Article Outline

One of the most common questions both our Topaz Labs Customer Support agents and I receive involves photo editing workflow confusion. Specifically, users want guidance on using our apps and learning which order will provide optimal image quality improvements (for those who own several of them). The good news is that if you’re one of those users who can relate, you’re not alone! People have asked me about photo editing workflows for years, and I’m excited to introduce you to a new series designed specifically to tackle these questions.

What is a photo editing workflow?

It’s essential to understand what a photo editing workflow is, at least in the context of this series, before we dive into the tools we’ll use. We know that we’re talking about post-processing because of the word editing in the title. The other component is the order, or sequence, in which we use the tools at our disposal. We should also set some ground rules about this series because the tools and the order you use them have been the subject of debates for many years and will likely continue for eons.

First, this series isn’t about elevating or bashing any particular applications. I happen to use Adobe Lightroom Classic to manage and edit my photos, so it’s reasonable to expect that I’ll be using it a lot in this video series. Please don’t take that to indicate that other similar applications are inferior or that I am endorsing Lightroom. It’s your responsibility to determine which applications best suit your needs and take what you learn in this series as instructional and not as dogma.

Second, this is the Topaz Labs Learning Center, so it’s also reasonable to expect that I’ll be using our applications to tackle common issues like excessive noise, lack of sharpness, and image upscaling. Other alternative applications perform similar functions, but this workflow series will focus on the Topaz Labs suite of AI-powered tools.

Finally, photo editing workflows can be very personal. It’s not uncommon for photographers to spend years constantly refining the tools used to edit photos to meet their specific needs. My workflows are not the gold standard just because I’m featuring them in this series. Also, the order in which I use our apps meet my needs, but they may not meet yours. That’s why it’s critical to compare workflows to determine what works best with your images. In other words, it’s your responsibility to determine what your needs are and whether the workflows you learn meet those needs. I also recommend reading this article from our Support Center to learn what Topaz Labs’ official recommendations on workflow order is based on how we train our AI models.

We all want to use a photo editing workflow that gives us better image quality, and while this isn’t a “one size fits all” scenario, I’m confident that you’ll learn a lot from this series. So, let’s have some fun.

Little Bird, Big Dreams (© Matt Kloskowski)

I want to thank my good friend and photo educator, Matt Kloskowski, for providing his photo for this article and video. Matt has spent a lot of time photographing exotic birds in Costa Rica and often has to contend with a recurring series of issues during post-processing.

High ISO settings are usually required to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the birds in action, resulting in lots of noise. Also, despite his best efforts, some of Matt’s images lack critical sharpness, especially when zooming in on the bird’s eyes. Finally, heavy cropping is often needed even when using a long telephoto zoom lens. As such, upscaling the resolution of the cropped photo will be required, but not at the risk of losing image quality.

Step 1 – Correct tone, color, and composition using Adobe Lightroom Classic.

The one constant in my photo editing workflow is that I always correct the core elements of my exposure before doing anything else. This includes evenly exposing the highlights, mid-tones, and shadows using a combination of Lightroom’s Basic panel tools and Tone Curve. Next, I turn to color correction, including setting the correct white balance, vibrance, and saturation values. Finally, I’ll recompose the photo to suit my taste. In this example, the bird looked very small in the composition when surrounded by the rest of the frame. The crop tool makes it very easy to isolate the bird and let it fill the frame. However, I’ve now taken a 42.2-megapixel photo and cropped it down to 2.9 megapixels, so I’ll need to upscale.

The first step in this photo editing workflow is to use Adobe Lightroom Classic to correct tone and color

As you can see in the image above, I used various Lightroom’s Develop module tools to get the photo to a better starting point. The next step is to address the excessive noise that became even more prominent after cropping heavily. I’ll use DeNoise AI to take care of that.

Step 2 – Use DeNoise AI to remove distracting noise while retaining edge detail.

While there are many noise reduction utilities, including the one in Lightroom’s Develop module, they are not all equal in performance. I prefer DeNoise AI for many reasons, but the two most notable ones are 1. the depth and variety of AI models based on different use cases and 2. the ability to preserve critical edge details while removing distracting noise intelligently.

I explain the way I use DeNoise AI with this photo in the video below. But to summarize, I always start in Comparison View to compare multiple AI models simultaneously and choose the one that works best for the given photo. I’ll then fine-tune the model sliders and return to Lightroom upon completion.

All of the distracting noise has been removed using Topaz DeNoise AI

Now that I removed the distracting noise from this photo, I want to add more sharpness, especially to the bird’s eyes and feathers. So, I’ll send the photo to Sharpen AI to accomplish that task.

Step 3 – Use Sharpen AI to add sharpness and edge detail.

I’ve found that I get improved image quality when I use Sharpen AI after DeNoise AI (in situations where I require both applications). While this photo certainly doesn’t suffer from a lack of critical sharpness, it could benefit from a boost. In my older photo editing workflows, I’d accomplish this task by using a combination of Lightroom’s Clarity and Sharpening sliders. However, I’ve since turned to Sharpen AI after performing many side-by-side comparisons with my photos and finding the results to be consistently superior.

