Between January 2000 and June 2008 I posted a large number of technique examples taken from my daily work to show how I used light in an era where digital cameras were pretty poor at ISOs over 800 or even 400 in the case of the venerable Kodak DCS520. These days flash is a creative choice rather than a technical necessity but the techniques still stand up.

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Workflow is the trendy word that we use to describe the process by which you get your pictures from the camera to the client. It describes every step that you take and every bit of hardware and software that you use. I'm also going to talk a bit about storage and cataloguing. It's all a bit techie, but if you don't get your workflow right you stand to lose quality, time and work!

So, first things first: which software, what hardware and why? The bulk of my work uses just two applications - Photo Mechanic 4.5.3.1 and Adobe Photoshop CS3 and I have two Apple computers, both with Intel processors and both running Mac OS 10.5.3. I use them because they work for me. They are intuitive applications running under an intuitive operating system on powerful computers. I love to use keyboard short cuts and both of these main programmes make full use of them.

My workflow isn't the fastest, nor is it the simplest. It works for me and I hope that you'll take something from it and make use of it in your workflow. The main point is that a workflow should be non-destructive until such times as you have to use a compression format such as JPEG.

 

The process starts with shooting everything in RAW on my Canon EOS1D MkII cameras which give me .CR2 files.

I use Photo Mechanic to INGEST the files. The beauty of using Photo mechanic is that it looks inside folders and sub folders and grabs every image file on the card and puts them where you tell it to. I have INGEST folders on my hard drives and everything goes into dated folders inside the ingest folder.

Once the image are all ingested the folder opens up as a new contact sheet which is pre-set to sort the files by time and date taken. This is really useful when using two or more cameras (providing the cameras have their clocks properly set) so that you get a true chronological display of your pictures.

Once the ingest has taken place I highlight all of the images using the apple+A keyboard shortcut. I am a big user of keyboard shortcuts rather than using a mouse or a trackpad. The next step is to click on the "iris" icon for the first image which opens a preview window. Once the preview window opens up I again highlight everything and use the forward and reverse keys to go through the images using the T key to tag any image that is of interest. Having gone through the images in the preview window I then close the window (apple+W) and return to the contact sheet.

 

I select the tagged images using apple+T and choose the copy function (apple+Y). The images are copied into a new folder in my system which is named after the job and with a six figure date "jobname-280207" would be a typical folder name and the images are sequentially renamed and numbered during the copy process. The files are named "jobname-neil-001" and so on using a pre-defined job name and the sequential numbering variable in Photo Mechanic.

The contact sheet of renamed and numbered images is then opened (apple+O). At this point I highlight all of the images and undo their tags (apple+-). All images that are the same as one another are selected and the "Stationery pad" is opened to batch caption and keyword the RAW files. This process is repeated for each set of images requiring matching captions using the "apply stationery pad" command after each set.

With Photo Mechanic it is important to use the check box by each box to make sure that the given information is properly added. It is even more vital to mark all images with the copyright holder's information so that if the images are ever in a folder they can be identified as the property of the owner.

Once the stationery pad has been added to all of the images in the set, it's time for the critical edit. Back with the contact sheet I highlight all of the images again before opening a new preview window, going through the tagging process again. This is the final edit and so I make sure that only the images that I want the picture editor to see are tagged.

Selecting the tagged images in the contact sheet using apple+T is the next step and then those RAW .CR2 files are dragged onto the Photoshop icon in the Mac's Dock. This opens Adobe Camera RAW (currently using version 4.4 although the graphic shown is from 3.3) and each of the images is viewed and optimised in turn. I find the automatic setting to be virtually useless and I carefully set the colour, contrast and density of every selected file one after the other. Once I have looked at each image I use the "select all" button to highlight all of the pictures and use the detail tab to apply a very light sharpening to all of the images.

Adobe Canera RAW allows you to open the images at a size that isn't the native one. I often up-size the files from the EOS1D MkII that would be 23.4 Mb to 30 Mb for magazine use and I find that the interpolation done at this stage is very good indeed.

My cameras are all set to shoot in Adobe RGB but the great thing about RAW files is that you can change almost anything right up until your save them in another format.

After the light sharpen I click on the "open xx images" button to have a final look at the Photoshop files and save them in the required format and in the required colour space.

With the images saved (usually as JPEGs at 9 or 10 on the quality scale) I then copy the jpegs into a new folder (jobname-280207-edit). The last step of this stage of my workflow is then to select all of the files that I want to send to the picture desk, highlight them and send them to a pre-set FTP server using Photo Mechanic's built in FTP application.

The FTP is accessed using the apple+U keyboard short cut and the pictures are pretty rapidly on their way.

It's a pretty simple system and a well used workflow. This ends the first part of the workflow - the front end if you like. The next part is probably best labelled "housekeeping". The contents of the ingest folder gets emptied into the trash and the folder containing the .CR2 files is moved to an external ethernet server and a firewire external hard drive. The edited ,jpg filesa re then copied to two seperate external drives as well as multiple CDs which are stored in three seperate locations.

The final stage is to add all of these files to a single iView catalogue using iView Media Pro v3. The pictures are safe, easy to find and the pictures sent to the picture desk are as good as they can be given the need to send them using FTP.


 
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