Notice now that I did not write how to edit photos, but how do I edit our photos. That’s a big difference.
Firstly we use Nikon DSLR’s set to record 14-bit raw files (NEF), those are edited with Nikons own Capture NX-D, because after years of trying out other raw-converters, Nikons own gives us simply the best image quality. NEF is a proprietary file format for Nikons raw files and nobody but Nikon knows how to decipher the data correctly. Third party raw-converters do their best guesses and some come closer than others, but no one give us the same feeling as we got when we took the photos as Capture NX-D does.
With Capture NX-D running I’m usually starting at the top in the menu at the right and adjusting exposure if needed (most times not, but use it sometimes to darken a photo that are partly too bright and then bring the rest back up with Shadow Protection). White Balance is hardly ever needed to be altered. Picture Control is set to Standard in camera and is obviously read as such with Nikon software and sometimes I use the Clarity slider with hazy or foggy photos. Then I go to Tone (detail) and adjust Shadow Protection up almost too much and sometimes a bit on the Highlight Protection slider too. Under Tone I adjust the Contrast slider up until the photo gets a nice pop and then I usually give it some extra saturation.
Noise Reduction I use very rarely. Camera and Lens Correction is set in camera and read by the program and hardly used anything further. LCH is never used. Sharpness and Unsharp Mask I never use beyond what is set in Picture Control. Straighten and Perspective Control are used sometimes to straighten photos that are a bit off and the Perspective Control are rarely used as we try to minimize the need when taking the photo. Levels and Curves are hardly ever used. The Auto Retouch Brush is a bit unpredictable but in many cases works quite fine. In the end I do some cropping if needed.
Then I go to Convert Files and set file format to jpeg, quality to 100 and chose the appropriate folder to save and then rename the file to reflect the content. Then the work is done in Capture NX-D.
To sum up, Shadow Protection up, Contrast and Saturation up until it pop, then Convert file. The rest only if needed.
Next stop on the way is Corel PaintShop Pro to do some final touches that can’t easily be done in Capture NX-D. In most cases that would be Resizing and adding a watermark (resizing can obviously be done in Capture NX-D too, but its good to have a full resolution jpeg if further work needs to be done), and in the end reduce the file size for web use. Corel PaintShop Pro is a full fledge photo editor, so everything can be done there, but mostly I only use the clone tool to remove some unwanted objects and some final touches with fill light, clarity, vibrancy and so on. One thing I would like to highlight is the Nik Collection of plug-ins that works fine with Corel PaintShop Pro. Their Viveza plug-in with Control Points are truly awesome if you like to alter an area like darken the sky or whatever without affecting surroundings. The Nik Collection is free and in my opinion the best plug-ins out there. Update; DxO has just acquired Nik Collection and I’m not sure if it will be free for long, so hurry to download the latest version 1.2.11.
The process may look long and time consuming, but honestly it takes maybe in average 30-60 seconds in Capture NX-D and from 20 seconds in PaintShop Pro depending on what is done (mostly only 20 seconds).
Under we have a before and after comparison. As you see, not a huge different, but as the cameras are set to “Standard” profile, we need to push the sliders a little bit to make the photos the way we like.
So why don’t I use Photoshop and/or Lightroom? I’ve been using Photoshop on and off since version 7 and I’ve never liked the layout of menus. I basically don’t find what I’m looking for without looking through several menus. Second, I don’t like the look from Adobe Camera RAW, it’s not necessarily bad, but not as good as Nikon Capture NX-D. And last, it’s way too expensive. I can do exactly the same with Capture NX-D, which is free by the way, and PaintShop Pro and get better results faster. I also don’t rely on a program like Lightroom to catalog and keep track of our photos; I simply use the folder structure in Windows, making it similar and predictable to use any program to edit our photos (or if I’m trying out a new software, which I do regularly). More on workflow in another post.
I know it is “popular” to hate Nikon software in general and Capture NX-D (and NX and NX2 before that) in particular, but in my experience there isn’t much performance or stability issues compared with other software, although probably a fast processor and a lot of RAM will help on pure speed. More on computers in another post HERE.
RAW vs jpeg. In the end some few words about RAW vs jpeg. You need to have a sober and balanced understanding about what you can do with a RAW file and a jpeg file. The purists may claim that you should only shot RAW as you have more latitude to edit later. As that may be very true in most cases, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to a jpeg file without ruin it (only make sure you are working on a copy of the original when editing a jpeg). The biggest advantage with RAW is that you can do larger changes due to more information in the 12 or 14 bit RAW files compared to the 8 bit jpeg before visible degradation or other strange artifacts. But if you have adjusted the RAW file into the ball park of what you like, and then converted to jpeg, there is nothing that should stop you from doing further minor adjustments to the jpeg file if needed. Also, if you need to do huge adjustments with the RAW file on a regular basis, maybe you should better look at your shooting technique?