Friday, February 29, 2008

Winter Musings: February. From Camera to Computer. Part Two

Phew, sorry for the late post but had lots of little family emergencies come up the last couple of weeks.

Last month I talked about my camera techniques. Now, we move on to the software I use and how I employ it in my RAW workflow. Speed, efficiency, and automation are important because they free me up to do more fine tuning and retouching instead of the more mundane color and exposure adjustment tasks. It also means clients get to see their images a little sooner. Again, there is no magic here, and nothing that many pro's do not already do. Nonetheless, hopefully you will be able to take something away from this entry and use it to make your life easier. Perhaps you will leave a comment or suggestion for me to make my life easier :)

After the event, cards are imported into Adobe Lightroom, copied to the hard drive into a single directory, and renamed. Additionally, my Lightroom import process applies a custom preset and metadata information (adds the copyright statement). Images shot by my second shooter will be manually flagged as a "pick" permitting me to filter between us later as I edit. Once all the images are in, I sort on capture time and rename. The RAW files are backed up on my NAS before I begin any additional work.

The generic portions of my custom import preset consists of auto color correction and - more importantly - no auto tone correction. Auto color correction is pretty good, but not perfect. You will need to go back for some fine tuning and then batch synchronize applicable image files. Shooting RAW forces you to color correct anyhow but it does not necessarily require exposure correction. I found auto tone correction to be far more annoying and time consuming to adjust. Auto tone defeats the purpose of shooting in Manual because it eliminates consistency. It was especially bad for backlit images or ones where a light is peeking from behind the subject. The algorithm appeared to be a type of weighted average which tries to keep the brightest spot from blowing out making everything else much darker (by about 2 stops). I hated going through to check and correct this and now I don't have to.

Now the real work can begin. For my own images the first pass involves picking favorites using a combination of color labels, editing rejects with the reject flag, and marking album-worthy images with stars. You can zip along using keyboard shortcuts and the number pad which is far quicker than using the mouse. My top picks are corrected and the exported for blog posts. Next I scan the second shooters images and cherry pick my favorites. Marginals are retained and the rest rejected.

The second pass eliminates duplicates using the Compare feature in the Library module. Reference color settings from the first pass are now synchronized in batches. Questionable images are viewed at 100% to confirm focus. Images are cropped and straightened. Minor exposure adjustments are made.

Recall my last post which said shooting in Manual saves me time in post. If you shoot in Av or Tv, exposure usually changes from frame to frame requiring you to potentially correct each image in Lightroom to maintain a consistent appearance, even if you chose to Auto Tone. I only need to make adjustments occasionally and when I do, I can batch it for a set of images which share the same exposure setting. Huge efficiency boost!

During a final review custom enhancements and B&W conversions
(using home grown presets) are performed. Photoshop is used for retouching choice images (using home grown actions). Images are exported for print JPEG's, the client's DVD, and reference thumbnails. RAW, XMP files and image thumnails are copied to the RAID5 NAS for fault tolerant archiving. Backup DVD's are burned with RAW+XMP files. The spare copy of RAW files on the other NAS are deleted.

I mentioned last month that shooting RAW saves HD space. Previously I would need to use Photoshop for color correction and then save the PSD files to keep the settings around when I was ready to make prints. This was preferred over flattening and saving a JPEG because I did not want to recompress the image. I kept the PSD files around for long periods of time for things like album production and making enlargements. 1000's of wedding image = 1000's of PSD files. This required a lot of storage space. Of course, I maintained the files because I was anal and did not want to recreate the adjustments again later. In the end, I would archive the original JPEG, a large number of PSD files (favorites/prints/album), and adjusted JPEG's. Today, I keep a RAW file and the sidecar XMP file which is about 13MB. This is significantly less than a 60+ MB PSD file and 8+ MB worth of JPEG's.

You can shoot JPEG and use Lightroom for post processing and save even more HD space. The tradeoff is a smaller dynamic range (8-bit v. 12-bit) resulting in restrictive exposure correction latitude and losing image information to compression. I just like keeping RAW files around and besides, storage is cheap.

Side note. Buy the fastest card reader you can find. Several years ago I bought a cheap one that worked but my Sandisk Extreme USB2.0 reader is so much faster at 20MB/sec.! Lexar has a competing product too and both have Firewire versions that claim to double the data rate. These will save you alot of time (and eliminate multiple coffee breaks). If you are interested, these are faster because of the advanced programmed I/O (PIO) protocols used. Take one of these apart and you will probably find a chip inside that performs the task which is why these readers are not $5 at Best Buy.

Wow, so that is end of my Winter Musings for this year. If there are topics you are interested in for next winter send them on in.

Winter Musings are monthly posts between November and February. They cover a range of topics related to wedding photography with couples and photographers in mind. Comments and requests are appreciated!

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