Working with students, it has often struck me how photographers, particularly those starting out, get bogged down in a discordant workflow that not only slows them down, but makes working with their images downright tedious. While recently reading a post on Lighting Essentials by don Gianatti on systems, I realised how workflow is just another system. Scatalogical (as in illogical, not excrement obsessed) photographers like myself need to take heed of workflow otherwise serious photographic commitments suddenly turn into the first part of Yeats’ ‘The Second Coming’. To make sense of my post shoot workflow, I’ve broken it into steps that can be altered or made applicable to various different shooting scenarios (from photographing a sport’s day for a school to the desert in Namibia)
Step 1: On sitting down in front of a computer I ingest the cards that I have filled both to my computer and to an external hard drive. The second hard drive is a backup should anything happen to the primary drive. For art projects I tend to use Photo Mechanic for the ingest (I prefer the way that keywords are embedded in the NEF RAW files and the way that multiple RAW engines and their embedded jpegs can be used), but when I’m having to bash out images as quickly as possible to a client then I’ll use Lightroom as it’s likely the entire workflow will take place in this application.
Step 2: Weed out the scat. I don’t consider myself as being particularly trigger happy, but on a recent shoot for a client I fired off about 700 images in a day. I’ve done worse before with an aerial shoot for a client netting just under 800 images in an hour! The reality is that neither I as the actual photographer, nor the intended viewer of the images is going to want to see all of those frames. In the days of film National Geographic photographers would apparently average about 300 rolls of film for a feature article. At most about 30 images were likely to be published. No doubt the frame count has gone up with the advent of digital. The point is that we need to get rid of the chafe and leave the good images behind. Be ruthless in your culling as it will save time in the long run as well as create a better impression of your images in the viewer. Use the maxim, ‘less is more’.
Step 3: Rename the files using a standard renaming criteria. I personally use a renaming criteria based on a chronological sequence. Every image that I shoot basically has a filename of year+month-day-sequence-photographer (1405-23-023-EvM). this short code can be added to a longer filename later down the line if necessary e.g. Getaway_Article_Image1_1405-23-023-EvM.jpg, or Standard Bank_UssherSite_145-(0808-13-623).jpg The important thing is to remember to use the same naming convention for all your images. This means that finding the original image at a later stage is as easy as typing in the file name (if you have the filename at hand, which if the client sends you their filename is easy). The problem of course is if you don’t have the filename, which is why we add…
Step 4: Do a basic key wording of the images that are left. I usually do a global key wording during ingest as well. Global keywords are keywords that apply to all the images that are being imported from the card onto the hard drive. If I am on a landscape shoot in Namibia, the global keywords might be: Namibia, Desert, Morning, Landscape, Photography, Colour Image, so long as all of these keywords are applicable to all of the ingested images. Once I have weeded and renamed I’ll then add more keywords in batches and individually. Once the images have keywords it becomes very easy to find them in an editor like Lightroom simply by using the search filter and looking for keywords.
Step 5: Rank the images in terms of importance. All image editors have several criteria to help in filtering images through the workflow. The universal ranking system is 5 stars. This means that if you rank your images in Photo Mechanic or Bridge, the stars will be visible across most application platforms. This is not the case with colour labels however, so be careful about using them. I personally use a three star ranking system for my workflow although five are available I find that remembering the distinction between five stars is just too complicated). One star means that the image is reasonable, but nothing special. For a client shoot these are images that could potentially be used, but only if there are no other images that I prefer. For personal and art projects or stock shoots, one star images are left for the days that I actually have time to process them (possibly never). They’re just ‘good enough’ not to be deleted basically. I also use one stars for images of family and friends as well as students that I want to keep and post-process. But, and this is important, the post-production on these images is going to be minimal if anything at all. Two Star images are my bread and butter images. These are the images that are going to be sent to a client, to stock imagery sites, or are going to end up in a Photo Writing or on the blog. There are substantially fewer two star images than one stars. For the shoot that produced 700 images, there were ultimately less than 80 two stars! Three star rankings are reserved for the special images, the one’s that make you think you are a shit-hot photographer (which depressingly can be few and far between).
Step 6: Depending on the output of the image I will now start going through the photos (two and three stars) in RAW developers. Personal projects shot on Nikon cameras tend to be processed through Nikon Capture NX2 (I’m currently dreading the fact that Nikon are dropping NX2 so this workflow may change in the near future) while my Fujifilm images are usually processed through Iridient Developer (Thanks Adam for introducing me). Some commercial projects will get processed through the latest version of Lightroom (again LR offers the easiest workflow for a single shoot, with the downside that I am unhappy with the way that it renders both Nikon NEFs and Fujifilm RAFs straight off the bat, meaning that I have to tweak the files quite a bit). Finalised RAW files get sent through to a working folder of 16 bit TIFF files (importantly I no longer use PSD - Photoshop Document - files since Adobe removed the ability to work Adobe CC created PSDs in Adobe CS6 and earlier. I want as much backward compatibility as possible and Adobe isn’t giving that to me anymore).
Step 7: I import all my TIFF files into Lightroom as I see Lightroom as a type of gateway into the Adobe suite. Lightroom basically replaces Bridge for me. From Lightroom I can then open TIFF files into Photoshop (I use CS6 as I haven’t jumped onto the CC bandwagon yet). In Photoshop I can then do more intensive post-production including the use of Nik Filters (I particularly like some of the filters in the Color Efex suite), layers and skin smoothing with Portraiture for portrait and fashion work. Sharpening is kept at a minimum as I am basically working on what will become my master file (which I always assume is to be printed or displayed at it’s native maximum size).
Step 8: Once my image is finalised I’ll downgrade it to an 8 bit TIFF file for archiving. This master file then gets used in various types of outputs. Having a master file means that going from print to a blog entry is a short process of optimising the size and sharpening (as well as colour space) for the applicable output.
Step 9: Once a set of RAW images has been processed I back them up to a separate hard drive where I archive my old RAW files. I also remember to include my .xmp sidecar files from Adobe into this archived folder. Once safely backed up I can remove the original RAW files from my computer. The TIFF master files are kept in relevant folders and archived to an Output Library (another external hard drive) as well as to Smugmug as a full resolution 100% quality jpeg file.
Step 10: Finally, I clear up the project by deleting unnecessary files such as individual TIFFs used for panoramics or HDRs, and any other superfluous files that were used in the creation of the project, but are no longer necessary.
Step 11: Periodically I’ll back up RAW files and Master Tiffs to a set of harddrives that my wife keeps at her office on the other side of town. These get swopped over roughly monthly.
At any given time I’m working on various projects from multiple commercial paid projects to personal art projects as well as the usual Photo Writings and teaching that I do. Maintaining a workflow, even if only loosely ensures that things actually get done. Without a workflow my job would be absolute shambles:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The Second coming -W.B. Yeats