Workflow : Process

A lot of people keep asking me to write a blog about my workflow, so here it is, but before i start, i should point out that a lot of my jobs are different and as such have a different workflow. Some jobs (particularly magazine clients) require little planning, and no retouching as the publishers often have their own in house retouchers. Some jobs don't need any planning other than knowing my subject matter. Each job is different, and is approached in a different way, which helps keep things interesting! :) Planning Before a shoot I always do a bit of background planning on my subject. Obviously if I've worked for the same client several times, this becomes less necessary, but still important to have a good idea of the images you're going to aim for in your head before the day.

One thing I find extremely important is having an inspiration folder. Whenever I see an image I like, or something that gives me an idea for a shot, I save it in a folder. This folder is then sync'd to my iPhone/iPad so I always have something to fall back on if I get stuck. I should point out that I don't copy the images in my inspiration folder. I usually take elements or ideas from them whether it be a location, lighting, pose etc. Being inspired by someone/something is good... copying is bad!

Some of the dance shoots I do can't really be planned for in the same way as I'm capturing what's there, rather than creating the scene. The planning for this comes from knowing and understanding the subject, and getting myself into the right place at the right time and knowing when to click the shutter. I still have a good idea of how want the shot to look before I start though.

Setup Setting up equipment should be a fairly straight forward affair. Depending on the clients' budget, I may or may not have assistants, and the lights I use can often vary, but the procedure is still the same.

Lights are usually setup roughly how i want while make-up is being done bar a few tweaks once the subject is on set. I'm not going to go into lighting setups, because they're different depending on who/what I'm shooting, and how I light is different to how the next photographer lights. I will say that it rarely needs to be complicated. I like simplicity!

I've usually by this stage decided with the client the running order of the shoot, and i know in my head the images I'm going to be capturing. A running order is important as it means you won't be constantly changing lights around and if there are several looks, you can work with the make-up artist to decide how best to structure the make-up. With all this coming together, the shoot should run much quicker with less drama.

Shooting The shoot is the fun part of any photographic life. It's what we live for. For me, the subject is the most important part of an image, and as photographer of people, it helps to be a people person. I like chatting and getting to know people, which in turn usually relaxes people and opens them up.

I shoot quite quickly compared to most. I usually know when I've got the shot i want, and don't see much point in shooting on unnecessarily. One thing that a lot of photographers do, which i don't like, is to check the LCD on the back of the camera after every shot. I can see what I'm capturing through the viewfinder, and I know how the lighting looks, so checking after each shot only makes me look unsure of what I'm doing, and also disrupts the flow of the shoot. I do go through after a burst of shots and usually share what I'm doing with the subject/client so that he/she can see what we're getting. It's all about keeping people happy, and confident in my ability as the photographer.

Files/Backup

Keeping your files in order is important, and so is keeping them safe! All of my work is kept in order using a simple system. Each shoot is in it's own folder, labeled with the date and the client/job. I date the folders in reverse (YYMMDD) in so that everything sorts in chronological order on my Mac.

After the shoot, the images obviously get transferred onto my main working machine. I use a MacPro, which has 4 internal hard drives. I keep all my current work on a single drive internally. This is mainly for speed reasons. I also have an archive drive with previous work. I keep them separate, purely to enable my current work library to run faster due to having less images in it.

For on-site backup, I have a RAID enclosure with 4 large capacity drives. This means that if one of my internal hard drives fails, I have 2 backup copies of everything on-site as well.

I use Apple's Time Machine software to run my backups, which seems to do a pretty good job.

Finally, for off-site backups I use separate hard drives for each years work. This is done through a Firewire HDD dock. Each drive is then put in it's own hard case and stored in separate location so that if my studio were to explode or for some reason I lost all my data on-site, I still have another copy of my files stored in a completely separate location, on drives which are disconnected from any power source.

Editing

A lot of people confuse editing and retouching. Retouching is where you take an image and make changes to it in terms of it's content ie. skin smoothing, liquifying, cloning etc. Editing is the process of choosing which images from a shoot are the ones to be used, in much the same way as a magazine editor decides which bits go into each issue and which go in the bin.

My editing process is very quick and streamlined. I use Adobe Lightroom, and I can't tell you how much I love this program! After importing all the images from the shoot from the various cards, I choose an image and apply any tonal or colour adjustments I want in order for it to match what was in my head when I was shooting it. I then take those adjustments and apply them to the whole set.

Doing the colour edits first is very important to me. If I'm shooting for a black and white image, for example, I want to be able to edit them in black and white.

Once the images have been batch processed, I click through them one by one, flagging any images I like as I go. This is usually a fairly quick process and will usually leave me with lots of flagged images. This is fine.

Most people I speak to use a 5 star rating system. I personally find this overly complicated as I end up spending 20mins agonising over whether an image deserves a 3 or 4 star rating. For me it's a simple choice... yes or no.

This is where Lightroom comes into it's own. Amongst the various views in the Library Module of Lightoom, is the "Survey" mode. With this activated, you can display all the selected images on screen at the same time. From this, you can then gradually eliminate images one by one (I find it easier to eliminate by finding the parts of images I don't like), each time Lightroom will re-size so that the images fill the screen.

Eventually I'm usually left with about 5 shots, from which I choose the shot I want to retouch. This shot gets a colour label, (I favour purple for some reason) and is then ready for retouching.

Retouching

Now I'm not going to get into the moral arguments surrounding retouching. That's for another day.

Anyway, Once I have my final image selections I open them up in Photoshop (just upgraded to CS5, but have been using CS3 for ages). I do all my colour and tonal edits before retouching, so all that's needed in Photoshop is to clean up the image and remove any unwanted elements. I don't use any fancy filters, or effects. I just zoom in and remove them with the healing brush, patch tool or cloning stamp. Coffee is vitally important during retouching!!!

An invaluable tool for my retouching is my Wacom tablet. For anyone who is still using a mouse, or heaven forbid, a trackpad, go and try a Wacom! We're brought up from an early age to hold a pen, and as such it's far more natural to us. It also allows for much more precise actions, which can only lead to better retouching!

There are loads of different models out there to choose from. Mine is only a cheap one, and is showing it's wear, but it still works perfectly.

Delivery

Image delivery is simple, but varies depending on what the client requires. Some shoots are on a tight timescale so will either be FTP'd overnight to the clients' server, or hosted through my own online storage for them to download the next morning.

When time is less important, I always prefer to send the images in the post on DVD. This is so that they have a physical copy of the files, and are less likely to be deleted by accident. I've lost count of how many times I've had to send images a second or even third time due to a client forgetting where they were saved, or losing the email with the download link!

From time to time, on some jobs, the client will even take the raw files there and then. This only happens rarely and only if they have their own retouchers. The images will still normally have tonal and colour adjustments applied and saved into the DNG format.

Conclusion

So there we have it. If there's any bits I've missed out, or you want to know, leave a comment or send me an email.