Much like my DeNoise AI workflow, I first use the Sharpen AI Comparison View to identify the optimal model and settings based on the details of the photo. When I’m satisfied with the results, I’ll commit the changes and return to Lightroom.

Edge details have been enhanced using Topaz Sharpen AI

With the photo’s tone and color corrected, noise removed, and edge details sharpened, my final step is to upscale it to a more suitable resolution. Gigapixel AI is the ideal utility to accomplish that task.

Step 4 – Use Gigapixel AI to upscale and increase resolution without losing quality.

A screenshot of Topaz Gigapixel AI

As with noise reduction tools, not all upscaling methods are equal. In many cases, upscaling comes with image quality loss due to inferior algorithms. However, we’ve extensively trained Gigapixel AI to increase resolution while preserving—and enhancing—details.

We started with a 42.2-megapixel photo, cropped it to 2.9 megapixels, and will upscale it by 600%—totaling 105.9 megapixels—without losing image quality. I will compare the same upscale factor (600%) in the image below between Adobe Photoshop’s Bicubic Smoother enlargement algorithm and Gigapixel AI. The improvements from Gigapixel AI are instantly noticeable.

My photo editing workflow in action

Now that you better understand the photo editing workflow I used for this photo, you can watch it in action in this video. I hope it inspires you to evaluate and refine your photo editing workflows, too. I’ve got a lot more workflow articles and videos coming, as well!

In the meantime, be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts on my workflow and if you have additional workflow suggestions to consider.

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About the Author: Brian Matiash

Brian Matiash serves as Product Marketing Manager for Topaz Labs and manages the Topaz Labs Learning Center. He is also a photo educator and author, with his work being featured in dozens of international publications. Learn more about Brian by visiting his website.
Published On: August 30th, 2021 / Categories: DeNoise AI, Gigapixel AI, Photo Editing Workflow Series, Sharpen AI, Tutorial /

26 Comments

  1. Mark September 11, 2021 at 9:17 am - Reply

    Hi Brian, really great article – it’s always useful to hear how others people have developed their workflows, especially from someone who uses these tools professionally.

    I just wondered what your thoughts were on using the Topaz tools from Photoshop CC? I got a little tired of having multiple copies of my images and I’ve been playing around with doing basic adjustments in LR, opening the image as a Smart Object then using the Topaz filters in separate layers and, finally, things any other post processing. However, I’ve only add small successes with this and, in some circumstances, it makes other processes difficult.

    Have you ever tried these steps at all?

    Cheers, Mark

    • Brian Matiash September 13, 2021 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Hey there, Mark. I’m really glad you enjoyed the workflow article! Your concern about amassing lots of versions of your images is a valid one. Unfortunately, we don’t have an ideal workflow to jump from one app to the other without having to return to Lightroom first. Sending your photo to PS once you’ve made your tone and color adjustments is an excellent workaround, especially when you factor in Smart Objects. The good news is that we’re actively working on improving our editing workflow experience to make it more convenient for our users. Stay tuned for that!

  2. laurie schaerer September 10, 2021 at 10:30 am - Reply

    What would the difference be, if any, in the final photograph if Gigapixel AI was used before cropping?

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 1:49 pm - Reply

      On one hand, if you upscale your pre-cropped photo, the output file could be rather large in both resolution and file size. I typically crop my photo first and then upscale using Gigapixel AI when needed.

  3. Jim September 10, 2021 at 10:21 am - Reply

    I have seen other videos that say use denoise before you crop the image, as denoise will work better if it has more pixels to look at. What do you think?

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 11:05 am - Reply

      Hey there, Jim. I typically make all adjustments to composition, including cropping, at the beginning of my editing workflow. Despite that, I don’t recall ever feeling like the DeNoise AI output files were lacking anything as a result. My best advice would be to do an A/B test. Try running your uncropped version through DeNoise AI and then send the cropped version. That’d give you the most accurate result to make your decision.

  4. Alastair Stuart September 10, 2021 at 7:04 am - Reply

    It appears that when using De-NoiseAI, you left the “Increase sharpness” setting as per auto setting, in spite of subsequently planning to use “SharpenAI” . Ought there to be any benefit to setting it to zero, so there is a single sharpening process?
    Similarly would you routinely zero the “Suppress Noise” slider in SharpenAI to give a single de-noise process, or is zero just where it set itself.

    I know the obvious answer is see for myself, but I end up tied in knots with no clear difference, other than time expended running both De-Noise and Sharpen.

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 1:52 pm - Reply

      Fair question, Alastair. The most important point to make is that the sharpening process used with the Increase Sharpness slider in DeNoise AI is very different than what Sharpen AI does. In most cases, if I know that I’m only going to use DeNoise AI and not Sharpen AI, I’ll see what happens with the Increase Sharpness slider. Sometimes, I just leave it at its default state, though. The only time I really take notice with it is if it looks like the photo is being oversharpened… but that rarely happens in DeNoise AI. If I really need a boost in sharpening, I’ll absolutely send it to Sharpen AI. I hope that helps!

