Tips + Techniques

Favorite Software and Workflow from the Pros

May 25, 2017

By Libby Peterson and Greg Scoblete

© Jawad Mir

Jawad Mir of Film-Style Weddings taps into DaVinci Resolve's color correcting, matching and denoising features to take footage from flat to cinematic.


Jen Huang, known for her fresh, clean and luminous images shot on film, has a light touch in the editing room and outsources anything more complicated than simple curve and exposure adjustments. Photo © Jen Huang

Jen Huang’s Time-Saving Edits

Post-production doesn’t always have to mean heavy retouching and painstaking adjustments. Jen Huang, a wedding photographer who shoots a clean, romantic look on film, identifies as a sparse editor.When it comes to reviewing, exporting, displaying and organizing her files, Lightroom is her bread and butter.The film shooter achieves her light-filled look by starting with managing her exposure in “ideal lighting environments” and making conscientious choices in

The film shooter achieves her light-filled look by starting with managing her exposure in “ideal lighting environments” and making conscientious choices in film (primarily Fuji 400H and Delta 3200 black and white) and cameras (a Contax 645 and Canon 1V with prime lenses). From there, it’s all about being smart with workflow.

Shooting What You Need

One of the best paths to a more manageable workflow, Huang says, is not opening up thousands of images in post to begin with. Huang tends to stick to 800 to 1,000 images per wedding and 80 to 100 for portrait sessions. “Discipline is important in making sure your work has focus and clarity,” she says. “Once you bring your work into Lightroom, you should already have a pretty good final set of images.”

Photo © Jen Huang

Keeping It Light

To maintain a consistent look in her work, Huang edits her scans all at once. A full wedding edit takes her an hour or two to complete. Other than removing blurry shots, duplicates or other photos deemed unnecessary for final delivery, Huang adjusts for exposure, color and curves; running her film through Richard Photo Lab means she can bypass Photoshop and other corrections. She never uses actions and outsources all requests for fashion retouching, like blemishes and airbrushing. This lets her focus more on how her work looks as a whole.

Photos © Jen Huang

Testing the Keys

Much of Lightroom is designed in a very easy-to-use way, Huang says, so you should feel free to “try out every feature in Lightroom without worrying about what happens: Click on all the buttons, try all the shortcuts, read through the entire drop-down menus.” She’s learned to save her favorite black-and-white toning and light preferences as presets. While she feels more comfortable editing with her mouse, Huang does recommend taking the time to check out keyboard shortcuts; someone who’s more than a gentle editor will wind up saving themselves time and effort. “Lightroom shows you the shortcuts in their menus, so you can start learning the ones you need immediately,” Huang says.

Wrapping It Up

Lightroom’s Quick Collection feature makes it easy for Huang to group her photos when it comes time to export web-quality resolution for blogs and high-res edit selects for clients and magazines. “I also love the ability to set up beautiful, branded online galleries that can be uploaded directly to my website. The Print feature can print straight to file or to a printer with the sizing, settings and borders all pre-set,” making the fine-art prints she produces for clients a cinch.
—Libby Peterson

Jawad Mir’s Film-Style Weddings

Before retouching. Photo © Jawad Mir

After retouching. Photo © Jawad Mir

Since 2003, Toronto, Canada’s Film-Style Weddings has been crafting compelling wedding films for a range of high-end clients. Founded by Jawad Mir, the company often shoots with three to five operators using Blackmagic cameras. Mir uses DaVinci Resolve for noise reduction, color matching and color grading, leveraging the program to give his movies a cinematic look.

Starting with the Camera

The key to maximizing color corrections and grading in Resolve is a good initial source file. “We shoot everything flat,” giving editors as much latitude as possible to make tweaks in Resolve, Mir says. While they don’t use a specific color profile on camera, the camera operators do harmonize some settings such as white balance, shooting at 3200K indoors and 5000K outdoors.

Tackling the Noise

Mir works entirely with natural light. “In some scenarios, the lighting may not be wonderful,” he says, so noise reduction is his first priority in Resolve. He applies temporal noise reduction at three frames and spatial noise reduction set to the medium setting. “Generally, we’ll add a node focused only on noise reduction before all the other nodes,” he says—a “node” being a bit like a layer in a still photo-editing program. Once it’s applied to a frame, all subsequent frames will incorporate that node’s changes or effects.

Making the Grade

Mir edits for “more of a subjective grade to achieve a neutral look,” he says, largely disregarding numerical targets on the color wheels. “We can’t depend on specific numbers since it’s an uncontrolled environment with mixed lenses and shooters occasionally exposing at different F-stops.”

