Workflow (1) – Introduction

Foreword

OK, it looks like “workflow” is really a hot topic in photography with the “big guys” like Apple (Aperture) and Adobe (Lightroom) putting all their strength in there. And a couple of challengers like Lightzone

Obviously, if you add Linux into the mix, it gets spicier…

Now the purpose of this post is not to start talking about which program does what under which operating system, but it is to put together our thoughts on the concept of workflow. Before I install a program, I need to step back, think about what my needs are and then choose what software fits the bill best.

The idea of workflow

Workflow is all about the end to end management of my pictures, from the camera to their ultimate destination: printing, publishing and archiving. Now that means quite a few questions need to be answered, in (more or less) chronological order:

  • Do I shoot raw or jpeg?
  • Which images do I keep / trash?
  • How much time am I ready to spend in post-processing?
  • What is the ultimate destination of my photos – web publishing, printing (and which format)?
  • What may I want to do with these pictures in the future?

So the concept of workflow starts before shooting (you need to decide the file format you will use, raw or jpg) up the the future utilization you may want to do one day with your pictures. That means it requires clear ideas about the kind of photographer I am.

I remember talking to a teenager who was using her 6mp compact camera to shoot 640×480 pixels photos. “So I can put more pictures on my memory card and then watch them on my computer screen”. Now that’s an idea about workflow…

However, this is not mine :) And because this is a blog, I will mainly share my experience and hope you can find some inspiration – don’t hesitate to share your comments.

What type of photography is mine?

Since going digital, I am an avid shooter – I try to take each and every opportunity to shoot a few pictures and practice, even if conditions are not perfect. That means that I end up with:

  • a lot of files to process
  • a lot of files to throw away
  • needles (good / great pictures) in this haystack

I never erase a picture from the camera (I don’t think the rear screen is good enough to judge a picture), so I basically separate my pictures in 3 groups:

  • Throw away – missed, badly exposed, not interesting, bad composition. 80 to 90%. I would be more forgiving for holiday pictures which remind me of a great trip than an afternoon camera walk in my neighborhood.
  • Keepers – interesting shots to keep but not great pictures. Remind me of good times, interesting composition ideas, several variation of a good subject, great light but average subject.
  • Portfolio - the great ones, worth a careful post-processing, printing, matting, framing and hanging on a wall. Maybe 0,1% or less.

So what do I do with my pictures?

These are the processing steps I take with my pictures, the general requirements of my workflow:

  • I need a way to quickly go through and assess lots of files. I don’t want to spend any time on each and every file I get from my camera: I just want to be able to view them, get an idea of each file and separate the “throw away” from the “keepers”.
  • I don’t want to spend time post-processing all of the keepers either. These are pictures that deserve more than being thrown away, but all are not great.
  • However, in these keepers, there are a few great ones. At that stage, I need to review my keepers and try to assess the potential of each file – what about switching to black and white? what about cropping here? what about a bit more of saturation? I want to be able to do a quick and dirty post-processing to see whether my idea works – and if there is potential in the file.
  • Lastly, if I reckon there is indeed potential in the file, I want to be able to fully exploit this file, spending the time necessary to get a great image, which I can print (A4, maybe A3 in the future), frame and offer to a friend (my walls are full already…)

Once we got there, we have covered most of the ground about what a workflow is – mine, in that case. We can now turn to more precise questions like “Do I shoot raw or jpg?” or “Which software(s) do I use?”. We can get sensible answers to these questions because we have laid the right foundation ground.

Just before closing (well… temporarily)

There are a few of more points I would like to raise on closing:

  • In a sense, the question “What type of photography is mine?” would require a much deeper answer about art in general and photography in particular, being an artist and conveying a message – but this blog is about Linux photography, and I would not dare to consider myself an artist. So I leave that to others better qualified people – Michael Reichmann and Alan Briot (who wrote about the subject) come to mind.
  • As stated, this is my workflow, your mileage may vary, and vary a lot. In particular, I have almost no time constraint. I’ll process my pictures whenever I have time – being a hobbyist and doing mainly landscape. However, that can be a bit different if you are shooting portraits or reportage. Shooting a wedding, I had to make sure the couple would get their album within 1-2 weeks, not 3 months.
  • The main difficulty we have to deal with is to combine the need of a quick and effortless processing of hundreds of file while retaining all the post-processing power we can at hand for very few (portfolio) files somewhere in the bag – but without knowing which ones in advance, that would be too easy :-)

In the next steps of this workflow serie, we will look at each step of the workflow and the possibilities that Linux software offers for them. But as it is getting a tradition on closing posts, here is a relatively recent picture I took in Quebec which I consider a portfolio image (it’s hanging on my wall). Check it on my photographs website for a bigger version.

quebec_colza.jpg

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5 Responses to Workflow (1) – Introduction

  1. Yves says:

    Hey there Joël,

    I always used to keep every single shot I took somewhere on my hard-drive, thinking “Maybe I can do something with this later…” but I never did. Recently when I got Adobe Lightroom, I started sifting through these 7500+ photographs and ended up deleting roughly 7000 of them. One of the reasons why I never deleted them before is that I view photography as a more serious hobby now, as opposed to “just taking snapshots of everything” before.

    Having software that allows you to sort and sift through large amounts of photographs will make the process much easier. Now my catalog is clean and the large part of the work is done, I go through my workflow routine after every photoshoot, not to lag behind anymore.

    The most important thing is to develop a critical attitude towards your own photography and determine your own criteria for keeping or deleting a picture. This is a feeling I believe has to develop in you; I for one become more critical every time, but also sometimes keep a shot I normally never would, to keep things interesting.

    Maybe a tip for something you can address sometime in the future of the workflow series: “When and how do you back up your photos?” There are several possibilities: you backup all the photographs you import from the camera (so you technically import them twice, once to a safe backup location); or alternatively you backup those that you want to keep after selecting / sorting but before post processing; or do you back up the processed photographs only? Or both? Shooting everything myself in RAW+JPEG with a 10.1 megapixel dSLR is a steady 15MB per shot, often with exposure bracketing to 45MB. This way it starts to matter how and how much you backup.

    Keep up the interesting writing!

    Yves

  2. jcornuz says:

    Hi Yves,

    Thanks for your comment. I think you raise two interesting points:

    1) Scrapping photos away is not a loss, but a gain. I read an interview from a pro who said: “I have had to throw away 90% of my production several times and this has proved a great help”. When I checked some of my “old” film photography this week-end, I was amazed to see that even among the ones I considered “great” at the time, very few actually are by my actual standard. I hope this is a sign that my skills improve :)

    2) Backing up / archiving photos. What to archive, how and how to know where to find what? Well, that would probably need a blog in itself – I will get to write a couple of entries about that at some stage…

    Take care,

    Joel

  3. CeC says:

    Beautiful picture ;)

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