Maybe photography's digital revolution isn't quite all it's cracked up to be. Sure, instant review and multiple-gigabyte memory cards make shooting large numbers of wedding photos easier than ever before, but managing thousands of digital images after the event is quite another matter.
Photographers shooting film are most familiar with the process of sending exposed film to the lab for such tasks as color correction, sizing, dust spotting, or retouching. For all digital shooters out there, gigabytes of photographic data demand your attention; an extremely challenging proposition that could quite easily drain any remaining free time from your life.
Fortunately, those working on the bleeding edge of this new technology -- including WPJA award winning photographers like David Jay, Christopher Record, Eric Cable, and Richard Esposito -- have adopted and customized an arsenal of hard-earned strategies and high-tech tools for streamlining their workflow, saving untold hours of time and frustration. All are worthwhile considerations for any wedding photographer looking to thrive in the digital landscape.
Digital media has fueled the rise of an entirely new class of software that focuses on data management, especially critical for anyone dealing with thousands of photos. In addition to letting you tag, sort and perform basic editing operations on your images, photo management tools such as Adobe Bridge, Photo Mechanic, Apple's Aperture (or just Aperture), Adobe Lightroom (currently in beta), as well as traditional image editing products such as the venerable Adobe Photoshop, include batch processing features that automate repetitive tasks across large sets of images. Batch capability is also available within the Windows and Macintosh operating systems, allowing a task to extend across separate software tools. Batching can be a massive timesaver, and makes all the difference in keeping your business viable and your life in balance.
Photoshop actions are among the most powerful and widely used batching tools available to digital photographers. They allow you to record all of the steps you would use on a particular photo, and then with a single click of the mouse apply each of those steps in the same sequence to a large set of images that you place in a target folder. Actions can handle such tasks as rotating, resizing, adjusting skin tones or converting to a warm-tone black and white image, lightening shadows, sharpening, adding a border, adding a copyright to a proof and resaving as a high-resolution JPEG, shunting processed photos to multiple target folders, and much more.
Actions are fairly simple to access and create, and are controlled from Photoshop's Actions palette under the Window menu, where you'll find a number of prerecorded actions included with the software. You can also choose from thousands of third-party actions packages developed especially for photographers.
To increase efficiency further, you can assign actions to the function keys on the top of your keyboard, using all four levels for each key by means of the shift and control keys. For example, you could set one action as F2, another as Shift F2, another as Control F2, and still another as Control-Shift F2. If you're using a Macintosh you can even activate actions by dragging sets of image files over action icons on your desktop.
Adobe Bridge has been a mainstay for many professionals who need to organize and generally manage large numbers of digital images. David Jay notes that Auto Adjustment settings for Raw in Adobe Bridge can allow one-click processing of an entire project, correcting color and exposure over a set of photos shot in a single scene. "It's incredible what Bridge can do without me even having to open any files," he says.
Photo Mechanic 4.4 from Camera Bits, Inc. now handles Raw images and offers sorting, organizational, and color management, as well as a set of powerful batch editing tools. Digital Transitions' highly popular Capture One Pro 3.7 (http://www.digitaltransitions.com) offers even more robust editing features with similar batching benefits. Both products allow you to work with large sets of photos to automatically resize and rename, assign captions and keywords, print contact sheets and proofs, apply IPTC stationery (city, state, name, copyright, etc.), create backups on separate disks, or open a contact sheet -- all with one click of the mouse.
Upon returning from a wedding, Christopher Record uses Photo Mechanic to push images from his cards into five folders -- preparation, ceremony, reception, group formals and portraits -- and sorts them by time. "I then use my own Photoshop actions for sizing, and some third-party action packages to help me create sepia tones and other special effects," he says.
Eric Cable notes that batch processing can become especially powerful when combined with parallel hardware systems. He usually shoots 2,500 to 3,200 images per wedding, all Raw. Using two Scandisk USB readers and two Lexar Firewire readers for the 45 one-gigabyte cards holding the files, he uses Breeze Systems' Downloader Pro to automatically back up his images one multiple RAID drives in abut 25 minutes. "I have two dual-processor workstations that I built myself," he notes, "Once I've transferred the files off the cards, they're sent to a second machine which automatically burns the images to DVDs while I'm editing on the first. I can do my work without having to mess with the DVDs"
Cable then loads those thousands of Raw files into Photo Mechanic, culling, sorting and tagging them to get down to about 500 final JPEG candidates. He sends those to Photoshop, where he has several custom-coded scripts, which he calls "actions on steroids," that rename, resize, and place the images in separate folders. It's a 12-hour job, but the computer automatically does all of the work while Cable attends to the rest of his life.
"Hire good help if you need to," Cable says. "Not too many people use the scripting capabilities of Photoshop, and it is true that it's not simple unless one knows Java or some other programming. Myself, I could not code my way out of a wet paper bag, but it is not too hard to get someone else to write a script, and the time savings are huge."
A new generation of powerful photo management tools, created from the ground-up for Raw, is now hitting the market and saving photographers even more time in post. Apple's Aperture made a big splash when it was introduced last fall at PhotoPlus Expo in New York. Designed to work seamlessly with Photoshop, it is a deep and elegant product boasting a range of powerful photo management and non-destructive image correction features. In fact, it has already caused significant numbers of digital photographers not already working on a Mac to purchase one (though Apple has wisely announced a Windows version.) Not to be left in the cold, Adobe in January '06 announced Lightroom.
Richard Esposito claims that Aperture running on his duel-processor Macintosh G5 has cut his photo editing time in half. He loads 1,200 to 1,500 Raw files into a single Aperture folder, and then uses its highly customizable Viewer Window and Browser to quickly rate or reject images in the master set, eventually pairing down to a final set of 500 to 600. At this point he runs through the set again, applying changes to exposure, brightness, contrast, white balance and crops as needed. "One of the beautiful things about Aperture is that each iteration of an image is stored only as data that describes the changes, not actual changes to the original Raw file," Esposito notes. "This means that each additional version of a master Raw file is only 5K to 20K in size. You can imagine the speed and hard drive savings this makes possible."
Some of the most effective post-production timesavers don't even require programming or the purchase of extra hardware and software, but instead rely on thoughtful planning, preparation and best practices. Here are a few parting tips from our experts:
— by Michael Roney for The Wedding Photojournalist Association