Monday, 7 May 2012

Assignment 1: Workflow

I have chosen to photograph Brisbane by night for this first Digital Photographic Practice assignment. This is not a type of photography I have done before (apart from the odd travel snap), so I thought it would be a good challenge for me.

I have separated out the phases of the workflow below into Pre-shoot preparation, The shoot, Post-shoot, Post-processing and Final steps. I have then put some notes on each individual image I am submitting and finish with a concluding note at the end of this document.

Pre-shoot preparation planned steps:
1.     Establish subject matter
2.     Plan time of day/ rough location for shoot
3.     Choose appropriate camera equipment
4.     Check batteries are charged
5.     Check memory cards are formatted and ready to be used
6.     Check settings on camera are appropriate
7.     Prepare other equipment

Pre-shoot preparation comments:
1.     My plan for this assignment was to photograph Brisbane by night. The city is separated into north and south sides, and there is a lovely river running through it with lots of bridges crossing it. I thought these would make a good subject, as would the various other interesting buildings in the area. I planned to ride my bike so I could easily access more than one location without too much walking in between. I wish to mostly concentrate on buildings/bridges but possibly include a few images with people in them. I plan to use a variety of focal lengths and shutter speeds (though obviously will be constrained by low-light levels and thus longer shutter speeds).
2.     I planned to shoot for the couple of hours after sunset, over two to three sessions, and I have consulted a map and planned out some possible locations:
   Southbank wheel
   Southbank beach
   Kurilpa pedestrian bridge
   Art Gallery complex
   Roma St pedestrian bridge over road
   Kangaroo point cliffs
   Roma St Parklands
   The mall
   Any interesting buildings that I find
3.     I only have my Canon 30D, so that is the camera I will be using. I will be shooting using available light and thus won't need a flash. However a tripod (with quick-release plate screwed tightly on camera), and cable release will be vital, as will a spare (fully charged) battery. By planning to shoot over several evenings, I have the flexibility of changing which lenses I take depending on what my plan is for the specific shoot. My 24-70mm f/2.8 lens is my main workhorse, so that is my starting point, and I can also bring along a prime (50mm f/1.4), wide-angle (17-35mm f/2.8) or tele-photo zoom (70-200mm f/2.8).
4.     Check batteries are both fully charged (and bring spare in bag).
5.     Check memory cards are formatted before starting out and bring spares in my bag (though I very rarely actually fill a whole 8gigabyte card, except for on holidays).
6.     Camera settings will depend on available light when I am actually out shooting, but I try to remember to reset before each shooting session.
7.     Other equipment in this case is my light meter, notepad (and pencil). I also need transport, so my bike, helmet, lights, lock and rack with bungy cord for attaching equipment to. A mobile phone to check sunset times is also handy, and a watch for measuring shutter speeds if using 'bulb' function. I had expected mild or warm weather and was a bit caught out the first session where I only had a raincoat for warmth (it was suddenly cool and windy), so I then remembered to bring a warm shirt for the next sessions in addition  to my coat.

I suspect this part of the workflow is quite similar to what other photographers do, though I know some would consider renting equipment for a specific shoot, and perhaps I would do so in some circumstances (certain exotic destinations, or involving animals and thus longer lenses may be useful). Later models of cameras may go through memory cards faster, or studio shoots where hundreds of images are shot over a short space of time would also require more data storage. Potentially in this situation a photographer would choose to shoot tethered to a computer for direct transfer of files also.

The shoot planned steps:
1.     Find location and  choose a viewpoint
2.     Set up tripod, camera, cable release
3.     Light meter to check exposure if necessary
4.     Set camera mode, ISO, focus mode, metering mode, white balance
5.     Set aperture/shutter as required
6.     Take a test shot, check on camera and adjust above as required
7.     Adjust exposure compensation if not using manual mode
8.     Try a range of shots at each location
9.     Move to next location

