My Photography Workflow

I was talking with a friend about how so many sites focus on the stuff of photography and not as much on the process behind it, and it occurred to me that I’d never really written up how I go about processing my images from the memory card to final product. So, here it is.

Let’s start with the camera. Hard to have photographs without one.

If we want to go WAY back, my first personal camera I remember owning was a Vivtar 110 point and shoot.vivitar purple

That was in the late 80’s, and it was sold only through Avon (of which my mom was fond). I still have some negatives and a few pictures of elementary school friends taken with it. After that I didn’t have a camera to call my own for many years. I did borrow my mom’s 35mm automatic many times and have PILES of photos and negatives to show for it. Taking photos was something I loved.

Enough so that I worked the one hour at the drug store for the ability to develop my own photos whenever I wanted (and with an employee discount). No worrying about someone screwing it up or waiting on them to be shipped out.

Then in HS I took a darkroom class and shot B&W on a Pentax ME borrowed from my Papa. I now own this camera and still shoot with it sometimes.
Pentax ME

My first digital was a HP PhotoSmart 315, which was a decent camera at the time.
HP 315

From there I moved on to a Canon Powershot A75, which offered more control and optical zoom. That helped me confirm photography was really what I wanted to do, and I needed to invest in my gear to improve my skills. After research, I purchased a Canon 30D and an assortment of lenses. The 30D served me for 7 years before I felt that the equipment was hindering what I wanted to do.

Canon 30D

So this past year I upgraded again to a Canon 7D. I have about 4 lenses I use regularly.

Canon 7D

I also have my cell phone at all times, and I’m a huge advocate of “just get the shot”. The “best camera is the one that you have with you”. If that’s a cell phone, then learn how to use your cell phone as best as possible. I have a few inexpensive/free apps on it as well so I can adjust exposure in the camera, and edit straight on the phone. My phone images are backed up and imported with my main set because they are just as worthy.

I’m not going to dwell on the gear but for those curious I typically shoot with my 7D and a few lenses. Sometimes I’ll take my flash with a diffuser. If I have an advanced need for it I’ll have a tripod, but I’m actually very comfortable hand-holding more than not. There are a thousand sites that can go over what lens is good for what type of shot and how each manufacturer compares to another and the best value lens etc etc. As a Canon person (and again, pick what works for you) my favorite reference site is POTN.

Once I get home I copy my card to my computer. I use Photo Mechanic 5 to go through the images and quickly cull out anything not worth keeping. What to keep and what to toss is a personal process – some want several options for multiple uses and others want just a few final pieces. For my workflow I have 2 quick tags set up – I quickly go through the images in full screen and tap 1 to color it purple or 8 to color it red. Purple is a keep, red is a toss. I then filter to view just the trash images and delete them. The software also allows for other color coding, and star ratings as well, if you prefer to rank your photos.

Now that I have a selection of images worth editing, I move on to file names. You can do an export with Photo Mechanic that will do a rename, but I’ve got a bulk renamer program I’ve got set up with my naming convention that I prefer to use. It’s not fancy, but it does what I need and is actually pretty powerful if you need to replace partial filenames or do sequence naming.

Once they are named how I prefer, they are dropped into my current image folder for Lightroom use. I have a folder for each year, and all images are dropped into the year they are shot. I also have a pre-digital year folder that absolutely everything else goes into, because having a year folder for 5 pictures seems silly.

I open Lightroom and have it synchronize the folder and import the images into the catalog. Once they are imported and the previews for them are built, I go through and tag all the images. If I don’t do it NOW it will get overlooked and I’ll lose memory of what I wanted to tag it with. Tags are super important for organizing and accessing images down the road. Set up your tag methods early!

After they are tagged, they then go into a “Collection”. I’ve seen this compared to a Playlist in iTunes/Spotify. You can have the same song in as many playlists as you want for different sorting reasons. Same here – one image can be set to appear in any collection I want as an easier way of quickly showing a set of images. Collections are typically something defining the day’s event: “Grand Prix 2014” or “Photowalk Detroit”. You can create “Smart Collections” too that will auto add any image meeting a set of rules, like date taken or keyword tag.

Believe it or not, all of the above took me longer to write out than it is to do.

Finally I get to the editing. Sometimes it’s minor – color correction and a little sharpness and clarity (since I shoot RAW). Sometimes I feel like going more to an artistic end.

Now that I have my pictures sorted, culled, named, imported and edited – I upload them to my SmugMug account.

I like SmugMug because it gives me an easy way to both sell and simply share images. I can create a private gallery for family or clients; I can create a public one for general use or for the blog.

Now a lot of the items above can be pricey. Some are single purchase and some are ongoing subscriptions. By no means are all of these needed to start. I would strongly suggest Lightroom however, as the first thing to get.

Photo Mechanic came about because I was shooting more events that needed faster turnaround and I had to be able to get through and edit my images on a deadline.

SmugMug was out of a need for an online method of both selling and sharing images that I didn’t have to directly manage and maintain, and kept all of the organization and assets that Lightroom provided.

For me each of the items is absolutely worth the investment – just like I am worth the investment.

I hope that this glimpse into my process is helpful – and reach out if you’d like to talk more on how I work. If this proves popular – I’ll do a writeup on what I enjoy photographing and what catches my eye versus doesn’t.

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