Monday, February 27, 2006

Workflow for digital photography #1

In a previous post I discussed the benefits of workflow and promised to give a brief overview. The following describes the workflow that I use for my digital photography. I've been really surprised to learn that there are many professional photographers who do not have their workflow sorted out yet.

All I can say is it is definitely part of being professional to have this aspect of your photography in order. Whether you're professional or not I think a good workflow is crucial. Check out some of the benefits here.

Essentially workflow is about getting complete control of the process from taking the image through to the final print. Every link in the chain is critical if you want to consistently produce high quality images.

OK, you can go into tremendous detail on this but I aim to just share a few pointers here. It's up to you to develop your own workflow, something that is right for you personally - that gives you total control from concept to final print.

Concept

Whether you are commissioned to do a shoot or you're just doing stuff for yourself you need a clear concept of what you want to achieve. I think about and previsualise shots way before I pick up a camera. If it's a commercial shoot then the whole thing starts with a proper brief.

The concept for the shoot will determine the equipment you need. The principle here for me is the lighter I can travel the better. I aim to take the minimum equipment. My wife would laugh here as I often end up taking everything except the kitchen sink, but hey I'm working on it.

Equipment

Once I've decided what I need for the shoot then it's a matter of checking and cleaning everything. I make sure I've got extra cables, batteries - if something breaks I've always got a backup or a workaround. Developing a few standard checklists can help here so that you're not reinventing the wheel each time.

Logistics

Many successful professional photographers have a whole entourage of assistants and managers to ensure that everything runs smoothly and is in place. My wife, a professional photographer, takes care of many of the details. And when she's doing a shoot I help her. Basically this part is about ensuring everyone involved in the shoot knows where they have to be, what they have to do and when, so the whole thing runs like a well oiled machine. Until you hear that the model you booked has come down with a bug the night before the shoot and agency is desperately trying to find a replacement, and ten other people have all got the day booked in their incredibly busy diaries and the client has a drop dead deadline. Yep, but you remembered to check another model would be available. Excellent. See what I mean about having everything covered?

Photography

Digital photography involves a lot more technology than film. A systematic approach to setting up your camera and lighting is essential. Develop a routine; I call it a 'flight check'. Just like a pilot before take-off I go through the settings on the camera.

In the heat of the action you don't want to find you've made a simple error like leaving the wrong ISO setting on the camera. And keep checking throughout the shoot that nothing has changed or been forgotten. I always shoot RAW which keeps my options open on things like white balance but out of habit I like to get it all right from the start. It also speeds up processing.

So for example I will set the tone curve I need, often shooting with custom curves, ensure the white balance is right, check saturation, ensure I'm using Adobe 1998 colour space etc.

When colour is critical I shoot a GretagMacBeth colour card before every change in the lighting. This is essential to help calibrate the colour as the image progresses through the processing stages.

If you're shooting a static scene on a tripod if is helpful to bracket exposures. Make sure you only change the shutter speed and not the aperture. This will allow you to overlay images in your image processing program, I use Photoshop, to extract as much detail in the highlights and shadows as possible.

Delete unwanted images straightaway. You don't want useless files clogging up your system. Streamline everything as much as possible. All those seconds waiting for junk images to download from your card etc add up to minutes, hours and days ... well I am sure you get the picture. I try to decide what the 'keepers' are right away. At each stage I cull images that I don't think are worth keeping.

Processing your images

The first thing you need to do is check that you have the correct ICC (International Colour Consortium) Profiles installed on your computer.

"The intent of the International Colour Consortium (R) is to provide a cross-platform device profile format. Device profiles can be used to translate colour data created on one device into another device's native colour space. The acceptance of this format by operating system vendors allows end users to transparently move profiles and images with embedded profiles between different operating systems. This permits tremendous flexibility to both users and vendors. For example, it allows users to be sure that their image will retain its colour fidelity when moved between systems and applications. " (from the ICC site).