The shoot comments:
1.     Various locations were chosen, depending mostly on time of day, lighting and any pre-visualised ideas. A viewpoint suitable for the light levels was selected (i.e. including the sky if there is still light present (up to 15 minutes after sunset), or try to avoid too much sky after this time).
2.     Set up my equipment, remembering to use cable releases for most images.
3.     I didn’t use the light meter for most shots
4.     ISO was kept as low as practicably possible (usually 200), in order to produce the highest quality images (particularly important for night images which can be noisy), focus mode on ‘one shot’, and I used a mix of manual and autofocus on my lenses, white balance was generally left on daylight setting (I use RAW+ JPEG capture so can alter WB in post-processing if necessary).
5.     Aperture and shutter speeds were set manually, depending on the effect I wanted to have, and remembering that I was using partial metering setting.
6.     Test shot, sometimes a series, adjusting framing and exposure settings. I checked the histogram on some shots when I was unsure about highlight clipping (though note that the histogram displayed on the camera is based on the JPEG not the RAW file, so sometimes the JPEG is clipped by the RAW file won’t be). Exposure comes down to personal taste to some extent, but it’s important to be aware of clipping of highlights or shadows.
7.     Generally I used manual mode so this step was not required.
8.     Sometimes I tried a couple of different framing angles, or turned around to change my viewpoint, or moved a few metres, or adjusted the tripod slightly.
9.     Moving location involved packing all gear back up onto my bike and moving, which was certainly good for carrying lots of heavy equipment but putting the tripod down every time was a small hassle. I would use the bike again however, because it is a very efficient way of getting from place to place, which can be important when the available light is low and changing fast.

I went out for three sessions. I went after work each time, as I was then already in the city approximately 30 minutes before sunset, so I could get to a good location when the sun was setting to attempt to capture some photos in the short time period when the sky is still partially light. I captured some images when it was still light (i.e. before sunset) on all three sessions, but was unhappy with these images so have not included them in the set, instead concentrating on those images after the sun had set. The first session was very windy and I think this is evident in the photos – there is a slight blur on some of those with longer shutter speeds. I was unhappy generally with my third photo session during the shoot (I was quite tired and ready to go home), but surprisingly pleased with the actual images when I loaded them up and reviewed them later on the computer. These comprise most of the images I am submitting for this assignment.

I expect shooting is quite a personal exercise and each photographer approaches a shoot in their own way. It would be interesting to work with a professional for a day to see how they go about their shooting workflow. This part of the workflow depends heavily on experience, and as I learn more (constantly) about how my camera works, for example different metering modes, my shooting methodology changes. Now that I am using Lightroom I may switch to only shooting RAW and not worry about JPEG, but I’m not at that point yet. I don’t always use manual mode for shooting, as I find in quickly changing situations it’s easier to use Aperture priority and adjust the exposure compensation as required, though I appreciate that there is power in using full manual mode.

Post-shoot planned steps:
1.     Upload card contents to computer via Lightroom import feature.
1.     Rename file
2.     Add in IPTC data
3.     Add keywords
4.     Select destination folder
2.     Review images initially to determine clear rejects
3.     Add further IPTC data such as location and keywords to remaining images
4.     The select phases, including a review period
5.     Final choice of images for post-processing

Post-shoot comments:
1.     The Lightroom import is a quick and easy process. It starts automatically when a card is put in the card reader.
1.     I change the name to add in the date before the automatic file name
2.     A metadata preset applies basic IPTC data to each file
3.     Keywords are added at this stage (e.g. Brisbane, Night, DPP1) – more can be added later but it’s a good idea to add some at the import stage
4.     Destination folder (for both raw and jpeg files out of the camera) in this case is /Photos/DPP1/Part_1_Workflow/Assignment_1/
2.     The technical edit. Images are reviewed in full screen mode and the ‘x’ shortcut is used to highlight reject images. These are reviewed a second time (using the Flag filter feature) and deleted later.
3.     I add in specific location information and any keywords that may not have been applied at the initial import step. The auto-complete feature in Lightroom makes keywording much easier than in Digikam where I had to click on each keyword to apply it.
4.     Image rating takes place in (a minimum of) two steps – an initial review, and then further reviews (after a break) to refine the selection, progressively increasing the use of higher stars, and focusing in to determine the ‘best’ images. In the case of this assignment, I need to submit 6 to 12 images, so was aiming to have at least a dozen images at 3 star level to consider my final selection from.
5.     Of these 3 star images I then whittled my selection down to 7 chosen images for submission, giving them each 4 stars.

I imagine the Post-shoot workflow described above is fairly standard, with only minor variation between photographers, perhaps use of different star levels, or colours, or order of steps. Some photographers probably spend more time keywording, for example, if they sell to stock image sites etc.