For a more colorful wedding, Mir targets a more “saturated look.” His first color-grade node focuses on Highlights/Shadows, Lift/Gain and Hue/Tint adjustments. The second targets Gamma/Midtone adjustments.

A third node handles saturation, Luminance vs. Saturation, color boost and contrast, and a fourth node does slight color balance. The fifth node is a sharpness adjustment to the Y or brightness channel, and his final node loads a lookup table (LUT).

Leveraging Presets

With Mir’s growing repertoire of wedding films in Resolve, he was able to create a library of preset grades that could be applied to future films. These presets contain customized color grades that are applied to weddings shot in a variety of lighting environments (sunny, overcast, indoor). These can help streamline grading workflow, but just as no one wedding is like another, presets often need tweaking to get the final just right.
—Greg Scoblete

Simon M Bryant’s Cutting Quickness

Photo courtesy of Adobe

For film editors, there’s one priority that rises above the rest: efficiency. When British editor Simon M Bryant is sitting on top of footage that will take him over a week or a month to cut and edit, hastening the pace is top of mind. “Every project is different,” says Bryant, who specializes in editing concert films, “and I need a tool that is as intuitive as possible so I can focus on bringing new creative approaches to each project.”

A big music fan, Bryant pieces together footage of a musician’s performance from multiple angles, expressions from the audience and other storytelling silhouettes. He’s edited concerts for The Rolling Stones (four, to date), Coldplay, Taylor Swift, One Direction and Ed Sheeran, among many others. Perhaps the most formative for him was Adele’s Live at the Royal Albert Hall in 2011, a particularly emotional performance, Bryant says. “Even editing it sent shivers down my spine.”

Getting his start in Final Cut Pro, Bryant made a seamless switch to Adobe Premiere once he found the former reached its editing limits. He hasn’t looked back, for a variety of reasons.

Playing the Keyboard

Bryant began learning two or three new keyboard shortcuts a day on Premiere. “They really speed up how quickly you can work,” says Bryant, who uses multiple custom keyboard layouts depending on his stage of editing, all saved to his Creative Cloud account. “Ultimately you don’t want to be thinking about how to do things. You want it to feel intuitive, using your brain to be creative rather than having to fathom how to make something happen.” Bryant’s even found himself tacking on shortcuts he didn’t know he needed. “It’s gotten to the point now that when I’m editing, I don’t touch the mouse for a half hour,” and for functions that he uses all the time, Bryant is careful to assign shortcuts without Alt, Shift or Command modifiers so they can be achieved with a single tap—incremental distances that keep the workflow as tight as possible.

Seeing in Multi-Cam

Bryant is usually editing concert footage from at least 10 different cameras; for big shows, that number can surpass 60. For him, multi-cam editing saves the day, allowing him to sync multiple cameras that filmed a single event into a nest in Premiere, which behaves like a single clip, Bryant explains. Each camera can be assigned to a keyboard shortcut, allowing instant switching between cameras while all cameras stay in sync with each other. “The way that Premiere handles multi-cam is the most sophisticated and flexible system out there,” Bryant says. “The nesting behavior means that adjustments to individual clips within the group update across all the edits that you have already done. This can be incredibly powerful.”

Checking the Quality

The new proxy workflow in Premiere has bought great benefits to the way Bryant works. The bandwidth requirements of editing so many video streams mean that even with the most powerful computers, footage has to be compressed into movies with lower data rates, called proxies. In the old days, Bryant says, this meant that to review images at full resolution and check for focus, for example, involved asking an assistant to pull out the full-res clip—a lengthy process. Now, the full-res footage is just a keystroke away for Bryant, so he can see pictures exactly as they will be in the final edit throughout the entire process.

Getting Rhythmical
Particularly with live music, Bryant needs to find rhythms in his edit that flow with the music. Moving a cut point a tiny fraction of a second in one direction or another can make or break a cut. Shortcuts for extend previous cut to cursor, extend next cut to cursor, selecting edits on layers and specific tracks, and copy, paste and remove attributes—all of these let him move around the timeline and tweak edits with precision, ensuring that he can remain closely connected with the music as he edits in what he refers to as “an almost dance-like state.” It is this intuitive approach to the edit that keeps Bryant in demand among some of the biggest music stars today.
—Libby Peterson

Dustin Meyer’s Facial Retouching Power

Before (left) and after (right). Though the differences are notable, Dustin Meyer takes care not to make the subject look unrecognizable. Photos © Dustin Meyer

As an in-demand wedding photographer based in Austin, Texas, Dustin Meyer aims to make his subjects look their best, leveraging the power of Anthropics’ PortraitPro software to help him with facial retouching. “Just the imperfections slider alone helps me get rid of blemishes that would have taken me forever to spot-heal,” he says.