  5. ERIC JOHANSEN September 9, 2021 at 5:24 pm - Reply

    This must be a dumb question but are all of your changes being applied to the raw file, or at some point are you switching to JPEG or other format? So far I’ve been editing in ON1, saving it as a JPEG, and then applying denoise and/or sharpen to the jpeg.

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 10:21 am - Reply

      No such thing as dumb questions, Eric. In general, you’re never actually editing a raw file. Anytime you use a raw processor to edit a raw file, you’re writing those changes to a “sidecar” file. That sidecar file retains every edit you make. On the other hand, when you export that raw file to a jpeg, for example, then every time you make an edit and save (or re-export), you’re baking those changes back in. And because JPEG is a lossy file format, you’re always applying compression to every new save. It’s nothing major, but it’s important to keep in mind.

  6. Doug Mattice September 9, 2021 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    Very informative! Thanks for doing it.

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 10:17 am - Reply

      You’re very welcome, Doug! I’m very happy to see that you’re enjoying it. :)

  7. Mark Strom September 9, 2021 at 3:48 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Brian. Before seeing this article I just edited a large set of safari pictures using Sharpen before DeNoise, and mostly the auto detect on both (softness, normal model in Sharpen and standard model in DeNoise). Is it worth redoing all of them by flipping the order as you suggest?

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 1:54 pm - Reply

      Hey there, Mark. I generally have Sharpen AI sit towards the end of my workflow because that’s when I would apply sharpening when I only used Lightroom. If anything, it may be worth testing the DeNoise AI to Sharpen AI workflow just to see if there are any noticeable differences. But, if you were happy with the results, I’d keep things as is, too.

  8. John Horsfall September 9, 2021 at 3:00 pm - Reply

    Hi, I see you are working with a jpeg on the bird photo? What are the pros/cons of using Sharpen to sharpen and de-noise on a RAW file before doing any other adjustments on an exported jpeg?

    • Brian Matiash September 10, 2021 at 2:08 pm - Reply

      That’s a very good question, John. To be honest, my personal workflow doesn’t have sharpening or denoising at the start. I always fix color and tone first. I’ll also crop and recompose when needed. DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI tend to fall towards the end of the workflow for me. My best advice is to test it out for yourself and see whether using those apps at the beginning provides suitable results.

  9. keith scaife September 2, 2021 at 5:28 am - Reply

    Hi Brian thank you for your very quick reply it worked perfectly as they say over in the UK it is good to be educated thank you once again looking forward to seeing your new videos Keith

    • Brian Matiash September 2, 2021 at 12:09 pm - Reply

      That’s wonderful to hear, Keith! I’m very glad that the instructions worked out well for you. Cheers!

  10. keith scaife September 1, 2021 at 4:24 am - Reply

    Hi Brian have just watched and enjoyed your workflow tutorial i am a new user but an oldie in terms of years 80 plus i cannot get the sizes of the image ie 2.9mb 42mb etc to show in my grid view what is it i am doing or not doing your help would be very much appreciated also any time scale on when your new videos may arrive and finally i think your products are tremendous and i appreciate you and your teams efforts to help us to produce better photographs many thanks keith

    • Brian Matiash September 1, 2021 at 3:04 pm - Reply

      Hey there, Keith. There is an often-overlooked setting in Lightroom Classic that lets you customize what information to display in the Grid view. To access it, click on the View menu item and then select View Options. Then, make sure you have the Grid View tab selected and for the “Show Grid Extras” dropdown, select Expanded Cells. Towards the bottom of that screen, you’ll see a section called “Expanded Cell Extras” with four dropdowns. This is where you can control what information is displayed. To display the megapixel count, simply select “Megapixels” from the dropdown and close the screen. When you return to the Grid view, you should now see the megapixel count for each photo. I hope that helps!

  11. Mark D August 31, 2021 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Are there any thoughts to adding Open In or Edit In to your software? That way the image could be passed between your products instead of round tripping with Lightroom.

    • Brian Matiash August 31, 2021 at 10:30 am - Reply

      Great question, Mark. I can tell you that we’re actively researching ways to improve and streamline how our users handle sending images from multiple of our apps. I can’t share anything concrete yet, but this is definitely on our radar.

  12. Philip C August 30, 2021 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    My work flow is Denoise – Gigapixel – Sharpen. Have you try this? Better?

    • Brian Matiash August 30, 2021 at 2:37 pm - Reply

      I typically save any upscaling for the last step before output, so Gigapixel AI usually is one of the last things I do. Still, it’s always worth experimenting to see which workflow works best for your photos.

  13. Seymour Holtzman August 30, 2021 at 10:59 am - Reply

    I use a similar workflow with Photoshop CS6: cropping & alignment; color & tone adjustment; Denoise AI; Sharpen AI (often followed by a blend mode such as color burn, or soft light, or linear light); selective background blurring when needed.

    • Brian Matiash August 30, 2021 at 11:03 am - Reply

      Very interesting re: using a blend mode after Sharpen AI. I hadn’t really considered that, but I’m going to start experimenting with it! Thanks for sharing your workflow!

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