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Into the Fashion World with Capture One Pro

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If you look carefully at a lot of behind-the-scenes videos of many fashion and commercial shoots, you'll see an application that is commonly used, especially if they're shooting tethered. Although it has a dark-grey interface similar to Lightroom, it isn't. The software that seems to dominate the high-end commercial scene is Capture One Pro.


Photographers have had lots of options for processing and organizing their images. Their application of choice has usually been influenced by the kind of work they tend to do. But in almost all cases, Adobe's software has been their mainstay. However, there are other options in various industries where Photoshop, Bridge, Lightroom, or Camera RAW aren't the hinge points of a photographer's workflow.

Here I'll go through a staple application in the fashion/commercial photography world known for its high-quality image rendering, robust tethered shooting, and customizable interface. While not as well known as Photoshop or Lightroom, within the fashion world it is about as necessary and desired as medium format cameras. I'm talking about Phase One's Capture One Pro.

What's Capture One Pro?

Capture One Pro (CO7, hereafter), now in it's 7th edition, is a RAW-processing, shoot management, and image management application with some interesting tools tailored for it's core industry niche: fashion and commercial photography. This description doesn't really separate it from the dozens of other applications that can do the same thing, but it does do some things really well or even better than its counterparts.

An example of what CO7 does better than pretty much any other software in its class is its Selective Color Editor. Not only do you have multiple sliders for each color, but you can choose any color in the color wheel to edit. In other words you're not limited to the 8 color categories found in Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW.

CO7 has a bunch of other little tools that make it an excellent, even preferred, solution for the kind of photography and cameras it usually deals with. These include lens and perspective corrections, color readouts, and overlay compositions. Let's get into the meat and potatoes of this application.

Image Management: Sessions vs. Catalogs

With the release of CO7, Phase One added a feature familiar to Lightroom users: catalogs. And they work in much the same way as they do in Lightroom. Prior editions only had "Sessions" — a locally stored hierarchical file organization structure. A "Catalog" is a file that not only references the source image files and contain the metadata/image adjustments, but also self-contain the images and the related data (adjustments, etc.) too. So, you can store your catalog file either separately or together with your image files. This option is helpful when working with remotely-located images.

A great feature of CO7's catalog is that even when disconnected from your image files you can still edit the catalog. You can even make image adjustments that will update once reconnected. This is a great feature if multiple users are working on the same catalog, if you travel, or different users from different locations can apply unique adjustments without affecting the original images or sacrificing personal preferences for image adjustments, metadata, or organization.

A session on the other hand, is more of a locally-stored option where the files, metadata, and adjustment data are in one place and spread across different subfolders. Sessions don't have the same flexibility as catalogs but they provide a familiar workflow and file structure that Capture One users may prefer.

That way, upgrading from one version to another doesn't require learning a new way of doing things and temporarily sacrificing productivity. Unfortunately, it suffers from the pitfalls of this traditional system: if you move, change, or delete a file/folder it's permanent until you put it back to the way it was. So, relocating the folder containing your adjustments outside the session folder or somewhere else within it, breaks the links and they cannot be relinked until you put it back.

What CO7 does is maintain a seamless workflow for CO6 users and a smooth workflow transition for new users who may be more familiar with Lightroom's catalogs. It also more closely matches the organization, search, and filtering options and robustness that is present in Lightroom, Bridge, and Photo Mechanic.

More Image Management: Library Tool

So, within either primary option you choose to organize your images/shoots — sessions or catalogs — you can utilize the Library tool. The Library tool is where you can establish and change your import settings, file structure, star/color ratings, and metadata that will be helpful when you would like to filter your collection or search for certain images.

The Library Tool showing a basic catalog structure and filtering section below.

The Library tool works closely with importing functions found in Capture One. When importing images via cards, tethered shooting, or another catalog all that information is fed to and referenced by the Library tool's interface. Within that you can organize your collections pretty much any way you'd like.

The Library also works closely with the Capture tool as you can decide where each captured image will be downloaded to within the Catalog or even to an external location that the Catalog merely references. The Library works similarly when using Sessions.

Like in Lightroom, you can create various collections, albums, and groups and nest them and filter them in a ton of ways. These organizational items appear in the Library tool and can be updated from there as well. As in related applications, your ratings, etc. show up as well and you can filter them.

CO7 has powerful filtering and searching abilities. You can filter images by Basic, EXIF, IPTC, or Getty Images metadata. Basic information refers to things like date, filename, or keyword. EXIF refers to camera data like aperture, shutter speed, or serial number. IPTC refers to location (city, country, etc.), author, or copyright. Getty Images is for use with the way Getty photo agency organizes its photographs.

On top of being able to do all this image-by-image, upon import, or in batches you can also create custom filters and search presets giving you speedy access to your most frequent and useful filtering and search methods. This is a huge help when trying to find a specific image or a set of images within those large Catalogs/Sessions (vacation photos, weddings, sporting events).