Giving a Good First Test

It’s especially important to test PortraitPro against a range of faces to fully understand its impact, Meyer says. Throwing a range of different skin tones, types and poses at it first will give a good sense of the kinds of fixes achievable with the software’s tools. Some faces can occasionally get too soft, Meyer notes, but familiarity with the texture slider ensures a more realistic look to skin.

Developing the Workflow

Meyer likes to start in Lightroom for general color corrections, applying camera profiles, straightening and other first-pass fixes. He then imports the image into PortraitPro for retouching, working with the side-by-side before-and-after view to benchmark his corrections. The image then goes back to Lightroom for exposure and white balance.

A number of presets give an automated first pass at retouching, Meyer says, targeted corrections that are segmented by age, skin color, gender and more. Once a general preset is applied, Meyer adjusts the sliders to suit the particular image and saves that fix as a preset for that individual, batch-applying it to the other images of that person. “If I have a client who thinks the image is too retouched,” Meyer adds, “I can re-import the image, apply that original preset and then just dial it back.”

Being Easy on the Eyes

For environmental portraits, where a face is not necessarily dominating the full frame, Meyer focuses specifically on drawing attention to his subject’s eyes, provoking a more emotional connection with the image. It’s good to apply a decent amount of sharpening to the image in Lightroom before importing it, he says—the better to help PortraitPro’s facial recognition algorithms to pick up on the face.

Watching the Capture

Meyer has a general guiding principle when working in PortraitPro: “I want to make someone look their best, but not make them look like someone they’re not.” He asks himself whether there is something in the face that could have been improved in camera—for instance, adjusting the lighting to create a slimmer face. If so, Meyer takes the liberty of slimming a face slightly using PortraitPro. “If they have a mole or a freckle, I don’t remove it because that’s part of their face. If they have a blemish, yes, I’ll get rid of it.”
—Greg Scoblete

Jeff Rojas Tracks His Fashion Files

Jeff Rojas uses the uniformity slider in Capture One, which, coupled with the color picker, lets him adjust for more natural-looking skin tones. Photos © Jeff Rojas

New York fashion and portrait photographer Jeff Rojas was knee-deep in photo editing applications before he ever picked up a camera, so it’s no surprise he knows his way around some of the industry’s most popular platforms.

Rojas uses Phase One’s Capture One software for image organizing and RAW processing. He was drawn to the program both for its simplicity and its ability “to grow with you as an artist,” he says. “The imports, straight out of camera, just look better. It’s the way their algorithms analyze the RAW data and process it,” he notes, that set it apart.

Tethering In

For Rojas, Capture One plays a vital role in organizing and backing up data during a shoot. He shoots tethered into Capture One for the vast majority of his work to ensure images are organized immediately, and cataloging his work effectively enables him to seamlessly organize his shoot. “If you’re just copying every file into a hard drive and making your own file system,” Rojas says, “it won’t be as intuitive as you think.”

Keywording Religiously (and Specifically)

Dates are the principle organizational structure for Rojas’s work, and every file that’s imported from a tethered shoot gets the date in its file name. He also leverages Capture One’s keywording capability to make specific images easier to find after the fact. All the critical elements of a shoot are included: the name of a designer, a client, even specific props used in the shot (for instance, if there was a plane in it).

Choosing Sessions Vs. Catalogs

Capture One distinguishes between two organizational approaches: a Session and the newer Catalog (or library). Rojas finds that one is not necessarily better than the other, but he does use Sessions to organize most of his work in Capture One for the robustness of the data it can store. It houses all of his files as a complete project, including RAW files, setting files, library files, output files and paths and drives used in a shoot. Rojas will have Capture One save images from a tethered shoot directly to an external drive and bypass his laptop for storage altogether, which makes the Sessions method for him most ideal.

Dialing in on Skin

Rojas will frequently send photos from Capture One to a retoucher for detailed work but he does perform some edits, particularly on skin, using the software. This way, he says, he’s sending the retoucher a cleaner file. One of Rojas’s favorite tools is the uniformity slider. It’s found in Capture One’s Color Tool tab as part of the Skin Tone toolset in the Color Editor. In the Skin Tone tools, you’ll be able to use a color picker to isolate the tone you want to fix with smoothness, hue rotation, saturation, lightness and uniformity sliders to work with.

“If you select skin tones you can remove inconsistencies in the skin itself,” he says. “I can select skin, smooth tones between colors and blend those colors in without destroying my source file. If someone has a cold—a red nose—you can select the skin around it,” and using the uniformity slider, give it a more uniform, natural tone.
—Greg Scoblete

Related: Workflow Wonders: 5 Ways to Save Time, By Don Bringas

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