A little while ago, the folks at Sleeklens asked me to try out their landscape photography workflow for Lightroom. So after a few days of playing, reprocessing some old images and working on some new ones, these are my thoughts.
What is it?
The workflow is a collection of presets and brushes that can be stacked to make photo editing faster. Included in the bundle are installation instructions, access to a help forum, video tutorials and “recipe lists” which are before and after images and the presets and brushes used to edit them to the final result. These are good as examples of what can be achieved, but rarely relevant unless you’re looking at editing a very similar image. Essentially, its the presets and brushes that you’re paying for.
The download comes in a zip file, which you need to extract and save onto your PC or Mac. Installing Lightroom presets is pretty simple, just navigate within Lightroom to the folder where they are saved and import. Installing brushes is a little more complicated, but the instructions given are clear and easy to follow. The whole process took me about 10 minutes.
Using the workflow
Using the presets is quite intuitive. There are some “all in one” presets that aim to give an overall mood to the image, or for more control, there are several categories of global adjustments such as base adjustments, exposure, colour corrections, tone/tint, polish and vignettes. To me, presets are always a good starting point but it is easy to fall into the trap of letting them prescribe how your finished image should look rather then following your own vision. So I tended to adjust these to suit anyway, meaning that the total processing time wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped initially. Most of the changes applied are quite dramatic and were a bit over the top for my taste. I found myself making some toned down versions of the same adjustments, but once I did that, working with them became quite fast. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste and others might find that the original ones suit them just fine.
The brushes, I like. As with presets, these are also grouped into effect types, but I found them much more useful. Although I found myself wanting to tone these down sometimes as well, I found I was able to add a lot of depth to images quickly using these.
I couldn’t see myself using a workflow like this for every image. Its just not the way I like to work. But for editing several similar images together its a great tool. Its also adjustable to suit your own vision. If you’re willing to put in the time to learn how each adjustment alters your image, you will be able to cut down editing time as well as find a consistent style.
More detailed technical info can be found on the Sleeklens website, as well as introductory videos. The workflow is also available for Photoshop if that is your preferred editing tool. The one I trialled is the Into the Woods workflow for landscape photography, but they also produce separate workflows for portrait, food and architecture amongst others.
Below are some images processed using only this workflow. Each took around 2 or 3 minutes from start to finish
I don’t consider myself a Lightroom expert by any means, but occasionally I do get mistaken for someone who knows what they are doing and asked about my workflow. Many of these queries relate to how to save time in post processing.
Its true, refining and perfecting images in post processing does take up a big chunk of our time when most of us would much prefer to be out shooting more images.
I’ve posted previously on the workflow I use, so I won’t repeat that here, but here are a few shortcuts I’ve learned that help me get things done just a little faster.
Rather than edit every single image from a shoot, it is much more time effective to first select your best images and work on those. Likely you will have lots of similar images from trying different exposures, compositions etc so you are never likely to use all of them.
To choose the ones you want to work on, use a rating system. In Grid mode, you have several options. You can use a star rating (press 1 key for one star to 5 key for five stars) or you can select by “picking” (p) or rejecting (x). I find this method much simpler and faster as it is simply Yes or No. There is no need to grade an image. Other options are to colour code images. Do whatever works for you, but the general idea is to narrow down the number of images to work on.
Use the number keys 1 to 9. By holding down the Shift key as you do this, Lightroom will automatically jump to the next image.
When you have created a certain tone or style for an image that you think you’d like to use again, save the developments as a Preset. This will allow you to apply the same settings to other images later with a single click.
To create a new Preset, click on the + as highlighted above, give your Preset a title and select the developments you want to include.
Export to Photoshop
I do about 90% of my post production in Lightroom, but occasionally need to export an image to Photoshop for more advanced work. Ctrl + E will allow you to export quickly to Photoshop, however if you need to make an adjustment to the RAW file later on, this will not be picked up in your Photoshop PSD or TIFF.
I like to export as a Smart Object, which allows me to reselect the RAW file from within Photoshop and make adjustments, which will then be included in the Photoshop file (this is done in Camera Raw rather than Lightroom, but the technology is the same). Essentially the RAW file is “live” for longer. This means that if I need to make a change I don’t need to create a new Photoshop file.
Hoi An, Vietnam. One of the final images from the shoot
Most photographers, me included, tend to hunt for good images. We walk about looking for people or things that spark our interest to photograph. Often I think to myself “I’m only here a short time, so I need to make the most of it and make as many photos as I can”. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it does lend a certain urgency to photos that can be appropriate at times, but doesn’t necessarily mean better photos. It’s the age old quality versus quality debate. More images don’t always equal a better strike rate.
