My Workflow For Creating A Super Resolution Image

Adobe Super Resolution Image

As a result of my recent blog posts concerning Adobe Super Resolution, I’ve received a lot of emails and comments asking about how to use this new function. I’ve spent the better part of the past week playing with Adobe Photoshop CC Super Resolution conversions and I’ve formed a basic concept of what gives me the best results, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with you.

There are many different photo editing tools out there but some basic principles need to be understood. I’m basing my discussion on using Adobe Bridge, Adobe LR Classic, Adobe Photoshop CC and DXO PhotoLab 4. I haven’t worked out a streamlined method, I’ll save that for a later blog entry. That said, here is the basic technique I’m using to generate a super resolution image from a raw file, using my software.

I’ll begin with my basic reasons for creating a super resolution image. The main usefulness I see from creating a super resolution image is to take an older/smaller megapixel raw file and convert it to a larger, higher resolution image for the purposes of creating a larger printable image than I was able to do with the original image file. I don’t really see any practical use in creating super resolution images just to make bigger files. For display on the internet or making any kind of print up to 11×14 inches, your original 8-20 megapixel raw file will do perfectly fine. My goal is to create an image with high enough resolution to allow me to make a very nice print at 24×36 inches and to do that, you’ll need an image size that is at least 20 megapixels. That said, many of my older cameras created 8 or 12 or 16 megapixel images and it’s the files from those cameras that I intend to use for Super Resolution conversions.

You must understand that your original RAW file is what is going to determine the quality of the conversion you get. If you have a poor quality RAW file, meaning it’s has focus problems, lens issues, high noise levels and even exposure issues, you need to fix as much of that with the raw file before you begin the conversion. If you don’t, you’ll compound your errors and problems by turning it into something larger.

For starters, I’ve found that in my workflow, it is best to run my raw file through DXO PhotoLab 4 first. I’ll begin in Lightroom with a zeroed/uncorrected RAW file and export it to DXO PhotoLab first.

Once I’ve got the RAW file loaded in DXO Photolab, I’ll set the white balance, apply noise reduction, in my case Deep Prime, perform my image corrections for vignetting, lens distortions and chromatic/fringe distortions. I also apply a default lens sharpness enhancement. I’ve found DXO to do a better job correcting all of these RAW image problems than Photoshop or Lightroom. I don’t do much else to the file in DXO PhotoLab, maybe adjust the exposure a bit if needed. The idea is I want to start the super resolution creation with a good, clean, properly exposed image file as a basis. I normally start by using Lightroom to export to DXO as both programs will interact with importing and exporting files to one another and Lightroom is my preferred photo management program as it allows me to keep things organized.

Once I’ve completed my work in DXO Photolab 4, I export the image back into Lightroom as a DNG file, typically in the same directory as the original RAW file.

Next I open Adobe Bridge and navigate to that file directory, and I locate the file created by DXO PhotoLab4. It will be the same file name with DXO added to the prefix and DNG as the file type. DNG means “Digital Negative” btw. It’s an Adobe RAW file format and preserves all the adjustment available in a camera generated RAW file.

Once I’ve located the DXO generated DNG file in Adobe Bridge, I right click on the file and tell it to open the file using Adobe Camera Raw. It is from Adobe Camera Raw that you will initiate the super resolution process.

Once the file loads in Adobe Camera Raw, you’ll have the same basic adjustment available to you as you would have in Lightroom, only with a different screen layout along with a few different options. From Adobe Camera Raw, select the image for editing. Once the image loads for editing in Camera Raw, I right click on the thumbnail from the slides at the bottom of the screen and then right click on that slide. When the pop-up window appears, select “Enhance” or hit the Ctrl+Shift+D keys and you’ll get a popup window for starting the conversion process. The conversion process has to be initiated from Adobe Camera Raw. Hopefully, someday, Adobe will include this function in Lightroom and or Photoshop, but for now, this is the only way I’ve found to execute the conversion. Once you’ve initiated the “Enhance” function in Camera Raw you’ll see the Enhance Preview window pop up on your screen. Check the box next to Super Resolution. It will do a quick calculation and give you an estimate of how long the conversion process will take on your computer. This estimate will be different from file to file and computer to computer. In my case, my desktop PC is a little older and slower than my new laptop and takes about 4-9 seconds on average to convert the image. On my new laptop, most conversions are done in 2 seconds or less. The Super Resolution will double your original image file resolution once completed. When you are ready to do the conversion, just click on the enhance button at the bottom of the window.

When the conversion is complete it will show up in your slide view at the bottom of the Adobe Camera Raw screen, just to the right of the original image. The file name will include “Enhanced” appended to the end of the original file name for identification.

At this point you have several options for saving the “Enhanced” file. What I do is load the file into Photoshop using the Open button in the lower right corner of the Camera Raw screen. This loads the file into Photoshop for editing.

Once the super resolution (Enhanced) file is loaded in Photoshop, I now have a fully editable image with optical and exposure corrections applied for normal editing process. I tweak the file as necessary in Photoshop, doing what ever I want in Photoshop.

Once I’ve completed my image editing in Photoshop, I save the file as a lossless TIFF file to the same directory as the original raw file. This helps keep everything organized. The TIFF file is the file that I will use for making large prints. That’s the super resolution master. You can do this step several different ways though. One is to save it as a PSD file, what you do with your edited file is up to you, you should be able to stick to your normal editing and exporting process in Photoshop, just keep in mind that once you’ve saved your file, you’ll have to import it back into Lightroom if you want to work on it in Lightroom. It doesn’t automatically link to your Lightroom catalog where the original file was stored.

At this point I go back to Lightroom and synchronize the catalog folder to import the master TIFF conversion into Lightroom. This brings all the different new files into your Lightroom catalog and you can do as you see fit with the image(s) you’ve created in a non-destructive manner. As for the master TIFF file, I set the develop options for zero corrections. I’ve found that this gives me an accurate look at what the image is doing. You do not need to apply lens corrections in Lightroom as that was done earlier in the process using DXO PhotoLab 4. From Lightroom, I can create any type or size of file I need for exporting. I’ve also found that on the better quality originals, I don’t need to do much sharpening in Lightroom, but the option to edit the image to taste in Lightroom still exists. If you do sharpen in Lightroom, you’ll probably find that you will need to change your thinking just a little bit. I’m finding that the radius setting on the super resolution files needs to be a little higher than what I normally use on an image, somewhere around 1.4 or so. The amount of sharpening you apply may not be typical either. I’ve found that many times my default sharpening settings aren’t optimal for the new image. Just play with it and figure out what suits your taste. I would caution you to examine the TIFF file at 100% zoom and look for artifacts in the image. If you’ve over-done any type of developing in prior steps, you may see artifacts such as pebbling in skies, or halos, or edge effects. Remember, anything you do upstream in the editing process will only magnify when you create the Super Resolution file. Seeing a lot of artifacts in your final TIFF file is an indicator that you have done something wrong earlier on, or you had a poor quality original file to work with from the start. Super Resolution works great and it works even better if you did the job right to begin with.

I can only hope that Adobe will eventually streamline this process by allowing you to do the conversion process in Lightroom rather than using Camera RAW. Both are effectively the same engines, but having all the export and import functionality in Lightroom would greatly improve the workflow and shorten the amount of time required to get a good quality file conversion.

In the meantime, your mileage may vary.