Workflow: The foundation of great photography

The concept of digital photography workflow involves far more than image editing in a specific application such as Digital Photo Professional or Photoshop. Rather, it encompasses your photography from the inception of a shoot to its ultimate completion — whether as a framed print on a wall, an image on a Web site, or part of a digital slide show or Flash presentation. However your photo shoot begins and wherever it ends up is all part of workflow.

Workflow is a concept and best practice that allows you to consistently process and produce images, customized to your skills, interests, and preferences. A defined, consistent workflow is an intellectual property asset for you, the photographer, and can be used effectively in your marketing and sales efforts to assure professionalism and credibility to your clients. It is often what markedly differentiates a true professional photographer from an amateur or enthusiast — yet every photographer, professional or not, can benefit from what an established workflow has to offer.

There are two main phases to digital photography workflow, and they are broadly broken into the prepixel and postpixel phases. The prepixel phase includes everything you do before an image reaches the sensor and is converted to a digital image: planning the shoot, setting it up, preparing your equipment and lighting, working with subjects and models, setting your exposure, composing your shot, and taking the picture. The postpixel phase is everything that happens to a digital image once it has become digital: storing it on flash cards, transferring it to a computer, backing it up and archiving it, processing and editing it, preparing it for final use and distribution, and fulfilling its intended use. These two phases are further broken down into five essential stages:

1. Preparing for the shoot

  • Planning where, what, when, how, and whom to shoot
  • Getting resources, permissions, access, and so on, as needed
  • Checking, cleaning, and preparing equipment and, if necessary, the studio
  • Planning for how to store images securely until you can transfer them to your computer

2. The photo shoot

  • Getting the gear and yourself transported to the shoot, if it’s on location
  • Positioning your subject(s), or positioning yourself in the right place to shoot
  • Determining your best exposure and composition
  • Measuring and setting white balance
  • If necessary, positioning lighting, props, backdrops, and so on
  • Executing the shoot

3. Transferring and managing images

  • Downloading from the memory card to a portable storage device or computer
  • Logically and descriptively renaming and organizing photos for optimal accessibility
  • Storing master files that are not modified
  • Using metadata tagging
  • Sorting and prioritizing

4. Editing, optimizing, and archiving images

  • Preparing files to be edited
  • Backing up JPEG files and preparing working copies so you don’t edit an original image
  • Optimizing and then converting RAW images to working formats like .PSD or .TIFF
  • Image editing and, when needed, optimizing key images for color, sharpness, white balance, exposure, composition, and shadow/highlight
  • Touching up images as needed
  • Copying and converting images to any required sizes and formats
  • Adding text and/or other graphics to images, as necessary
  • Storing working and master files for secure permanent archival and accessibility
  • 5. Fulfilling images in print, on the Web, and for presentation

    • Getting images to a lab for printing, whether by online transfer, disc, or other method
    • Uploading files to online galleries for display, and (in some cases) for sale
    • Integrating images into a slide show or Flash presentation
    • Fulfilling prints to clients or other recipients

    This is far from a comprehensive list of activities for each stage, and you can probably list and enumerate many of your own based on the type of photography you pursue. Your order of operations may also differ depending on how you prefer to work, but this is a good guide to start with if you are new to the idea of a set workflow.

    Within each of these stages there are various products, techniques, and decisions that are unique to you and how you want to work to produce the best-quality photographs. As you expand and refine your workflow, you will likely further define and modify these stages to ensure consistency and to match them to your working style. If you have other photographers working with you or for you, it will help to share this with them and use it as a standard studio method.

    A consistent workflow standard may be as obvious as how you set up your lighting, how you calibrate your monitors, or what products you use for image editing. It may also be quite subtle, such as ensuring that all your cameras are set to the same Picture Style, white balance, and image size.

    Category: Photography Workflow

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