Monitor calibration is vital. You need to know that what you see on your screen matches what an art director or editor is seeing on their screen and that it correlates perfectly with what you're going to see in print. Without a properly calibrated monitor you're flying blind and playing a guessing game - one you can never win. Please also note that you should wait for the monitor to warm up before you calibrate it. I let a monitor run for an hour before calibrating but if you're on location you may have to shorten that time, which brings me to another point. Monitors need to be calibrated regularly. I do mine once a week. There are several good calibration tools. I am not recommending any system. Check out the reviews online.

This post is getting quite long now. Next time I will cover the rest of the workflow including processing your images, storing them and making prints.

All the best.

Paul Indigo

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Index of articles

I've been blogging for a while now, so it's time to put together an index of my most useful articles and strongest opinion pieces. I hope this will help you to find stuff more easily.

Please feel free to link to any of the articles on my blog but remember all of my writing and photography is protected under international copyright. You may not copy or reproduce anything on my blog without my written consent.

I will keep adding more links, the newest at the top.






As always your feedback is most welcome.

Ciao for now,

Paul Indigo

Not very demanding














This newspaper salesman does not seem to be getting much attention despite the screaming banner he has placed his stand in front of. Not even the promise of a free tin of beans on his strategically placed poster is working.

I am working on my workflow article and hope to have it done this weekend. Going through a very busy patch at the moment.

Thanks for dropping by.

Catch you soon.
Paul Indigo

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Workflow benefits

You see it mentioned often in magazines, books and online articles. Whether you're a seasoned professional or an amateur getting your workflow together will help you create better images more easily. The term workflow has become popular in the digital age but in reality the concept is as old as photography or any other production line process where a systematic approach needs to be adopted for a sequence of actions. It applies equally whether you shoot and develop film in the darkroom or you're a digital snapper using a computer and inkjet printer.

Developing a workflow offers the following key benefits:
  • Less risk of error through forgetting a setting or action
  • Less hassle and worry - you know what you're doing and you know what to expect from each action you take
  • Improved organisation of your time
  • Standardising procedures ensures quality and most importantly results you can easily replicate
  • By having a workflow and standard procedures you know what to do to tweak results - instead of constraining you a good workflow actually frees you to unleash your creativity
I will add an article soon with a concise overview of the things you need to consider to achieve a professional workflow. In the meantime if you have any questions, comments or advice to share please don't be shy. I'd love to hear from you.

Cheers for now.

Paul Indigo

New exhibition














Old stately buildings reflect in the modern curved windows of the Bourse in Leeds.

This is one of the images you from my latest exhibition entitled Urban guerrilla monochrome. I tried to capture a certain mood in the city environment. The images are grouped so that the sum is greater than each individual image. I'm sure everyone will have their favourites but it's the overall feel that I want to communicate, kind of like standing in the street and taking a deep breath to suck in the atmosphere. I tried to be objective so the subjects are not meant to be extraordinarily beautiful nor dark and a negative.

My wife and fellow photographer, Magda, has put together a stunning exhibition of flowers taken in the studio. Dramatic lighting, strong colour and a black background add a sense of the theater and drama, giving the flowers personality, almost like actors on the stage.

Hope you enjoy the exhibition. Please leave a comment in our guestbook.

Cheers for now
Paul Indigo

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Where's the fire?

A decorative fire bucket forms part of the historic decor at Pickering railway station in Yorkshire. It's a lovely place to visit and evokes a bygone era.




The art of writing a caption

A caption in its simplest form is the the title of an image but usually we mean a bit more. A full caption takes the form of descriptive text, usually a few sentences.

A good caption informs us about the things we cannot see and encourages us to look at an image more closely. There is a relationship of mutual benefit and dependence between a well written caption and an image. The caption can bring an image to life by providing context and meaning. It is also the link between the article/story/text and the image.

