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

Editing Workflow Part 1: Overview and Optimising Lightroom.

I have read and received many questions recently about editing workflow and decided to write about my experience achieveing a good workflow structure. My way of doing things will definately not be same as someone elses and it may not suit everyone. An editing workflow should be something you can do in your sleep and therefore needs to be familier and structured, however it should also quite organic and you should be ready to rethink and evaluate as you learn new tricks or find new software.This year I have introduced four new pieces of software into my workflow, 2 of which I use all the time and the others as an when they are needed.


Traditionally my workflow basically involved Lightroom to import, catalogue and RAW editing, then Photoshop to do more detailed editing and finishing off, before going back to Lightroom to Export etc. This has worked well over the years, but I was finding it difficult to keep up with catalogue structures within Lightroom and sometimes trying to find images outside of lightroom became messy. I decided to change my importing and filing system so that I could find images without having to go to Lightroom. I moved from a descriptive filing system (eg, Commercial, Portraits, Landscapes etc) to a year and date one (i know obvious hey!). So I now have a 2012 folder with the months in subfolders and the shoots subfolders within them. I then Keyword images in Lightroom so they can still be indentified.

I no longer use Lightroom to import images from my memory card. Since discovering Media Pro one from capture one i have decided to use that software to import etc. Mainly this is due to it being slightly quicker to import and backup images, but mainly I just preferred to handle this outside of Lightroom. Lightrooms inport module is still very good, but it is personal preference. I then just add the folder to the Lightroom catlogue afterwards.

So the software I use in order of use:

1. Media Pro 1

2. Lightroom 3

3. Photoshop CS5

4. Photo mechanic

I will talk a little more about these in future blog posts.



Before starting a workflow it is important to have things set up correctly and running smoothly. Obviously the main consideration is hardware if you have an old computer with no power then you will probably struggle to get Lightroom to run faster than walking pace, although Lightroom does have quite low minimum requirements so can be used on some really old machines. Assuming you are running a reasonable machine there are a couple of things you can do to make Lightroom handle quicker.

1. Increase the Cache size.

Lightroom 3 uses the Adobe Camera Raw engine when you are working in the develop module. Adobe Camera Raw generates large previews everytime you make a change within the develop module and stores these in the cache folder. This is how you see the changes straight away. Now for some reason Lightroom 3 defaults on installation to a cache size of 1GB. When the cache file is full Lightroom will delete the oldest image file and this happens very quickly when working with modern RAW files. This causes the long delay in loading time when switching between images in the devlop module and sometimes when making adjustments especially when using the healing tools and adjusment brushes as they rely on this cached previews. The best thing to do is to increase the size of your cache folder depending on how much hardrive space you have available. Ideally the cache file will be stored on a fast drive that does not contain your OS. A small SSD would be excellent for such purposes. However it can be put anywhere ad it will be better than the default option. Mine is stored on my main hardrive (hopefully this will change soon) and I have it set to a size of 40GB (maximum is 50GB).

To change the cachse setting you go to Edit > Preferences you then got to the "file handling" tab (see image below) choose the cache file location and size.

Adobe camera Raw Cache


2. Create Previews on Import.

I mentioned previews earlier and again this is a good practice to get into when importing into Lightroom. Lightroom relies a lot on previews when using the library module and depending what you tend to do in the library you can set to render previews on import so that you filck through your library quicker. If you just look at full screen images in the Library you can set to render "standard previews" these previews will take up less hard disk space, but will enable you to flick through images quicker. If, like me, you like to check focus using 1:1 views then rendering "1:1 previews" is a good option. It really speeds up the process in the library module. The main downside to this is that it takes a bit longer at the import stage, but I prefer that to sitting there waiting for previews to load. The rendering option is on the import screen (see image below).

Import screen


Thats it for this post. You should find that Lightroom will handle a little bit more efficiently. My next post will talk about speeding up and optimising Photoshop. Thanks for reading, please contact me with any questions about Lightroom or anything else for that matter. I run regular 1to1 and group tuition on Lightroom, photoshop and general photography. Contact me for more information.

Black and White in Lightroom 3

As you may have guessed, especially if you read my blog at all, that I am a massive fan of Black and White photography. I have written about using Silver FX pro from Nik software, which is my preferred method of converting black and whites. This is mainly for the convenience and the quality straight from the go.However one issue for me, because I use Lightroom 3 is that I have to export my image to some extent, either into photoshop or into Silver FX. I usually choose the photoshop route and use the filters, as it means I can edit other parts of the image at the same time.

So over the Christmas period, when I was recovering from turkey and wine overload, I started looking into ways of achieving good results in Lightroom. I have previously looked into presets, both standard Lightroom ones and third party ones and to be honest I have not found any that I really like. I have to say that a couple of the creative B&W presets do a reasonable job sometimes, but often they are a bit severe.

I therefore decided to dedicate some time and really look into the B&W functionality in Lightroom, away from presets and away from silver fx pro. The following is what I have found to be a good way of working, but obviously the method can be adapted. These are not all my ideas (obviously) but a mixture of methods found during my research.

Lightroom 3 B&W workflow.

So my first thing I do is make a nice colour photo. I do all the usual white balance and exposure corrections and adjust the clarity and saturation (Clarity is quite important during B&W conversions as it boosts contrast between the colour tones). I also do a small adjustment on the curve, but this is slightly easier to do once the image is B&W.

So now you will end up with a reasonable colour image.


This is my example. I shot these image knowing that I was going to make it B&W.

Now I change it to B&W by going to the colour adjustment panel and clicking the B&W tab.


Lightroom black and white

This is very similar to the channels tool in photoshop and what I have found very nice is the individual colour sliders, which you can use to adjust the look of the image and it is worth playing around with these to get the feel that you want.

Now you could leave it there and you will have a nice B&W image, but with Lightroom it does tend to produce slightly cold B&W, by that I mean there seems to be a very faint blue cast, especially in the highlights. So I found this nice little remedy which gives you a really nice feel to the image and produces something similar to a Platinum print, but it is worth playing around as you may find something you prefer.

For the sake of argument I shall call it the 50-50 effect and I have even saved it as a preset. Under the colour adjustment pallet you have the split toning pallet.

Lightroom 50-50

Basically the hue is set to a value of 50 for both highlights and shadows. Now this will actually have no effect on your image until you up the saturation slider. The amount of saturation you use is entirely personal taste and I like to preserve the B&W look and not turn it sepia, but even setting the saturation to 1 on each will make a difference. Again its worth playing around to find the recipe you like.

Here is the result from the earlier picture.


Obviously you can then go back and make curves adjustments. I have included some more examples of this method below. The shot of St Mary's Lighthouse has also been through colour efex 4 tonal contrast filter, so is slightly cheating. I liked the result though.



St Mary's Lighthouse 1


Thanks For reading. Any feedback or questions please contact 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.