really good).

The complete collection from Nik comes with several Programs which are used as either stand alone programs or as photoshop plugins. I'm not going to go into detail with all of it as that is what the ink website is for and can be found at I will talk about the things I us the most. This comes down to Silver fx pro, Color fx pro, dfine and sharpener.

Silver FX Pro is a really cool black and white plugin which produces some of the best results I have seen outside of black and white film. The great thing is that it does also produce images based on film styles, so presets can be chose to replicate the behaviour of say Ilford HP5 or Kodak Tri-X, producing accurate film grain and contrast. It is one of my favourite pieces of software ever (right up there with football manager) and has made it easier for the standardise my black and white images, by creating custom presets.

Another one I use quite a bit is Color FX Pro. This has many different filters and effects, most of which I will never use, however there are a few which are massively important to my workflow. The main one is the dynamic skin softening. This works really in selective softening of the subjects skin. You can use a colour selector to choose the tones which are softened and adjust what object are softened. Another excellent filter is cross processing. This gives the effect of the old fashioned "washed out" colours from the 60's and 70's that is currently having a resurgence in fashion advertising.

Dfine and sharpener are very good for noise and sharpening although I do not use them as much as the others as I tend to use Lightroom and photoshop for this.

I would seriously recommend these plugins for anyone who wants to improve their workflow as they enable you to play around with different things and it takes seconds to create basic but decent results.