Lesson 8: Workflow

Shooting is only the first half of the process of making a photo. Just as in the film days, there’s a necessary postproduction step to your digital shooting. Even if you don’t plan on doing any editing or correction, you’ll still face the task of copying your images to your computer, finding the ones you like, and keeping the whole mess organized. There are many different ways to approach your postproduction chores, and many different software tools to help you manage those chores. In general, postproduction workflow after a shoot goes something like this: you start by copying your images from your camera’s memory card to your computer. This usually involves a card reader, but if your camera provides built-in Wi-Fi, you might find that you can perform your image transfers wirelessly. Like everything else photo related, card readers vary in price, from cheap to fairly expensive. In my experience, it’s worth investing in a quality card reader, both in terms of durability and reliability. Some card readers are faster than others, so if your card supports high-speed throughput, then you’ll want a card reader that can accommodate it. You might choose to manage the copying on your own, or let a piece of workflow software manage the copying for you, choosing where to put the images and how to keep them organized, and all that kind of stuff. Your workflow tool of choice might also allow you to rename your images upon import, automatically create a backup copy, add keywords, and lots of other stuff to help you stay organized. With your images copied into your system, it’s time to start making selects. Now, as you’ve probably already discovered, not every image that you shoot will be a keeper. Don’t worry; that is perfectly normal. Every photographer has a very high ratio of discards to keepers. During the selection step, you’ll work through your images and mark the ones that you think are selects. Most workflow tools provide several ways to tag images: ratings, color, labels. I’m going to just go through here and find some that I like. I like this one better than this one, so I’m going to give it three stars. This one has a little more space at the bottom; I’m going to give that three stars. I’m just choosing to label these with stars. I could use any number of other mechanisms. Your workflow tool of choice might have different ways of labeling things. The important thing is that you have a way of identifying the “keeper” images. As your image library grows, and it will, finding images will become more complicated. No matter what kind of organizational scheme you come up with now, there’s no way to create a single organizational system that will perfectly serve all of the ways that you might ever want to organize different combinations of images. Years from now, when you need to hunt down a very specific image for some reason that you never could’ve imagined when you shot it, you’ll have an easier time finding it if you’ve been keywording your images as you add them to your library. Keywording is simply the process of tagging images with descriptive words, whatever words make sense to you, as a way of identifying the content of the image. So, for example, I might label this , I’ve already tagged it, with “Oklahoma,” because that’s where I shot it, I’m going to add a “houses” keyword, “lawns,” “daytime.” I’m going to go in here and say, “picket fence,” “house,” “daytime,” “tree.” Keywording might seem like a frivolous chore, or something that you can put off for later. But with practice and the right tools, you should find that you can easily keyboard your images as you work. And you should be able to do it very quickly. Any time you spend keywording now will probably be time you’ll save when performing searches later. Once you’ve got your images organized, keyworded, and have made your selects, you’re ready to edit and correct your selects. These days, everyone is familiar with the amazing feats of alteration and correction and deception that can be achieved with an image editing program. While wild special effects are not regularly needed, most images will need a little bit of contrast correction and possibly cropping or sharpening. Once all of your edits are finished, you’ll be ready for output. Output might be simply exporting the image to a file, or posting it to a website or sharing service. Or it might be creating a print, either using a desktop printer or a printing service. And finally, you’ll want to ensure that your entire system, your original images plus your edited files, are all backed up and secure. There are many different software packages for tackling photo workflow. Some, like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, which I’m using here, are designed to handle all of the steps that we’ve discussed here. Others, such as Adobe Photoshop, are aimed at only one part of the postproduction workflow. You might choose to use an all-in-one system like Lightroom, or build hybrid system out of several different packages or cloud-based services. In the rest of this chapter, we’re going to look at some of the features you’ll want to look for when choosing tools for the various stages of postproduction.

