The Workflow

PM screen
Photo Mechanic screen shot

 

Martin Stabler has a daily photo email that he has maintained for many years. Only recently has he begun to actually post a photo he shot that day, instead of posting from his archive, and he asked me for workflow advice. Here’s how it happens, after the shoot.

Every day I download to a computer, usually my laptop. I use Photo Mechanic as my ingest app (http://www.camerabits.com/). This is a fabulous, fast app that doesn’t try to be more than what it’s good at, which is ingest and metadata. I aim all my ingests to a folder on the Desktop called Inbox. PM makes a dated folder and dumps your card contents there. What’s great is that it remembers what it’s already ingested, and it won’t download duplicates. I can shoot for days and not clear the card, and PM only grabs the new photos. 

I full screen and delete the bloopers, and star rate the possible candidates with a single star. I go for first impression. I’m not pixel peeping, it’s a quick hit, and I scan through the take quickly. It can be anywhere between a dozen to several hundred shots, and I rarely star more than a half dozen. Then I rename with a date code and sequence number (e.g., 20161026_034). That’s the permanent file name. In PM there’s a stationary function that applies metadata. I select all and attach that. The copyright info is permanent, but I write specific caption info for batches of photos. 

I then open up the folder in Bridge, select all, and open in Camera Raw. I have a general preset that’s automatically applied (color temp, exposure, white and black values, and camera profile), and then I batch edit groups of photos that are shot in the same light and exposure. Now I have a sense of what’s actually in the images. I’m of the opinion that batch processing is way faster in the Bridge/Photoshop workflow than it is in Lightroom, but that might just reflect the muscle memory I’ve built.

Back in Bridge I’ll select only the one star images, and cruise through those to mark the 2 star winners. They’ll only be 3 or 4 of those on a really good day. I’ll do some additional Camera Raw work on those, and open up the winner in Photoshop, which I use really just to save it as a jpg (2075 pixels wide, Quality at 5), to the Dropbox folder that has all the daily winners. I post from there. 

This all takes between 10 minutes to a half hour. 

Photography lives on screens now, and my raw processing has reflected that. I’m much more aggressive than I used to be. I often push my exposure slider way down, just to the edge of clipping, and then ramp up the whites until it looks good. This is really lovely in the low contrast overcast light we have much of the time, and when there’s histogram room to spare. In hard light I’m often doing the opposite, underexposing to protect the highlights, pulling up the shadow slider and cranking down the Highlight slider to just shy of it looking weird. You get your sky color back that way. Other than that, I don’t alter anything that’s in the frame. Virtually all the shots I post are uncropped. I’m taking full responsibility for how the camera framed the moment. 

Why Today I Saw

Rudbeckia
Rudbeckia

I have been taking photographs for well over 50 years, since I was very young. I have been taking them with a digital camera for the last twelve.

When I first went digital in 2004, I was overwhelmed by the information and skills I needed to acquire. My professional credentials as a photographer were seriously suspect. I faked it, and hoped not to blow things too badly. I started a daily photo blog as a mechanism to get good at a workflow. If I made myself shoot every day, and post a photo every day, I would eventually regain that unconscious fluency in the process of image making that I felt I had lost. 

It appears I forgot to stop. I haven’t missed posting a photo a day in over 11 years. That is 4,097 posts. I dare not break the chain now.

I carry a camera with me much of the time (a real camera, not that fake iPhone one). No matter what else is going on in my life, I make a photograph. If I’m on assignment, it’s from that. If I’m homebound, it’s often my garden. If I go shopping, I might photograph the produce. If I go dancing, I bring the camera. When I take my mother-in-law to the doctor, I scour the exam room for photos. If I’m sick with the flu, I make a photograph of the sickbed. 

This daily discipline of finding a photo worth posting is now the core of my creative process. I know how to quickly enter the zone, that state of being where one is alert to any possibility, The camera both narrows and expands the sense of being in a place. In order to frame a coherent set of shapes and lines that feels complete, it requires entering literally another state of consciousness.

Photography is not about subject for me, even if the evidence bears witness that certain subjects are more interesting to me than others. I make photographs in the most convenient surroundings. But I am largely indifferent regarding what I shoot. The point of my photographs is not necessarily the subject of them. My favorite quote on the matter is from Frederick Sommers: “Subject matter is harmless, but it can be charming to the point of distraction from other elements.” 

What I take that to mean is, if all you see is the subject, it won’t work. Those other elements, line, shape, light, position—the pieces that make a photograph “work”—are the data stream of the moment that in this odd alchemy of presence and technology make it possible to create a compelling photograph. They make us care about the subject. 

What I look for when I have a camera in hand is a state of feeling, inside myself, that finds some congruency with the external reality. Putting a frame around that reality and making a decision regarding moment intensifies and deepens that sense of connection with place or relationship. I feel as though I dive down into an altered state of awareness, acquire the goods for the day, and then resurface. Then I pop the card into the computer to see what I saw down there. 

And I do it every day.

See every single one
Today I Saw (2013-2016)
Today I Saw (2005-2013)