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Workflow Stopped Up

July 31, 2012
Eastern Ringtail

© – Eastern Ringtail Dragonfly

In a paper that I wrote while I was in grad school, I quoted an anonymous American who said, “Don’t tell me about the labor… Show me the baby.”  People who want to look at images really could care less about where you went, what you did, how many miles you walked, or how many images you made.  What they care about is looking at pretty images.

And thus I had reached a problem with my workflow–I wasn’t actually showing off many pretty images.  In spite of my moaning and groaning that I never seemed to shoot as much as I wanted to,  I was making a ton of images.  But while I was putting a lot of memories into 1’s and 0’s on the memory cards, I was never making it through my ton of images.  Sure, I was identifying what they were.  Every single frame.  But that was taking a ginormous amount of my “out of the field” photography time.  But I still wanted to get out into the field and make more images–best therapy going I say.  So thousands of images were lined up, ready to be looked at but never were.

So I finally said to myself, “Self, you have to fix this because you’re going to die some day and there will be tens of thousands of awesome shots that will sit on this computer that nobody will see.  Or care about.”  Okay, maybe my ego got in the way a little bit.  I probably have 30-40 images in all of the shots that I’ve made that I’m willing to call “awesome,” but sometime hyperbole gets my act moving forward.

Thus came some changes to my workflow.

I kept geotagging the images.  GPS4CAM does a great job of that.  It adds some time at the front end (10-15 minutes depending on the length of my shoot).  But afterwards I have permanently saved into my .CR2 file a record of exactly where in the world I was when I pushed the shutter release.

Gone was trying to label every stinking image down to the nth degree.  Instead, I start with the basics.  Either when I import my images (if it is someplace I’ve been before) or immediately after Lightroom brings the images into its folders (when it is a new shooting location), I add the location data.  That way every shot has the basic area where the image was shot that is more understandable than a set of GPS coordinates.  Why the difference between known and unknown?  That is because of the way my keywording is setup in Lightroom.  If I’ve been there before, all I have to do is enter the specific location in during import (i.e. Pedernales Falls SP) and Lightroom will add additional info (i.e. Blanco County, Texas, State Park).  If I haven’t been there before, I could put in the name of where I was and that would stick, but I wouldn’t have the county or state info put in at the same time.  It is just easier to do it after rather than before if I haven’t been there in the past.

Usually after the initial previews are created, I rename the whole batch of files in my custom labeling scheme.  That consists of YYDDD_### where YY is the year, DDD is the julian date, and ### is the frame number shot for the day.  That still works for me and I’ve kept it.  That action takes about 15 seconds.

Then I go through the images and decide whether or not a particular image is something I want to work on.  If it is, I flag it as Keeper and I move through the images. I will also keyword the image at the point.  I’m going to need to a some point–Why not now?  If there was a whole string of images with that subject, I will make the effort to tag them all–it is only a few more seconds of time.  And who knows, later I may figure out that the best shot in the series wasn’t the one I chose.

If it isn’t, I just keep moving.  If it is a species that is new to my life lists but I’m not going to use the image, I will take the time to label it.  That way I can go back and find it, even if I’m not going to print it in the near future.

When I reach the end, I take a quick peek at what I thought was great and grab an image or two for a blog entry.  I may even take one that seems to do well in an 8×5 format and make it into wallpaper for my desktop.  And then I put it away.  I am not even half way through the year in terms of shoots marked for future editing and I want to clear all of those off my plate sooner rather than later.  And besides, the images always seem to look better after they’ve had a chance to breathe.

When I get time to edit an image or two, then I go to the next shoot on my list for harvesting and start hitting the images one by one.  To date I’ve managed to run the tractor through 3 photo shooting days.  But from these 3 (and some stray shots here and there I’ve worked), I now have 30 or so keeper images that are ready to be printed and/or moved into the portfolio for use at another time.

And for now, this process seems to be working.  I still don’t have enough time right now when the shooting opportunities are plentiful to glean all that I can from the images I’ve shot.  I will expect that I will get further behind before the weather turns and I end up spending more weekends inside rather than outside with a camera in my hand.  But now I can much better show folks the babies rather than talking about how hot the trails were and how many images I shot.  After all, photography is about sharing the images you make, right?

About the Image:
This image of an Eastern Ringtail (Erpetogomphus designatus) was one of many shots I made at Cook’s Slough Bird Observatory in Austin, Texas.  This is from the series of images that I am “harvesting” right now.  I used the standard gear without the flash but on the tripod.  The technical details are ISO 400, 1/160 at f/20.  The key there is f/20.  That allowed the wings to pretty much stay in focus.  I was lucky, though, that the background was back a good ways, giving me a somewhat pleasing bokeh inspite of the very closed aperture.  This is cropped a little tighter than what I will print, but the full size image is 3800 x 3050 pixels.  And it is razor sharp at full-size.  That one may be an “awesome shot” by the time it is said and done.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2012 9:11 pm

    Jim, you have made your work farrrrr too complicated. You need to do some simplification so you can relax and do what’s fun. Shoot more. 🙂

    • July 31, 2012 9:28 pm

      I hear what you’re saying, Bob. But if I don’t have a method to get through the images and capture the things I want to capture then I miss things (and good images). For now this new approach is working for me. I’m down to about a 4 step process, I can usually process a decent shoot in an hour or so, and I can relax a little more in the field because I know I will eventually get to these images.

  2. August 1, 2012 6:22 am

    I, too, have many images on the runway awaiting editing. I feel your pain!

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