Something I have been trying to put into practice more often is find an interesting background and stand still for a while, waiting for the right subject to enter the frame. It is a way of pre visualising an image and then working to create what you see in your mind.
In the ancient town of Hoi An recently, I found a wonderfully decaying yellow wall, and decided to try this technique. It was early morning and the morning light warmed up the background nicely. There was also a bit of traffic passing on the road in front. People heading to work or to the market to buy food for the day.
The concept I had in mind was to capture the wall itself in focus and have a motion blurred figure either walking or riding through the scene to add some energy. So I set up my camera accordingly and waited for the subjects to come along, which they did. People walked past, sometimes wearing one of Vietnam’s iconic conical hats, or rode bicycles or scooters and I shot away. At the time I felt I was only there for a short time, but looking at the data on the image files later, I realised it was about 45 minutes.
Some more images from the shoot. Some more successful than others
When I thought I’d shot enough I moved on to another location, happy that within all of the images that I’d made there would be at least one and probably more, that came close to what I’d imagined.
In the last post, we discussed some techniques to try when approaching strangers to ask for their photograph. However, once you have their permission, don’t forget to actually make the photo. Here are some practical tips to get the most out of these opportunities.
Once someone has agreed to let you make their portrait, don’t make them wait around while you fiddle with your camera settings. They are most likely on their way to do something and may not have a lot of time, so in the interests of helping someone who is helping you, have your camera set up and ready to go. Do some test shots around the area and get a feel for the light, what kind of depth of field and shutter speeds you might need and have the right lens attached. That way you can start right away and not risk annoying the person which would come across in the image.
Similarly, have some idea of what your background should be. Look around your area and have a few options in mind. You will need to take into account accessibility, the direction of the light and the connection to your subject. A background can give context to a portrait, making it all the more powerful.
Busker surrounded by her audience
Pose your subject
Don’t be afraid to ask your subject to adopt a certain pose, hold an object that helps tell their story. If they are undertaking a daily task that is unique to their culture or region, you might ask them to continue with the task while you photograph them. Not all portraits need to be looking directly into the camera. Sometimes you can tell a lot more of a person’s story with an image of them consumed by their daily life.
This man makes birdcages in Hong Kong’s bird market.
Once you’ve started a conversation and gained permission to photograph, it is important not to detach yourself from the person and become a robot photographer. By continuing to interact you will help to put them at ease, making for more natural portraits, as well as allowing you the chance of being able to give something back to the person.
Each of these ideas is general and not prescriptive in any way. It is important to judge each situation seperately and use whichever techniques you think will help make great images.
Marrakech, Morocco. This orange juice seller in Djemma el-Fna was more than happy to pose for some photos after I bought several glasses of juice.
When we travel to a destination with the intention of photography, photographers mostly try to capture the destination in its entirity, rather than focus on one particular feature or aspect. Unless we are travelling to a particularly remote place, this will involve photographing local people.
Photographing people is scary. It doesn’t get any easier either the longer you have been doing it. But the satisfaction in creating a genuinely moving portrait of a person often far outweighs any fear or anxiety involved in approaching someone. It is almost always the images that are hardest to create that give us the most joy.
While the nerves are something we all have to overcome, there are some considerations to make your interactions go more smoothly.
Always ask permission where possible before photographing people. If you want to photograph children, always ask permission of their parents. Often you can do this with a simple smile while pointing to your camera if you don’t speak the same language. Don’t be offended if you are refused. This is not a personal affront as more likely the person is simply self conscous about having their photo taken period.
There are some situations where people are more likely to be obliging, such as if you are purchasing something from them, or if you have taken the time tostart a conversation before asking if you can photograph them. If you are photographing at a well known tourist destination, don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay to make your photos. There is an ongoing moral debate on whether it is ethical to do this, but if you do decide you are willing to pay, agree a price upfront and let the person know how many photos you are planning on. Often they will expect you to make just one and then walk away. If you feel that paying for images is not right, don’t under any circumstances then try to sneak a photo. That definately is immoral.
Harajuku girls, Tokyo. Followers of Harajuku fashion culture dress in elabourate costumes and are happy to have their portraits made
It is also useful to be ready to make the image before approaching people. Have your camera set up as you want it with the appropirate lens, depth of field and some idea of where you would like the person to stand. You may want to take a few test shots to make sure you have this right. It is much more difficult to keep the subject’s interest if you make them wait around while you stop and get ready.
