Tag Archives: process

My Revised Workflow

My approach to processing images after a shoot is something that constantly evolves.  I have written about how I do this in the past but a few things have changed since I wrote that so I thought I would write up the latest approach in case it is of any use/interest to any other shooters out there.  I should say at the start that my workflow is based around the use of Lightroom.  If you don’t use Lightroom, this might not be of any use to you although I imagine that a similar process could be achieved with other software.

One thing to highlight at the start is that, when shooting aviation (and that is the majority of my photography), I aim to slightly overexpose my shots.  I have found that going a slight bit over and then bringing the exposure back down in post-production gives a better balance of exposure across the shots and also makes for more pleasing sky colors.  This is something I do when shooting RAW.  If you shoot in JPEG, this might still work but your latitude for adjustment afterwards is a bit reduced so you might not get the same effect.  I don’t shoot in JPEG so I can’t state what happens.

All the shots are imported in to Lightroom and I will form a Collection Set for the shoot.  I don’t have specific folders for shoots, nor do I have a renaming convention.  I keyword all shoots and this is how I manage files and find things later.  Keywording is a story for another day.  Within the Collection Set, I shall create a series of Smart Collections.  They vary depending on what I have shot.  There will always be Not Rejects, Rejects and Picks.  Then, depending on what else there is, there might be Videos, Time Lapse, Blend Stack, Pano Originals, Pano Edits, HDR Originals and HDR Edits.  I keyword any of these types of shot with that term so the smart collections will pick them up.  The Smart Collections may be looking for a date range or shoot specific keywords depending on what I have been shooting.

The aim for all of this is that I get a Smart Collection which is unrejected shots which doesn’t include and shots from HDRs, panos, time lapses or blend stacks.  I don’t want to get rid of those shots by mistake and I want to be able to edit those shots at a convenient time.  Then the Not Rejects folder becomes my focus.  I am aiming to get all of them roughly corrected for exposure so I can make decisions about which shots to keep.  I will be looking for sharpness/focus issues and exposure variation can really mess with how you perceive sharpness.  I will open a shot up in the Develop module and I will have the Grid view on the second monitor.  I can now select shots with the same exposure and choose Auto Sync.  Then a change to one shot will be reflected in all of them.

It used to be that I would select the shots by eye.  Then it occurred to me that the Metadata filter is powerful here.  I select the filter of shutter speed and then I can select each shutter speed in turn.  Now it is easy to select the similar shots and edit together.  This really speeds up the quick edit process.  I know tweak whatever needs tweaking and get everything basically okay.  I won’t bother with detailed editing unless a shot is going to be used for something further.  Now I select all files and, in the Library module, select Render 1-1 Views.  Then I head off to do something else for a while.

When the rendering is done (I don’t try and do anything else while it is underway because, while you can do other Lightroom tasks, everything gets pretty sluggish.  It is easier to wait.  I may even shut Lightroom down and restart it after the rendering is done because it seems to like the chance to clean itself up.  Then I go to the first of the Not Rejects shots.  I have it full screen on the main screen and then zoom to 100% on the second screen.  The Smart Collection is set up to show any file that is not marked as a reject (or all of the other stuff I mentioned earlier) so now I can click through the shots.  If a shot is good, I Right Arrow to the next one.  If it is bad, hit X and it disappears.  Now I can run through the whole shoot and quickly get rid of all shots that are not good, be they unsharp, chopping off a bit of something or just clearly useless.

When this first pass is done, I am now left with a bunch of shots, many of which are very similar.  Since I know they all are basically acceptable, I can now select all the ones that I won’t have a need for and hit X.  Very quickly I am down to a far more manageable number of shots.  Then I can pick which ones I want to do something with.  Hit P for those and they will automatically appear in the Picks Smart Collection and I can come back to them at any time.  If I have shots that will be used for a specific piece, I may create a Collection specifically for that publication and just drag the shots in so I can deal with them at any time.

That pretty much sums up how I handle a shoot.  Some will have pano shots, some will have HDR, occasionally there will be time lapses and often videos.  Sadly, the integration of video between Lightroom and Photoshop is non-existent so I have yet to have a good process for video editing.  Maybe one day Adobe will fix that.  They tempted us by having video in Lightroom but they never took it any further despite the fact that the opening in layers option for stills would be ideal for video editing.  One day…

HDR Pro Comparison

wpid12423-IMG_2448.jpgThe iPhone has an HDR function available in the camera’s software. However, it hasn’t impressed me in the past. My friend Hayman introduced me to an app called HDR Pro and I have used that as my default iPhone HDR app since. Recently, they introduced an updated version of the app called HDR Pro X. I decided to give it a go. I wanted to see what the images it produced were like, how the new controls worked and also to make a comparison with the output from HDR Pro.

wpid12425-IMG_2449.jpgThe top shot is from the new app.  The second one is the previous version.  The added control certainly seems to be beneficial and the blowing out of the higlihgts is far better controlled.  I am generally happy with the new version.  The controls could be more user friendly.  When you use Lightroom/Camera Raw all the time, anything less seems clunky!  See what you think of the results.

Changing My Approach to Panoramas

Ever since Adobe got their act together with the Photomerge function in Photoshop, it has been my default for creating panoramas.  Previous versions were a little unreliable but they cracked it a few versions back and I have not changed my approach since.  However, a recent bit of YouTube exploring has changed that again.  Russell Brown had a series of videos on making panoramas from aerial shots and, while I was watching them because they were aerials, the stuff he came up with on stitching panos was actually more useful to me.

