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.
Most of us don’t have the luxury of being able to revisit locations should we arrive home and discover that the images we made while away were not what we’d hoped for. Perhaps because of a technical flaw such as being overexposed or out of focus, or perhaps because we regret not having shot an image in the first place when we had the chance. Not every image is going to be a winner, even for the best professionals, but there is lots you can do to maximise opportunities while away and avoid regret later on.
Make a List
Professional photographers would never venture out to a location without a shot list. So why should you? A shot list can be as detailed or as loose as you like. It may be as specific as a detailed list of images, such as “yellow taxis speeding through Times Square in New York” or a broad idea of the kinds of images you are looking for: “yellow taxis”. Travel photography relies a lot on reacting to spontaneous moments so I try not to be too specific as this can lead to trying to force images and being disappointed when they don’t work, so for me a loose list of locations to visit, times of day to be there and general notes on what I hope to find works best.
Take Your Time
You may be on holiday and have only a short time to fit in everything you want to see, but it is always worthwhile taking a little bit of time in each location to simply watch the scene and wait for unique images. Find yourself a background and wait for the right person to pass through. Shoot a few more frames after you think you have the image you wanted. You just never know what might come along, but patience is almost always rewarded.
I made many images of this scene in Shibuya, Tokyo, waiting for the passing traffic to be in just the right position. The girl on her bicycle gives a nice balance to the image.
Backup your images after each day’s shooting. Then backup your backups. There is nothing more disappointing than shooting cards and cards of images that you love and losing them to malfunctioning gear. There are many options for backing up on the run, such as portable hard drives from companies such as Digital Foci, laptops or tablets or even cloud storage if you are in a place you can access the internet. Once you have backed up, be sure to store different copies of your files in separate locations. In case one copy is stolen, you will still have the others. You may choose to leave one copy in your hotel safe and keep the other one on you at all times.
Digital Foci’s Picture Porter. One of many options for backing up on the road.
Asking a stranger, or even someone you already know, to make their portrait is always nerve wrenching. It doesn’t get easier either. But logically, it shouldn’t be difficult at all. The worst thing that could happen is that they say “no”, which is really no big deal. Many feel that they are inconveniencing a person by asking, but the truth is that most people enjoy it. It makes them feel interesting and important. So instead of regretting not having made a portrait of an interesting character, try being brave, walking up to them with a smile and asking politely. As long as you treat people with care and respect, more will be happy to oblige than not.
This orange juice vendor from Marrakech was proud to have his portrait made.
Get Out of Bed
We have all heard of the “golden hours” around sunrise and sunset when the light is best, and we hear about them for a reason. The right light can make all the difference between an ok photo and one that makes memories come flooding back when you look through your images years later. It also maximises what you can fit into each day. After all, some locations you may never return to, so you may as well make the most of it.
Many of the best images are made while others are sitting down to breakfast or dinner
PhotoPhilanthropy is a leading non-profit who’s mission is to bring photographers together to drive action through social change
Photography can be a selfish pastime. We often spend long hours searching for images for our own experiences and hard drives with little regard for those who donate their time to make that image possible. Even the phrase to “take a photo” reflects the selfish nature of what we do.
Photography can also be much more important than this. An image can help those in need by making people take notice of a cause. A good image can make people take action and therefore help to advance the cause.
There are an increasing number of organisations being created to assist photographers in giving back either globally or to their local community through their images.
Photoshelter Blog recently published a list of non-profit groups assisting photographers to use their images for the good of others. If you’re a photographer wanting to make a difference, this list is definitely worth a look HERE.
In addition, there are many ways to put your skills to work for the greater good. You may contact a local charity and offer services for free, donate proceeds, curate en exhibition that highlights a cause or teach free photography classes.
Whatever the cause, there is always something to be done in creating social awareness and photography is possibly the most effective way to do this. It will make you feel better and even help to improve your photography as well.
I spent a frosty but enjoyable evening recently with the gang from Photography Night Walks here in Melbourne, and was reminded of the value of being involved in the photography community. Whether this is the world wide community via the internet, your local camera club, or an organisation such as Photography Night Walks. It was fun to bounce ideas of each other and share what we each saw in a particular location and why we focused on the particular subjects we did. Everyone had a different take and I definately got some good ideas on how to look at things a little bit differently. And hopefully gave some out too.
The best thing about the evening though, was everyone involved making pictures for the pure joy of it. No worrying about shooting something saleable, not too much concern over “correct” exposure. Just see picture, shoot picture. Some were completely new to photography and it was wonderful to see their joy in learning something new like how apeture affects the look and mood of an image, while others were experienced photographers who were happy to share their knowledge. No one was trying to out do everyone else or be the “alpha photographer”, no gear envy. Just a bunch of people endulging a common passion.
We spent a couple of hours exploring various locations around St Kilda that night and it was a welcome break from the stuff I usually shoot. I had no goal on what to shoot at each location since I didn’t know what the next location was until we got there. I ended up with some images that were much more abstract than what I would usually make and I think that was the influence of the people around me.
The images here are a few from that night. Some turned out pretty good, others not so much. But in the end, it wasn’t really about the end results.
Sometimes we all get stuck. We get into a bit of a rut, we start to feel a bit stale and have trouble finding a subject to inspire us and get our creativity flowing again. Often the solution is looking at images by other photographers, however there are other sources of inspiration to kick start our creativity.
Books are a great source of inspiration. Not photography books, but novels, historical texts, biographies or any other genre can provide ideas to get you photographing again. I often find myself drawing ideas from descriptions of places or people in a novel. Often a writer will treat a city as a character in their work and so describe it’s smells, sights and atmosphere in such a way that it makes you want to try to recreate that.
Movies and TV shows can provide as much inspiration as still images, as the creators of these are trying to achieve the same thing as a still photographer: to instill a certain feeling or atmosphere into the scene to assist their story.
Often the best way to find inspiration is simply to go for a walk. Leave the camera at home and take a walk, or even a drive, to a nearby park, beach, or around your own town or neighbourhood and take note of the things that you would normally pass by. Are there any landmarks? Are your neighbours mostly families with young children or professional types. Are there cafe’s with character. What about the architecture? Are houses modern in style or old and full of charm? Amongst all of this, you’re bound to find something that interests you close to home. Once you do, come back with your camera and make it into a personal project. Hopefully this will lead you to bigger ideas.
It is usually only one little spark that is needed to put us back in a creative frame of mind and once you get that first idea, they just keep flowing. Mostly its just a matter of keeping an open mind to new sources of inspiration.
The good folk at PhotoShelter are offering up yet more great photo business advice. Apart from offering a image storage and website solution for photographers, these guys produce e-books by the dozen and run a great blog that often includes webinars featuring art directors, photographers and people in the photography and publishing industries that provide some useful insight on how photographers are hired and how to construct a portfolio amongst other things. And they do it all for free (except for the storage and website bit).
Their latest offer is the Photo Business Bootcamp. A 5 week course that you can receive by e-mail to help you in starting up or growing your photography business. The course covers finding inspiration, designing and using your website effectively, online marketing and selling your services and your photos. I’ve signed up and am looking forward to getting started.