Tethered Shooting Workflow

Capture One has one of the best tethered workflows I've seen and supports a wide array of cameras, especially medium format cameras. Capture One's extensive medium format camera support is due to it's heritage as the main tethering solution for tethered medium format photographers.

However, it has long supported full frame DSLRs, too. CO7 has expanded that support to include "Live View" support for DSLRs. Previous versions only supported medium format cameras.

CO7 can automatically detect your tethered camera, apply the proper camera profile, load current camera settings, display available camera controls (ISO, WB, Shutter Speed, Aperture, etc.), and be ready to shoot in seconds. It is pretty much a "plug & play" set up. You can also register your cameras with the software by brand/model/serial number to help the software easily identify one body from another and apply custom user settings to compensate for body-to-body variations.

Perhaps the most useful feature is to be able to automatically apply image adjustments to successive images as they import. This saves loads of time as you can apply color-correction, exposure, cropping, alignment, lens corrections, and any adjustments to your first capture and have the software auto-load them to each new capture. You can also change the reference setting should you make changes and then have those new settings apply automatically to the following captures.

The tethering in CO7 also works with Capture Pilot, a remote viewing, rating, and camera control application by Phase One. For iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad, there is a specific app by the same name. For other devices like laptops or Android-based tablets and phones, Capture Pilot uses a web-browser interface.

This allows the photographer to utilize WiFi, LAN, or the Internet to control the camera remotely, apply image adjustments, or rate the images. This can also allow the client to rate photos as you shoot them from anywhere in the studio, or even online. Various preferences and security settings are available to make sure things run smoothly.

Total Color Control

Capture One's ability to render and control color with precision controls isn't found in most other applications. The only other software which has the kind of controls that parallel this is Hasselblad's Phocus, another RAW-processing software built around medium format cameras.

CO7 has your typical color adjustment controls found pretty much anywhere: WB, tint, color temperature, saturation, luminance, single color sliders, and ICC profiles, but it adds onto these standard tools with its Advanced Color Editor tab.

Unlike ACR and LR, which only give you 8 sliders with three controls (hue, luminance, saturation), CO7 gives you the entire color wheel to modify as well as an eye dropper to get specific and sliders for that selection to get seriously precise. So, rather than just affecting "Reds" where anything containing what is considered a Red could be affected, you can narrow the selection down to the pixels that only posses a specific HSL/RGB value.

I can now independently see what colors I'm affecting and how. The sliders and read-outs on the left let me fine-tune my color selection and adjustments. This is also helpful in locating color contamination.

CO7's Color Editor is pretty much what sold me on the product. Now, it is easier and more precise to even skin tones, bring specific colors within gamut, and remove color contamination from multiple light sources. So, if the light coming from two flashes in two different modifiers do not match, you now can precisely control and edit, down to a numerical value, that color cast.

Another useful tool within this area is the "Add Color Readout" tool. Where you can examine areas in an image to monitor the shift in color for each color channel. If you want to be absolutely sure your black, gray, and white points match, this tool is a great asset. Photographers in the product and print reproduction would find this tool very useful as it numerically confirms what is going on from shot-to-shot.

Lens and Noise Correction

CO7 has hugely improved lens corrections and noise corrections over CO6 and I believe that its default setting of noise removal is even better than ACR7's default settings. The previous version couldn't handle high-ISO noise reduction very well.

Photos shot above ISO1600 would just get all muddy forcing you to move Detail and Sharpness sliders all over the place to get close. I guess Phase One realized that most cameras nowadays are shooting extremely clean images at ISO3200 and higher.

Phase One created a new image processing engine which analyzes the camera's profile and corrects for common problems with each camera model's sensor. So if you shot an image with a Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus camera; full-frame, APS-C, APS-H, or MF; CO7's new engine has a profiled database for each one at each ISO setting. So, upon loading you have a great balance between noise removal and detail retention without the muddiness that CO6 presented.

Capture One also has a huge database of each manufacturer's lenses and can auto-correct for barrel distortion, vignetting, and chromatic abberation. You can also create custom lens correction profiles for lenses that might not be listed. In addition to these corrections, CO7 has profiled corrections for technical cameras to correct for light fall-off that can occur with tilt-shift lenses and field-view systems.

Improved Clarity and Shadow/Highlight Recovery

The latest version of this application has made some major improvements in their Clarity and High Dynamic Range (Shadow/Highlight Recovery) tools. Before it was a lot like Photoshop CS4's where the sliders could only be pushed around +20 before halos appeared the image got muddy. Now, it is a lot better with the sliders able to be pushed to their maximum and still look pretty good.