Next post, we will look at practical and technical considerations for travel portrait photography.
This image of the 12 Apostles was the result of a lot of planning, research and multiple visits over the space of a few years before I captured an image I was finally happy with.
Occasionally great images are made by luck, simply being in the right place at the right time. Mostly though, they are made by extensive planning and research and repeat attempts. Basically, they are made by hard work. Below is a sample of the work that can go into creating just one image.
It all starts with an idea. A location or subject to photograph. Once this is decided, research guide books, maps, other image, blogs and forums and anything else you can find to decide the best viewpoints for a photograph.
Your research might also include on-site research. Often it pays to make a scouting trip to the location and explore potential angles and viewpoints that might not show up in an online search. This extra effort can result in a more original image. You may choose to make an entirely seperate trip for scouting, or arrive a little before the required time on the day of the shoot.
A Google Image search of the location reveals potential angles and viewpoints.
In addition to the best spot to make the image, you need to consider time of day, sunrise and sunset times, time of the year for the look and feel of the image that you want and position of the sun in relation to the subject. There are tools to help, such as the Photographers Ephemeris which will calculate sunrise and sunset times and the direction of the sun at a particular time of day.
Tools such as the Photographers Ephemeris are useful for determaining the angles and time of sunrise and sunset. The above diagram shows the difference of the sun axis over 6 months.
Once at your location, be prepared to wait for the light. You’ve travelled potentially a long way, so make the most of it and try as many different techniques as you can. You might have a vision for a particular shot, but also experiement. Try varying your apeture, using various filters, long exposures, flash and other lighting techniques. You might just come away with something unexpected and different from your original vision but just as pleasing.
Often, despite meticulous planning and research and checking of the weather forecast before leaving, you travel hours to your chosen destination only to be greeted with bland light, the wrong weather conditions or other factors that can ruin the image that you envisioned. What to do? Try again. And again. And again until you come home with the image you planned. This could take weeks, months or even years, but will be worth the effort in the end.
So far in this series, we have looked at importing images, organising and developing them into the final product. Now comes possibly the most exciting part: sharing them.
This means transferring your images from Lightroom (or your preferred editing software) to another medium. How you do this depends on what the medium is. You may have a select few images you want to add to your portfolio or share on your blog or social media, do a bulk upload to a stock agency or create prints.
It is important to consider where and how your images will be seen before you export them. This will determine a number of factors such as file type, size and any output sharpening to be applied.
Generally, I have the following priorities when exporting images:
1. Update website portfolio
2. Submit to stock agencies
3. Share by social media
For convenience, I use a gallery plug in that allows me to build and configure a portfolio completely within Lightroom and then upload directly to my website. This makes adding and rearranging quick and easy. There are many plug ins available and also a few configurable galleries that come with as well depending on how fancy you want to get, but I recommend considering a similar setup if you want to easily be able to edit an online portfolio. There are other options however. Many blog software also include portfolio management tools for example.
When preparing for an upload to a stock photography agency, or social media, the Export function (found in the Library module) allows you to configure images as you need. Here you can choose file type, size any output sharpening needed, specify meta data to be included, add a watermark and select the destination i.e. specific folder on hard drive, burn to CD, e-mail.
Since I am preparing files for the same outputs after each batch, I rely on presets to make this process faster. I have a preset for each stock photo agency I work with that is specific to their individual file requirements, one for social media and another to create desktop wallpapers that I occasionally share with readers of this blog. This makes the process as simple as selecting which images I want to export, choosing the preset needed and clicking “go”.
As I’ve mentioned, this series isn’t intended to be an in depth “How to use Lightroom (or image software of your choice)” tutorial, more of an overview of my own workflow describing some of the steps I follow to reduce time spent in front of the computer and allow me to get out and shoot more. The truth is there are many others that can teach post production much better than me, and here is a short list of books and web resources that you may find useful:
This isn’t a tutorial on how to use the Develop module in Lightroom. More of an overview of the basic steps to follow to process as many images as quickly as possible.
My basic theory when editing a batch of similar images is to develop the group as far as possible, then tweak each individual image as needed. This means global adjustments first. Things like exposure, saturation, tone curve, lens corrections and possibly also some local adjustments such as graduated filters and dust spotting depending on the image, can all be done in bulk. To do this, you might want to create a Preset, or use the Copy and Paste settings function.