Image editing is the process of altering, correcting, and adjusting your images, and image editing tasks can run the gamut from simple tone and color correctinos to wild special effects and dramatic retouching of an image. Most of your edits will lean on the side of simple tone and color corrections, though some images might lead you to more complex adjustments. Currently, there are loads of software options for editing images. I’m not going to recommend any specific options here, but instead, we’ll quickly run down the basic tools that you’ll want to look for when considering an editing package. A crop tool is one of the most important editing tools you’ll use. It may not seem like much, especially when compared to the incredible technology found in other editing tools, but the crop tool gives you a profound ability to re-compose your image after you’ve shot it. For example, I’ve got an image here that I shot like this, and while I may have thought it was okay when I was looking through the camera, I’m realizing now, I just don’t need this stuff in the foreground, so lookie here, I can just crop that right out, change the relationship of the things in the image, and end up with a shot that I think is much stronger. Now, while some photographers are hesitant to ever crop an image, I often shoot specifically with a particular crop in mind, and I regularly save otherwise unusable images with a well applied crop. So take the crop tool seriously when you’re shopping for an image editor. Contrast is simply the range of black to white that an image contains. I would venture to say that the majority of image problems are contrast problems. Most of the troubles that you’ll find in an image can be corrected with a contrast adjustment, either a global adjustment applied to the entire image, or localized contrast adjustments applied to different parts of an image in differing degrees. There are many different tools for correcting contrast, so you’ll want to carefully assess contrast tools when evaluating an image editor. This image for example doesn’t look like there’s anything particularly wrong with it, but just by using Lightroom’s tools here to dial in a little more contrast, I can get some more punch out of the image and at the same time that I’m fixing the contrast, I find that I’m improving the color as well. Correcting contrast will usually fix most of the color troubles, but there will still be times when you need to correct or alter the color in a photo, and as with contrast controls you’ll want to assess the abilities and interface of the color correction tools in any image editor you consider, you want to find the tools that make sense to you. I think, in this case, that some of my color has gone a little out of whack here. My red’s a little too saturated, so I’m gonna pull that down, I’m also gonna pull down the saturation of the greens here, and I’m gonna put a little bit of that back. These are very, very easy tools for making finessey little tweaks to my color. Retouching is an art and a craft that you could spend years studying. For most of us, though, our retouching needs won’t go beyond simple dust correction and occasionally touching out a telephone pole or something else that I don’t want in my scene. Cloning tools or healing brushes are critical tools for removing extra unwanted details from your images, and just like the other tools when you’re assessing an image editor, you’ll want to see if the retouching tools available are powerful enough for the types of retouchings that you tend to make, and if you understand how to use them and feel like they are easy enough to use, here, I have very quickly removed that extra little bit next to the fire hydrant, just to give the fire hydrant a little more punch. If you’re gonna print your images yourself, then you’ll need the ability to size and sharpen your images and you might also be interested in having more sophisticated color management controls for matching what’s on the screen to what comes out on the page. These are the most basic tools that you’ll need, and most image editors go far beyond these capabilities offering everything from the ability to correct optical abberations in your lens to complex compositing and effects tools, but the controls that we’ve looked at here, are the work horse, must have, everyday tools that you will use on most of your images. For years, Photoshop has been the dominant image editing platform and it’s still a fantastic choice for your image editing needs, but there are many more options available now, and some of them offer simpler interfaces with one button controls, so, in addition to considering the features that you need, you’ll want to think about how much control you want. If you’re not particularly interested in post-production then you might want to opt for a simpler system to get you through your edits more quickly, albeit without as much ability to finesse. If you want to put lots of care and finesse into your post-production, then you’ll most likely choose a more full featured editor. You can find free demo versions of many different editing packages, and, the Lynda.com library is overflowing with training and tutorials for just about any image editing package available.

At some point you will have some images that you’re ready to put out into the world. In the old days that meant making prints and finding a way to get them in front of people. Printing is still a great way to exhibit images, but nowadays you have many more options. When you’re just starting out as a photographer, getting feedback from other people is very important. It’s difficult to maintain confidence in your own work without feedback from the outside world. Showing your images to other people will not only give you the chance to feel like you’re succeeding with your images, it will also help you understand what people respond to. It’s often very surprising to find out which images people like and which they don’t and why. Other people’s preferences can be very different from your own tastes, and learning what resonates with other people is a great way to improve your own work. Photo sharing and social networking sites are great for this type of feedback, and many photo workflow tools have commands for automatically exporting to all of those services. However, those sites aren’t necessarily viewed solely by photographers so you won’t always get educated criticism of your images. Dedicated photo sharing sites such as Flickr allow you to post images to specialized groups where you can engage in more in depth the discussion about posted images. Even better than an online photo site is to find a photo club or group where you can have live group discussions and critiques. Such critiques can honestly be painful sometimes, but learning what works and what doesn’t and discovering how other people see is the best way to improve your photographs. Traditionally a photo wasn’t finished until it was on paper because this was the only way that someone could view your print. Personally I still think images look better on paper than in any other form, so I take the printing of images very seriously. Printing is a complex topic though, so we have an entire course about it, which I’ll point to you later. It has never been easier to disseminate images and certainly never been less expensive. It’s hard to improve in a vacuum, so start exploring photo sites now to see what other people are doing and to begin the process of getting your own images out into the world.

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