In my opinion, Capture One's Clarity sliders actually provide clarity and not just an increase in localized midtone contrast. It is a little hard to explain, but the "feel" of how the tool is applying the effect seems to be more refined.

Phase One took it a step further with a "Punch" or "Neutral" option. The Punch option works much like traditional Clarity where after a point, the colors start saturating. The Neutral option only affects the luminonsity while not affecting the colors.

Although still not as good as Photoshop CS5 and especially not CS6, Capture One has done a great job with version 7's revamped Shadow and Highlight recovery tools. You can now push the sliders a lot further and get more detail and faithful colors back into your images.

I'd say it is like a 60% improvement over version 6. I'd still use Photoshop CS6 to "save" those blow-out areas or bring back a 2-stop under-exposure, but needing that much recovery means I screwed up when I shot it. In all other cases, Capture One works phenomenally.

The highlight slider was pushed until the clipping warnings disappeared. Her skin was exposed +1 stop which caused her lighter pastel blue shirt to blow-out nearly an additional stop. CO7 pulled out both color and texture detail from a +2-stop exposure in a RAW file from a Canon EOS 40D, a 6-year-old camera. (Photo: Daniel Sone)

Because Phase One is primarily a medium-format photography company and deals with cameras that natively produce 16-bit files, have large sensors, and high dynamic range their tools provide more subtle and refined adjustments than other companies that contend with smaller sensors and lower bit depths. This also means their adjustments, particularly in the shadows and highlights, do not go as far as their Adobe and Nik counterparts.

Local Adjustments

The Local Adjustments tool enables the user to make local adjustments and layer them like in Photoshop.

Capture One also has a tab to make localized adjustments to your image. These function a lot like the tools in Adobe's Camera RAW, but with a few unique approaches. Firstly, you can apply adjustments in layers much like you would in Photoshop.

These layers can be toggled on/off and each of their effects can be adjusted independently to achieve the desired results. Secondly, with the adjustment brushes, you can further refine the effects of the powerful Color Editor. Combining brushes and layers is a great approach to local adjustments. It is also familiar to Photoshop users.

Although this section of Capture One is improved in terms of processing and rendering speed and results, it still lags behind Adobe's "Adjustment Brush" in adjustment, masking options, and smoothness of the tool.

I really enjoy that I can brush in WB and noise reduction where needed, something lacking in CO7. I also think Adobe's "auto masking" is very helpful and accurate. I don't have to worry about my adjustments bleeding into one another in an obvious way. Also, the application of these adjustments is way smoother in Adobe's software.

I still use this section, but sparingly because the tool isn't as refined as I think it should be and lacks the intuitive (or should I say, "automated") precision found in Adobe's edition. It's a very good tool, but should be worked on if Phase One would like to attract more Lightroom people.

Powerful Output Processing

This section of Capture One is also one of my favorites within the software, right up there with the Color Editor and its interpretation of each camera's image. This is is partially due my affinity with Photo Mechanic's plethora of outputting/exporting options. After making your adjustments, you can process them using "Recipes," a custom preset. And you can do multiple recipes simultaneously.

With Recipes, you can export multiple image sizes, resolutions, file formats, custom filenames, and into multiple locations, launching each with a different application for further evaluation or editing. Once created, you can save it and use it repeatedly.

I have a few recipes: one to output a 16-bit TIFF at 300dpi, one as full-res JPEG at 72dpi, and another for the web. Each goes into its own folder with a custom name and any additional metadata I may place within the recipe. I simply check which ones I wish to execute and hit the "Process" button. Capture One works surprisingly fast converting the RAW data into TIFFs and JPEGs.

Use the multi-recipe function whenever you or your client need multiple file formats and sizes of the same image. It also saves on system resources because Capture One doesn't need to launch another program for processing as you do in Adobe Bridge. Give it a shot, I'm sure you will be pleased with the output Capture One 7 gives you.


There is a lot more this software can do. The tools and interface customization are extensive and made for photographers and digital techs who want not only complete control of their images, but also control over their workspace.

Capture One Pro also keeps your team and clients in mind with Capture Pilot, making collaboration an easier and more comfortable affair. The software appeals to a wide range of photographers and applications. From fashion and commercial to architecture and portraiture to product and landscape, Capture One can play a significant role.

While it does have shortcomings such as a clunky Curves tool, clunky Local Adjustments Brush, and fewer supported cameras/lenses on profile than its Adobe counterparts, it pretty much excels in everything else. I use it whenever I have any portraiture, fashion, product, or tethered photoshoots. For other things like photojournalism or entire weddings, not so much.

If you're a photographer, photo assistant, or digital tech that is interested in tethered shooting, medium format photography, studio photography, and the like then having and knowing Capture One Pro is a huge plus. And if you work in the fashion or advertising industry, it is all but required.

You can try, buy or just learn more about the software at

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