The other day I was going through some material about a digital Fine Art workflow by R. Mac Holbert (who is by the way currently adding a series of excellent videos called the “Mac Holbert Advanced Series” to the YouTube channel of the Epson Print Academy) and I found the second item in the list one of the most important. It said, “Frame A Destination – Analyze the image”. In part 8 of the video series (https://youtu.be/9F4vpv8uHkU?t=43) he describes how he looks at the image in Lightroom (hit L to hide all tools and menus and view the image against a neutral background) and just previsualizes what he wants to see once he’s done.
It seems so obvious and simple you might not have thought about that one at all. To have an idea about where the whole editing process will go is important as you need to plan how to achieve the look and feel you want for your image. It would be even better to have that idea at capture. To already have a plan of what is going to happen in Lightroom and Photoshop (or whatever it is you are using) will enable you to make the right decisions when taking the photograph. Like do I need bracketed shots for an HDR or focus stacking? And once you are working on it you need to figure out exactly what you need to do (and maybe use a device like an image map to keep track of it as described by Vincent Versace here.)
But it is definitely – at least for me – about more than just identifying whether the image needs luminosity adjustments or local sharpening. I want to find what the image is telling me, what the story behind it was and is and whether this has changed between when I captured the image and the moment I sit back and look at the image on the screen, which should be quality time. I like to listen to music when I am working on my images, have a cup of coffee and then I need to go to full screen, sit back and take it all in. And sometimes I see things I didn’t see before or something happened which now with this particular picture on the screen, makes sense and gives the image another meaning for me. Which needs to be addressed in a way that brings out hopefully exactly what I see in it.
Later on in the optimization process, as Mac Holbert call it, he recommends to re-analyze the image. After cropping, clean up, foundational issues, major retouching, and global color adjustments, he reconsiders the destination. Why not? If at some point on the way you find that something else might work even better, of course, you should follow your instincts. This, of course, would mean that it is highly advisable that you apply a non-destructive workflow meaning you always have an exit strategy so you don’t need to start from scratch once you change destination. In Lightroom, everything is non-destructive anyway and in Photoshop you can use Smart Filters, Smart Objects, and Layers to be able to go back and make changes if you need to.
Having said all this, do not neglect the need to experiment. If you can only draw from the things you have done so far, your idea of destination will always be the same and your images might all look the same, which isn’t necessarily called style. If you keep working non-destructively, your imagination is the limit.