A Workflow for DxO PhotoLab 6
The aim of this post is to demonstrate a repeatable workflow for DxO PhotoLab 6 that will enable any image to be processed effectively.
With landscape photography, processing begins before you take the shot. And the image I’m using as an example here is a case in point. I didn’t just happen across these trees, I’d noted them several times and knew that if I shot them in the morning I’d get a backlight from the sun. It was just a case of waiting for the sun!
That being said, a RAW file is a pretty flat image and it’s the processing that allows us to match the light to the vision you had when you pressed the shutter. While this article is focused on PhotoLab 6, the principles should be as easy to apply in Lightroom or any other processing software.
Table of Contents
Overview of PhotoLab 6
PhotoLab 6 is the latest iteration of the RAW processing software developed by DxO. The closest rival is Adobe Lightroom. For those looking to move away from the Adobe portfolio, PhotoLab has its own image management module called PhotoLibrary, offering support for metadata.
For a detailed review of the improvements added to version 6 check out my post DxO PhotoLab 6 Review but I will say here after a couple of months of use that the responsiveness of the sliders is much faster than before!
PhotoLibrary or Adobe Lightroom
For those users who simply want to use a better RAW processor, PhotoLab exists as a plugin to Lightroom and images can be sent from one to the other at the press of a button.
Deciding whether to use PhotoLibrary or Lightroom is a decision that should ideally be made once only. The best approach to making the right decision is to work out a schema that will enable you to locate any photograph in your library within a few seconds.
Within this apparently simple task lie some complexities. For example how big can a library be before it becomes unmanageable? What categories will enable consistency across the entire catalogue? What is the appropriate metadata to save?
My own approach to this, honed by many false starts and mislaid images was brought about by necessity. Working as a commercial photographer meant that calls on my library were frequent so I arranged directories named after the client or project and within those directories sub directories by date.
In Lightroom this meant that all I had to do was create a catalogue named after the client or project and Lightroom would create the appropriate directory structure.
In PhotoLab you have to create the directories manually which I have to say is a pain. After copying the files from your card to the filesystem, PhotoLab encourages you to create a project and add selected files to it. This “project” is entirely virtual, no files are moved and can therefore exist anywhere on the disk. To my mind this is diabolical! I much prefer the Lightroom approach.
Workflow for DxO PhotoLab 6
The aim of a workflow is simply to save time and to proceed in a logical way via a series of repeatable steps that work towards a final image that matches or improves on the vision you have for the picture.
Preparation – Defining the Vision
I’m tempted to describe this a a “Pro Secret” or some such nonsense. It’s really a reflection of the fact that if you don’t have a view as to how the image should look, then you’ll find yourself mired in a confusing nightmare best described as “Try it and See”. This way madness and over processing lie.
For this particular picture, shown here in RAW, the overarching vision is to capture the warmth of the winter sun that is backlighting the tree. The tree is what I want people to look at and so it needs to stand out.
There are a few obvious flaws in the RAW file – the ground and plants underneath the tree are overexposed relative to the tree itself and in the top left hand corner there is a much lighter patch of rock that is distracting at best.
The rock face is sandy coloured not blue which is something to watch out for as we increase contrast.
Presets in DxO PhotoLab 6
Whether you are sending the image over from Lightroom or loading it from the file system, when you open the image in the Customise Module you will have a choice of presets to apply. My preference is to apply optical corrections only at this stage as this is the step most likely to be forgotten in Lightroom. This preset applies lens corrections, getting rid of distortion, vignetting etc. The only other choice worth considering is DxO Standard which applies some lighting and colour correction.
Once we have a RAW image that is optically correct we can move on to processing the image. This is an iterative process to an extent, but I generally start with the general corrections and go back and correct them if more localised enhancements upset the balance of the picture.
Looking at the top of the tool panel, the categories are helpfully arranged left to right. Light corrections include Exposure Compensation, DxO Smart Lighting, DxO ClearView Plus, Contrast, Tone Curve and Vignetting.
I added a little contrast and applied Smart Lighting – this is something designed to compensate for backlighting, a little like fill-in flash. I applied and then rejected ClearView Plus – this is basically a sharpening tool that helps remove haze.
Color correction live in the next panel. What is available?
- Working Color Space
- White Balance
- Color Rendering
- HSL Color Wheel
- Channel Mixer
- Soft Proofing for Print
Checking back to the vision, I wanted the warmth of the sunshine to come through and the tree to stand out against the background as I remembered the actual scene. I chose to use the traditional AdobeRGB based colour space rather than the new DxO Wide Gamut Color Space as I didn’t see any need to extend the colour range in this particular picture.
The first thing I did was to increase the color temperature globally to 5441 and the tint to 6 to balance out the warmer greens and remove the blue cast in the rocks in the background. I then moved on to the HSL Color Wheel and applied corrections to the orange, yellow and green channels – a little more saturation in the orange, more saturation and less luminance in the yellows to make the tones richer and a tiny tweak to the saturation in the greens.
The Detail panel offers
- Noise Removal – Deep Prime
- Lens Sharpness
- Chromatic Aberration
There is no noise to remove in this picture, so I added a tiny bitt of sharpness to add clarity to the grasses at the bottom of the picture and the foliage on the trees.
At this point, the image is pretty close to the way I remembered it, so a couple of local adjustments to go and we’re done.
When I set out the aims in the vision section, I had two correction to carry out – the area at the base of the tree is slightly too bright and the light rocks at top left are distractingly bright.
For both of these corrections I used a brush, I find in PhotoLab that a larger brush with feathering works much better than a small brush in that the physical area that fades into the original is both larger and more distant from the actual problem. I reduced the highlights on both areas.
Be methodical, don’t be afraid to try things within the structure of your workflow, you can always step back if you don’t like what you’ve done.
Less is more. The tendency to overprocess is strong. Stay true to the vision and to reality. I find it useful after I’ve ben editing for a while to step away from the computer and come back later with fresh eyes. Almost invariably this results in some corrections being toned down a little.
Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it! There are a lot of powerful controls in PhotoLab, Do experiment, Don’t overdo it!
This post is really for the benefit of those photographers who are facing overwhelm with new software. I hope this is a useful post, comments welcome below – if you think I’ve missed anything out then suggestions are welcome. This post will also appear on my YouTube channel as a video in due course so suggestions can be included there too.
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