Once this is done, I usually run through each image and make any slight adjustments needed to exposure and tone curve etc. I can also identify any specific areas that I want to dodge or burn and do this with the Adjustment Brush (K). I might choose to also push or pull specific colour saturation to help draw the eye to the main subject of the image.
Following this, the last step is to check sharpness and adjust this if needed. I’ve checked for sharpness on import and removed any fuzzy images before they even make it onto my hard drive, so I know that all images are generally sharp, however they might still need some fine tuning.
That is the basic process for developing images. Here is a recap:
Global adjustments first. Exposure, saturation and tone curve that will apply to the entire batch.
Local adjustments. Adjustment brush and any specific adjustments needed to bring forward the most important elements.
Final check. Sharpness, and make sure all dust spots and imperfections have been removed.
Here are also a few tips for making this process more speedy:
Learn to use hotkeys to jump to various tools
Use a tablet and pen such as a Wacom. They are a bit awkward at first, but once you get used to them are much faster and give you much greater control over fiddly adjustments.
Create Presets that can be applied to images in bulk.
Use full screen mode. If you’re anything like me you’ll be easily distracted and try to do eleven things at once. Eliminate distractions and put all your concentration into the images you are developing.
Take pride. Despite trying to make this process faster, it is first and foremost part of the creative process and should be undertaken with care for the end result.
In the final part of the workflow, we will look at exporting images.
No misleading title this time. Following the last post on importing images, we continue with step 2 of my own post production workflow.
2. Choosing images to work first
Once all images are imported and backed up, it is a matter of prioritising which to work on first and which can wait until later.
How this is done depends on the nature of the shoot. If the shoot is for a client, the priority is to deliver the required images as quickly as possible. However if the shoot was self generated, the outputs generally are:
to add to my portfolio
to submit to photo agencies
So I need to first find the strongest images to include in my portfolio.
To do this, I use Lightroom’s Grid View ((G) in Develop mode) to view thumbnails. I have removed all the out of focus, overexposed or unusable images so at this stage I know every image is good from a technical perspective, so what I am looking at is composition. Which images immediately jump out at me. This is possibly the most difficult part of the while workflow because to do it effectively, I need to remove all of the emotion involved in the experience of creating these images and look at them as if they were someone else’s. Does it have strong lines? Does the person’s expression hold my interest?
This selection process needs to be black and white. Either its a winner or its not. If it is, it gets flagged as a Pick (P). If not, its left until the next batch. I don’t bother with star ratings. They have their place and you can always return and rate images in a more detailed way, but the aim here is to reduce the amount of images to be processed to a workable size.
Once I have run through the entire batch in this way, I can create a quick collection of all my “Picks” and begin to develop them into the final images. These images will be the ones considered for my portfolio and will be the ones worked on first.
Disclaimer: you can’t. It takes time and should take time to bring your images from camera to ready to share with the world. Its a lot of work and can be intimidating as well as exciting coming home from a photo shoot with hundreds or even thousands of new images. You have all this great new stuff, but you also need to catalogue and process each one before you can share them, and if you shoot more than just occasionally, its a never ending procession. But there are some things you can do to prioritise and make sure you can get back out and keep shooting as well as keep your post production workflow moving. This is my own process for importing and working on images. Its what works for me, but it might not work for everyone. Please feel free to copy, rearrange it or take from it what you need. I’ll cover the whole workflow from importing to getting images to the public, and break this down into several posts.
1. Remove the Junk and Import
First job is to load the images into software. I use Lightroom, but this process can be followed with any image handling software. I always do a quick filter when importing and leave out the obvious duds. If an image is never going to make it beyond your hard drive, there is no point in having it take up space. Now its time to import.
There is some basic data that can be applied on import that will help to reduce work later on. On import I always:
Copy as DNG
Add keywords, meta and copyright data (presets are great for this)
Make a second copy to a backup drive
There are two things I don’t do at this stage; rename files or delete from memory cards. I don’t rename because after the next step, I’d just need to do this again. I don’t delete just in case there is an error in the import.
Once the files are on my hard drive, I do a quick comparison between similar images and remove duplicates. I like to make several photos of a subject wherever possible at various exposures and to make sure of focus, so I often find myself with a group of near identical images, but its really only necessary to keep one, so I select the one I’m happiest with and discard the rest. Following this process, the amount of images is reduced significantly. Often by more than half. The Survey Tool (N while in development mode) is great for this.
Now its time to rename the files to fit with my own cataloguing system and finally run a backup to make sure there are at least 3 copies of all images kept in different locations.