I have spent a lot of time recently working with degree level students who want to be photographers. It's something that I have always enjoyed doing and I find it extremely useful for examining how I feel about my own work, the industry and life in general. This time I have been trying to explain the whole digital workflow idea to a diverse bunch of commercial photography students who shoot on film some of the time and digitally the rest. I have been trying to get them used to the idea of a dependable, repeatable and non-damaging way of working with their digitized/digital files.


The best way to show them how to do it, I decided, was to show them how I work. I decided to talk about the software that I use and why I use it. In the interests of fair play I also decided to stress that other software is available and that other software does the job just as well in many ways. Being students, they were keen to find out which software was available at big discounts to them and it made me very jealous that they could get most Adobe products at less than half price.

I used to say that the first step in my workflow was to import/acquire/ingest the files into my computer. One of the great things about closely examining your workflow is that you realise just how much you do on auto-pilot. The other thing that I realised this time was how much care I take when shooting pictures to avoid having to do too much work in post-production. The computer part of the workflow does, however, start with Photo Mechanic. I have the software set up to automatically display the INGEST dialogue box, seen here below:


The number of user defined options in Photo Mechanic can put people off but I find that I can use them to make my workflow perfct for the way that I work. I get the ingest function grab everything from the card(s) and put it into a single dated folder on my hard drive without re-naming the files or deleting the original ones from the memory cards. This is a time-consuming process with the huge .CR2 files that the latest Canon cameras produce and I have been known (twice ever) to shortcut this process for a tight deadline. Most of my work has realistic deadlines that allow me to go through my tried and tested workflow.

Once the images are on the computer, Photo Mechanic opens them up in a single contact sheet window with the files sorted by CAPTURE TIME. I find this especially useful if I'm shooting with two or more cameras and I always set the clocks on my cameras using the computer itself. This is the closest thing to synchronising watches.

The next move is to do a FIRST EDIT. This is a quick look through using Photo Mechanic's preview window and tagging the images that I am interested in keeping. It depends on the job, but I tend to keep anything that is well exposed and sharp and where people don't have their eyes shut. This can mean anything between 10% and 50% of the whole shoot moving to the next stage - COPY and RENAME. This is done in Photo Mechanic and I simply select the tagged files and copy them to a new folder and sequentially rename them at the same time.

The software is set to automatically open a new contact sheet tab with the edited images only showing. After this I will caption the pictures using the Photo Mechanic STATIONERY PAD. I tend to add a generic caption to all of the files first and then go back and add specific keywords or caption details to those images in the set that need them. I have never seen a captioning system that can match this for speed and flexibility.



I have lots of cities, states and countries pre-loaded into the stationery pad so that I don't have to keep re-typing London or Birmingham. I also use the © (alt+g on a Mac) symbol a lot so that there can be a lot less confusion about exactly who owns the images. I also use Photo Mechanic's variables to add the original filename and the camera serial number to the IPTC. Having captioned all of the files as .CR2 (RAW) files it is then full steam ahead with a SECOND EDIT (usually the final edit too).



The second edit means that I go back through far more carefully and select those pictures that I intend to send to the client. I take care to compare similar images and get the one that I want using the two-up view in the Photo Mechanic's preview window. I make sure that all of the images are de-tagged before I start this edit and then I can use the simple apple+t keyboard shortcut to tag and de-tag my selection. Once the second edit is done, I then drag those thumbnails from the Photo Mechanic contact sheet window onto the Photoshop icon in my dock which launches Adobe Camera Raw.



Inside camera raw I make the fine adjustments to the images that a good raw converter allows you to before deciding what size I need the open files to be (under 30 Mb for newspapers and between 50 Mb and 60 Mb for magazines) and then to open all of them into Photoshop for a quick check and final tweak before saving them as either JPEG or TIFF files for the client.

I always save a copy of a JPEG file into a new folder for transmission or burning so that I don't clog someone's system up trying to FTP or email a huge .CR2 file. If I am sending by FTP I will either use the client within Photo Mechanic or switch to TRANSMIT if the client's system is prone to problems as I have found Transmit to be better at coping with problems that occur mid-transfer.

Everything from the first and second edits gets archived onto at least two seperate external hard drives in at least two cities.

The point of a workflow is to speed up the entirely mechnical and administrative bits of the process to allow you more time to do the creative stuff. None of this is rocket science but being good at it really helps.

I'm currently using Photo Mechanic v, Adobe Photoshop CS4 with Adobe Camera Raw 5.2 for those of you who care!

© Neil Turner February 2009

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