Art P. Suwansang
September 01, 2010 — Let’s take a look back at digital photography five years ago. Things were much different then. The transition from analog to digital had just recently gone mainstream. New DSLRs were achieving much better image quality across the board than their predecessors. This transition slowly downplayed the megapixel race, where increasing or doubling the pixel count didn’t necessarily yield a better image. It started a new push for better sensor quality that allowed images to be taken at a much higher ISO range.
In addition, we also saw better color and tonal response, higher dynamic range, and more competitive options between manufacturers. This digital trend also muffled the old maxim “the camera doesn’t matter, it’s the photographer.” When the sensor inside your DSLR is the equivalent of the film that you use, the camera now matters more than ever.
What about the software side? Besides the mainstream Adobe Camera Raw and a few other converters, such as Capture One and Bibble Pro, we didn’t have
What is now known as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom didn’t exist then; Apple Aperture had just come out, and we photographers were more confused than ever. When working with film, generally our lab handled all the file processing, printing and adjustments. The negatives were dropped off with specific instructions of how to process, adjust, and print, and a week later, we had our final product.
With the onset of digital we spent hours in front of the computer in exchange for greater control over the look and feel of our images. This was not a bad tradeoff; however, there were really no efficient workflow solutions, no definitive guidelines, and only a handful of suggestions. Workflow guidelines really just became mainstream in the past few years.
Back then, there weren’t any all-encompassing software programs that could manage and process digital assets. I remember processing files from my first digital wedding in 2005 using Adobe Bridge and Photoshop CS2, along with the Adobe Camera Raw 4 plug-in. I kept thinking to myself, there has to be a better, more efficient and faster workflow. In 2006, I found the answer to my question in Apple Aperture; lucky for me, I was in the process of transitioning to an Intel Mac, so I got the benefit of becoming an early adopter of this new program.
A New Workflow
We have the tendency to think that the difference between analog and digital capture is the medium that we use—yet both are photography. Digital greatly changes the strategy of our photographic practice. A workflow was needed, the question was how, and which program to use? Aperture’s approach to workflow was very new in 2006, and it met its fair share of criticism and resistance because of this.
There were limitations to what Aperture could and couldn’t do, but all in all the designers of the program laid down guidelines that shaped the digital workflow and file management programs of today. This is giving credit to Apple for releasing the first in this type of software for professionals. It wasn’t until about a year later when Adobe released Photoshop Lightroom version 1.0, after a public beta program with at least five separate public beta releases.
The digital workflow was just taking shape then; a few industry influencers introduced the trends, practice, concepts and approaches at the time. Many early adopters of digital ended up translating the analog workflow to digital. This posed a few problems of its own; the primary concern then, and more so now, is the excessive redundancy aspect of file management.
File duplication, a practice taken from the analog method for organizing files as the workflow progresses, is counter productive at every stage of the process. It takes up too much space.
It worked to an extent, however, as there are now greater capabilities with digital asset management in terms of file organization that is just impossible to replicate in the analog world. One example of this concept is a virtual organization method known as collections or albums, where one single image file can reside in multiple virtual folders.
Workflow Creation and Adoption
Currently, there are so many resources on workflow, as well as numerous tutorials and books available on the various software programs that we can choose from to do our editing. The old limitations of digital are rapidly being lifted, and we are at the point where we can produce creatively, nearly without boundaries.
In my quest to learn and understand digital, I wanted to find a suitable, fast and efficient workflow. I ended up in the midst of the workflow-creation process, more from the perspective of a user coming up with solutions, rather than an influencer leading the workflow creation. In doing so, however, I’ve gained so much insight and perspective from a user’s standpoint, and I get to see what works and what doesn’t. I am now sharing these tips in my new Web site “Rule of 3Rds” (www.ro3rds.com).
I’ve broken down my workflow into seven processes. These categories allow individual process modifications, where you don’t have to change the entire workflow. Each process is like a living organism; it will change over time and evolve as you learn new, better and faster methods. With that being said, you should document any changes made to the workflow and be extremely cautious when implementing drastic changes.
A generic description of the breakdown in my workflow includes a download process, where files on memory cards are copied to the computer—an import process— a selection process governing the criteria and methods for rating and picking images; and an adjustment process, in which only the images selected for the client are tweaked. Then there is the enhancement process, which is only for images that need additional refinement, localized adjustments or filter applications; the naming process is only for renaming, in sequence, the final selection of images; and finally, the output/export process that addresses the presentation of the final product, the export file type, parameter, quality, size, color space, etc.
Look back at your workflow. Can each part of your process be compartmentalized or easily modified? The advent of Aperture and Lightroom freed me from my older and less efficient analog/digital workflow, allowing me to adopt a pure digital one instead.
This is a good time to examine your productivity level and the way you use available technology in your operation. Taking advantage of the advancements in software that have made organization and quality of output better than ever translates into a more effective use of time and client satisfaction. In future articles, I will show you ways to tweak your workflow and upgrade your digital output.
Art Suwansang is an award-winning international wedding photographer, educator and lecturer based in Southern California. He lectures for multiple photographic organizations, consults for photographers and companies internationally, and offers digital photography tutorials through his new Web site, Rule of 3Rds (www.ro3Rds.com). Additionally, he is also an adjunct faculty at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara. For more information, visit Art’s Web site at www.Wedding64.com.