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Some good info. However, I am not a fan of presets for the ISO. I think each image needs evaluation and its specific adjustment.
Thank you for this article but I have a question regarding the recommended left-to-right, top-to-bottom approach. Typically my work flow in ACR starts with a one click preset that invokes Camera Neutral in Camera Calibration and sets Automatic Lens Profile correction. From there I go to white balance adjustments and generally follow what you have recommended here. Does this approach compromise 'optimal rendering' as you imply?
+John Roach In theory, noise production should be consistent if the temperature was consistent. So, yes, you can get variation between images. But a preset will get you closer faster than Adobe's defaults, so I see absolutely no harm in using one, and a great deal of utility (now why can't we automate that, Adobe? ;~).
+Timothy Errington Adobe's not perfect about left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and there's some disagreement amongst experts on a few things and the order. Unfortunately, short of knowing exactly how the Adobe engine works underneath, it would be difficult to make an absolute statement. Still, as a rule-of-thumb, violate it at your own risk.

I actually argue that Camera Calibration belongs up with exposure, as it has to be in the basic demosaic (it impacts color curves). Lens profile, I'm not so sure of, because I don't know when and how they apply it. That's one of the joys and problems with ACR/Lightroom: you're looking at the results of the engine, not the procedure of the engine. With Capture NX2 we have the opposite joys and problems: you're looking at the procedure steps but for the most part you can't change the order.
I tried to follow your workflow using one of my own photos. I am not sure I got a good result.

Would it be possible to have your original photo downloadable to follow the different steps and more easily see more exactly how your changes work.

Anyway, a great article. Thanks a lot
Just an aside, I really like the photo. It's not "perfect" (is anything?), but it is captivating.
+Anthony Beach Obviously I kind of like it, too, otherwise I probably wouldn't have taken it. You find some strange things at the safari lodges when traveling.

Bonus composition point: why did I cut off ALL the balls? What happens if I include all of one ball? Five balls? Why did I cut off the primary ball less than the other balls? Why did I cut off the top of the primary ball and not the bottom? If you can answer all those questions, you don't need my help when composing (assuming, of course, you actually apply what you see ;~).
In this instance, I think cutting off the top of the closest ball balances cutting off the bottom of the lower two balls -- it creates a nicely symmetrical pattern (a kind of "Y") that would be lost if the closest ball had been included in its entirety. As to including all five balls in their entirety, that's a completely different composition and perspective, and I think the magical bokeh in the other balls would lose some charm and the overall composition would be more pedestrian. If I had to sum it up in a word, I would say that this composition is "tight."
What am I looking at in this photo? A balled up bird? dead? a ball of feathers? Natural or man made? what purpose do they serve?
Nice composition lesson. In a word I would say balance, but there are two things about this composition that bother me. The top right corner, and the mid right edge. Those two abyss triangles fight the rest of the geometry in the image IMHO.
+Geoff Powell Yes, it could use a slight crop (or adjustment). This is a pretty straight shot: conversion, contrast adjusted, outputted. I'm going to leave detailed response to my composition quiz until we've seen more players.
+Thom Hogan it's really hard to see little stuff like that in the LCD without spending a bunch of time on it. I hate mentioning things that bother me about an image without mentioning things that I do like, sorry. I really like how you left the main ball centered without throwing it off into a "rule of thirds" jail cell. Very well done, also IMHO.
Some compositional comments: Light directionality & consequent falloff right to left lends a three dimensionality to the image. Shallow depth of field tends to pull the eye to the in-focus ‘primary’ ball. Repetition (balls and feathers within the balls) gives the impression of large numbers – these balls could go on forever. That none of the balls are completely within the frame keeps the eye within the frame and reinforces the potential vastness of the array. If all of the primary ball were just within the frame, then the eye would wander off the top of the frame. That the primary ball is cutoff less than the others reinforces its ‘primariness’. The triangle of balls provides a stable compositional element that would be lacking had the primary ball been cutoff at the bottom. The whole setup tends too keep the eye within the frame while causing one to wonder what is not in the frame. Both seem like good things for an image to do.
I am still unsure about the optimal order in which to apply detail settings in ACR / lightroom. Thom, in your article "Fly me to the moon" (5th Dec 2011) you stated: "ACR gets this (the order) very, very wrong on the Sharpening/Noise Reduction tab: everything's backwards from that reasoning. Start with color noise reduction, then luminance, then sharpening". Since reading that I have adopted your "bottom up" approach to the details settings, and have found it to be a generally faster process of "slider iterations" to get acceptable results. Have you since gone back to the Adobe approach to the order of sliders?
+Robin Redfern I've tended to go back to Adobe's order. The results going backwards tend to produce more of the plastic detail look that people try to avoid.
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