Photography Workflow is a sequence of steps from the preparation to the final stages of publishing in photograph production. As a hobbyist or a casual photographer you may never have felt the requirement to go about all this in an organized and methodical way. However a consistent procedure for capturing images, processing them and finally publishing is mandatory in the profession. As a casual photographer you must also ensure that all your priced moments are backed up, retouched to your requirements and archived for the future. Here are some of the basic steps every photographer must follow to ensure proper workflow.
Before you start shooting you should plan, arrange and get organised. Ensure you have all the required equipment and are ready to shoot. In addition to that, ensure that your camera is set correctly and that your camera settings are tuned to your requirements. Being thorough during the pre-capture stage will save you a lot of steps in the post-capture stages. Remember, the more that is corrected at the source, the less the pains later.
- RAW vs. JPEG: It’s time to decide whether you want to shoot in RAW or JPEG. JPEG images are (in most cases) ready to be shared with family and friends. RAW images on the other hand definitely need conversion to JPEG or other general image format before they can be shared. Additionally RAW images allow you a lot of flexibility in post-processing etc. For a detailed comparison see RAW vs JPEG: Which format to shoot in.
- Camera Settings: Once you’ve decided about the image format, choosing the camera settings becomes easy. In JPEG you must ensure correct white balance, contrast, sharpness, color settings. RAW allows you to change these in the RAW processing software during the post-processing. If your camera allows you a combination of RAW and JPEG do use this. It’s the best of both worlds and gives you the same image in two formats: Raw which you can keep for post-processing and JPEG which are ready to share with others. I personally shoot a combination of RAW + JPEG with most of the image settings at auto. I let the camera decide the best. The images I get are ready to share and just in case I find an image that needs changes, I open up the RAW to do the changes and save another JPEG.
- Image Metadata: If your camera allows this, you may want to set image comment and copyright info in the camera itself.
Once you are through with the shooting it’s time to move the images to your computer for further processing. Mostly this consists of classifying, tagging, sorting, arranging, deleting and so on. I like to keep all the images, even the crappy ones. I prefer to take out the memory card of the camera and plug it into one of the memory card slots on my computer. This method is faster than connecting the camera and then watching a slow copy process. Additionally it saves the camera battery. Once I’ve moved the images to my computer, I move all the RAW ones to a different folder. The JPEG versions are cataloged using Picasa — I find it easy to use and simple enough to make minor adjustments. For the more advanced adjustments I use Capture NX to open up the RAW NEF files from my Nikon D80.
Time to backup. I burn one untouched copy of the RAW images to a DVD. I find it an easier back-up solution that going for a more costly and advanced RAID-1 harddrive fail-safe array. Remember, backing-up your images is one of the most critical and intelligent things to do. I retain the RAW copy on my computer for several days till I’ve had time to view each image. Since the end-result of my photography is either print or a soft-copy I sort and classify the images accordingly. I retain the RAW format for the ones that I’d like to process for print. For others I just retain the JPEG version.
Depending on what output media your images are intended for, you may want to apply varying levels of touching, processing and other adjustments. I generally keep it minimalist. Most of the settings are only related to exposure/auto-level, white-balance and saturation (rarely). Sometimes I use bracketed shots to merge into an HDR or just to pick the correct exposure. I do this in Capture NX. For prints I apply some level of sharpness too. I almost always save my processed images as new versions or copies. This makes it easier to revert back to the older ones without having to reach out for the back-ups.
Once the images are ready to be published, you may want to run another round of backup to save hours of your effort finalizing the images. Depending on requirement you may want to publish your images online or print them out. I use Picasa to publish my images to web albums. I share these with my family and friends. For the more classy ones I use Flickr exclusively. If you are printing, the final steps involve the printing stages and the related customizations like color-profiles etc.
The workflow steps are different for everyone based on their likings and requirements. However they do make it easier to capture, process and produce the works of art and revert back to the original as required. For some a simple shoot-and-share suffices and for others it can be a minimalist addition of a backup routing. As a professional your workflow may be more sophisticated and involve batch processing etc. We have only mentioned some of the most basic and bare-essentials here. Feel free to share your workflow.