Magda Indigo has written a good description of a caption here. I agree with her dislike of "untitled". It does show a certain lack of imagination and is not particularly helpful to the viewer. Creating an image is all about trying to communicate something and the caption is vital to help the audience understand an image. It can hugely enhance the viewers experience.

A good caption is a piece of writing that should be concise, accurate, informative and as carefully crafted as the image itself. I cannot emphasise enough how entwined the image is with the words that support it. For photojournalists it's absolutely vital to get it right. A great caption can help sell an image and equally, a bad caption can kill an image completely. Above all keep it simple and check facts are 100 percent accurate.

When you write your caption you want to inform the reader of the who, what, when, where, why or how about the photograph. Your first sentence should be written in the present tense because you are referencing the moment in time when the image was made. Expanding on this in the following sentences you can use present or past tense. Explanations are best written in past tense.

If you're a novice then take a look at different national newspapers and magazines to get an idea of the structure they use and the variations in style. With a bit of study and application you'll soon be writing good captions.

By the way, the newspapers I've worked for give you no more than 20 minutes to write a caption and often less. It can get hectic when you're desperately uploading your images from your laptop, making picture edits and trying to write captions to send them through to the paper. Being able to touch type quickly may not be the first thing you think of as a requirement for being a photojournalist but believe me you'll need it.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New profile

The Leeds Liverpool canal meanders across the landscape near Skipton in Yorkshire. Aerial shot from Bell LongRanger helicopter, which provides a wonderfully stable platform and has a doors-off facility. The LongRanger was developed for use as an air ambulance during the Vietnam war. It's tremendously powerful, steady and smooth. A good pilot can put you just where you need to be for the composition. The Bell LongRanger is a pretty expensive tripod but you got to do what you got to do.

I've just updated my profile on the blog, if you're interested and you can find out more about me on my website's Bio page.

Have a wonderful day!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Take me too - the intention of the photographer

Why do we take pictures? Let me explain where I'm coming from on this. I've seen a lot of knit picking comments on photo-upload sites and from photographic judges, and conversely I've seen a huge amount of praise heaped on images which are quite frankly apalling. I'm sure that if you've visited sites where you can upload pictures or been to 'certain' competitions you will know what I mean.

So clearly there are a whole range of motives that play a role when people comment on an image. But objectively, if such a thing is possible, what really counts when you look at an image. Well I go back to the question I started with. Why do you take pictures? The intention of the photographer is integral to understanding and evaluating an image. Often, under the guise of being artistic, a pure a photograher will not say why they took an image... Well that leaves it open to all interpretations. Were they recording something for prosperity, perhaps a family moment, were they trying to master studio lighting etc. We can only really judge an image in the light of the image makers intention. Purpose and meaning are central, however fluffy that may be, say for example to evoke a certain emotion by using a strong colour.

By knowing your intention when you take the photograph and then conveying that to the audience you will help them appreciate the image. From photojournalists writing a cutline (caption) to an artist's statement in a gallery catalogue, words and concepts affect the way we perceive an image, and more than that they add value.

I hope that I make images which touch the viewer and evoke a strong emotion, particularly empathy with the subject. Although I do shoot abstracts and landscapes, I am at heart a photojournalist, seeking to tell a story in a creative way that communicates emotion and engages the viewer.

The image below is an example. It shows a Border Collie looking longingly over the backseat of a car at a young couple in love and involved with each other, walking away toward the sea, on a cliff. The dog caught in the rear view mirror forms a strong focal point in an original and creative composition. The whole story is there.

In fact I had just parked. The dog was my border collie (sadly he passed away - this was his last trip to the sea) and a couple that happened to walk past the car. I saw the potential in an instant. Raised my camera, focused and got the shot. I created a narrative in that moment by juxtaposing two elements. Not photojournalism in the true sense but a moment of artistic creation to tell a story. To me the dog really looks like he is saying "take me too"!

So why to do you photograph?

Paul Indigo