Post-processing planned steps (selected images only):
1.     Change size and resolution, save as new file in tiff format
2.     Apply white balance correction
3.     Apply curves and levels adjustments
4.     Localised editing
5.     Creative editing
6.     Crop
7.     Save as a tiff file and as a jpeg (sharpened for screen/print as necessary)

Post-processing comments:
1.     Open images in Photoshop (right-click menu in Lightroom). Change size to 12 x 18 inches, and resolution to 300 ppi, and save in tiff format with extension _18x12_001.tif
2.     Using layers, apply white balance correction to images as necessary. I have not got a calibration setup for my monitor yet, though I do realize this is important (I have just purchased a new factory calibrated monitor, and my next purchase will be a calibration setup).
3.     Apply levels/curves as layers to whole image, when using levels use the 'alt' key to see impact. Adjust opacity to curves to decrease impact.
4.     Editing as required, for example spot healing, cloning on dust spots, noise from long exposure times etc. There was a bit of noise in the sky in some images, and also some strange colours probably from long exposure times and lights. Where this looked strange I removed it (only over very small areas). For cloning/spot healing I zoomed right in and then progressively out, as sometimes I felt like I could see the spots clearer at different zoom levels. I am now doing this on a layer of it’s own so that I can see the effect of removing spots etc.
5.     On a couple of images I felt they needed a bit more punch. I used a duplicate layer and changed the layer setting to ‘colour dodge’ at a low opacity setting.
6.     Cropping as necessary for each image (creative choice, such as using 1:1, or 5:4, or regular 8x10 for printing etc). I did adjust the perspective on a couple of images as I had buildings at slightly strange angles (due to wide-angle framing). I did this using the crop tool and keeping the ratio constant (18x12). In this case I have kept all images at 18x12 ratio.
7.     Tiff file to maintain layers so I can return to later, and matching jpeg file for printing etc. Back in Lightroom I can create a lower resolution jpeg for uploading to blog/flickr etc when I am happy with the final set of images.

I foresee that the above workflow will change as I learn more about what can be done in Lightroom. At this stage I’m only just learning about it so will use Photoshop for most of my post-processing, but I hope to move some of the more simple post work into Lightroom to improve efficiency. I have noted some websites that have Develop presets which look like they offer some automated creative starting points which I will experiment with at some point.

Using sophisticated software such as Lightroom and Photoshop for managing and editing images means that there is much room for variation between photographers. I have recently completed a basic Photoshop course, and the workflow above is somewhat based on what I learned there. I have also done some reading online and in books (e.g. Evening 2005, Evening 2010) which has assisted in my workflow development.

Final planned steps
1.     Backup of data
2.     Export for web/submission
3.     Printing

Final steps comments
1.     Backup of Lightroom catalogue on exit (once per day). Backup using automated program (Areca) at least weekly (use a calendar alert to remind me) onto external HD, one stored locally, one offsite, swapped every few weeks.
2.     Export for web using Lightroom, with JPEG quality at 80%, and with ‘sharpen for screen turned on. I also exported a set of JPEG at 100% quality to include with this assignment submission, and used the ‘sharpen for screen option.
3.     Export for printing with ‘sharpen for matte/glossy’ turned on. Take to local printer (Officeworks or similar) for printing at various sizes (this is a step I don’t do very often but perhaps should consider doing more).

Backup of data is one issue worth considering in more detail. I currently back up to two hard drives and rotate them between work and home. I have considered online backup of some files, but the challenge would be choosing which ones, and how to go about it, considering relatively slow upload speeds and large file sizes. Another option is to use optical media for archival purposes of data. Again, file size is an issue, and there is a large investment in time spent burning DVDs and labelling and storing safely. I like the 3-2-1 backup strategy mentioned on the dpbestflow website (, Accessed 1 May 2012), that is a ‘minimum of three copies of each file, stored on two different media types, and one copy should be stored off site’. I have not yet considered the use of DNG for my image files.

My selected, processed images are detailed below.

Photo 1: Kurilpa Bridge

Photo 2: Grey St Bridge

Photo 3: Brisbane City Library

Photo 4: Brisbane Wheel

Photo 5: View of M3

Photo 6: Casino

Photo 7: Train tracks

Overall I have found the process of maturing my workflow to be enjoyable and rewarding. This assignment has allowed me to push my boundaries to tackle something I have not done much before, that is photography after dark. I feel like my set of images is satisfactory and that having a good work flow has helped me to produce better work than perhaps I would have otherwise.

I envisage that as I learn about the new tools I have recently employed (Lightroom specifically), my workflow will change somewhat, but I feel like this assignment and preceeding exercises have given me the ability to understand and improve my workflow by myself.

American Society of Media Photographers, (2012) dpbestflow [online] Avaliable from: [Accessed 1 May 2012]

Evening, M. (2005) Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Photographers. Oxford: Elsevier

Evening, M. (2010) The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book. Berkeley: Peachpit

No comments:

Post a Comment