Instead of using Photomerge, he uses the same functionality of Photoshop but in individual steps.  The technique involves opening all of the shots as layers in a single file (something you can do straight from Lightroom which maintains the re-import linkage that I like about Photomerge).  Then you select all layers and use Edit>Auto Align Layers.  This gives you the same options as Photomerge.  Apparently, according to Russell, if you have a series of shots where you have rotated position but are looking horizontally, Spherical works best.  If you are looking up or down, use Circular.

The result can be quite distorted if you use Circular but it will all get better soon.  If you aren’t happy, you can undo the step which is a lot easier than starting from scratch which is what you would have to do in Photomerge.  Once the alignment is done, Edit>Auto Blend Layers while take care of the rest of the stitching and blend everything together nicely.  It defaults to a Panorama blending option.

With the blend done, flatten the layers and open Filters>Adaptive Wide Angle.  This will default to a panorama setting and, if you have the distorted output from the Circular settings, now you will suddenly see everything come back to what it should be.  You can tweak this filter to get verticals and horizontals aligned as you wish and then you end up with a good pano output.  Some cropping and filling of blank areas with Content-Aware fill and the job is done.  I shall be taking this approach for all my panos from now on.  If you don’t use this approach already, you might want to give it a try.

Also, you can go to the original source on this and check out Russell’s videos on YouTube.

Updates to the Workflow

A while back I wrote a piece about how I manage my workflow when bringing in new pictures from a shoot.  If you are so inclined, you can read the original post here.  I thought it might be appropriate to bring the topic up to date since I have tweaked the workflow a bit since then.  As I mentioned before, this is not all original thinking from me.  I have picked up suggestions from a number of places and then adapted them to my own needs.  If they are useful to you, that is great.  All of this is based on using Lightroom as an image management tool.

The basic process involves creating a series of Smart Collections for a given shoot.  I have adapted these collections a little and have a basic set, not all of which are required for every shoot.  However, what I have done is exported these collections to a folder on my computer so I can re-import them for each shoot and tweak them rather than start from scratch each time.  For example, they all have the keywords section blank so that I can paste in the required keywords for the shoot easily.

I will initially create a Collection Set for the topic and, if this is an event that occurs more than once, a Collection Set within that for the specific date.  Then, within that, I shall import the Smart Collections from my templates.  In the first instance, these will have lots of files in them since the criteria have not been narrowed down but I shall then edit each one to have the appropriate keywords and, if required, the specific dates.  Date Taken is the criterion I will use then, either with a specific date or a range.   Of course, this does require me to have put the appropriate keywords on all of the images first including whether they are HDR, panorama or time lapse images.

The following are the smart collections and a description of what they contain.  To avoid repetition, it can be assumed that they will all fit the keyword and date range criteria.

  • Not Rejects – All images that have not been rejected, are not marked as HDR or panoramas and are not video clips
  • Picks – All images that have been marked as a Pick and are not video clips
  • HDR Originals – All marked as HDR that are RAW files
  • HDR Edits – All marked as HDR that are not RAW files
  • Pano Originals – All marked as panoramas that are RAW files
  • Pano Edits – All marked as panoramas that are not RAW files
  • Time lapse – All marked as Time Lapse (Duh!)
  • Not Geotagged – All files that do not have GPS coordinates associated with them
  • Videos – All video files not marked as rejects
  • Rejects – All files marked as rejects (again, duh!)

The reasons for some of these are obvious but others are less so.  The not rejects file specifically excludes any shots I have marked as HDR or panorama since, when running through the edits, it is easy to see a shot that makes up one of those processes and think it is boring and delete it.  Keeping them separate from the start is important.  I keep the originals and the edits apart since, when I come back to them later, it is a lot simpler to look through the finished versions without having to find them amongst the originals.  Previously, they ended up in the same smart collection and, after getting bored trying to find the finished one, it occurred to me that they could be kept apart easily.

I now try to geotag all of my images.  Having the folder that shows that they haven’t been done reminds me to do this if I have not done it straightaway.  I have found that Lightroom has a bug (I have found more than one!) that, when you have imported a bunch of stuff, if you go to the map page, it gets a little lost and keeps the map view looking like the grid view.  You can get back out without any problem but have to restart to get back to map view.  If you go to map view before doing all of the importing, it seems fine then.  However, this folder makes sure I don’t forget to do it at some point.

With all of this set up, it is then easy enough to get into the process I have outlined before.  I go to the Not Rejects folder and render 1:1 previews of all of the files.  This can take a while so I will often start it off and then go and do something else for a while.  I can then come back and run through the images.  I will have a full screen version on one screen and the zoomed 1:1 image on the other.  This allows me to easily see which shots are not sharp or have an obvious flaw like a pole through the foreground or someone’s head in the way.  A quick “X” and that shot disappears from the smart collection and I am on to the next.  If it is okay, right arrow and I am moving on.  This kills a lot of shots quite quickly.

Then it is a simple case of looking at the shots in Grid view, usually quite large, to see the ones that are duplicate or just plain crap.  I can select which to get rid of and “X” again has them consigned to the trash.  Once all of this is done, I will run a BluRay backup of all of the shots including the XMP files after which I shall delete all rejects.  Hopefully that leaves me with a lot less shots to play with.  I can then pick the ones I think are the best and mark them as Picks.  It then leaves me with a smaller smart collection which I can go in and pay some attention to making more detailed edits.

This process continues to evolve.  Maybe I shall write another update in a couple of years.  In the meantime, I hope it might be helpful to someone for me to have shared it.  Happy shooting!

Lightroom 4 and ACR

One of the guest speakers at ISAP this year was Scott Kelby.  Nikon have sponsored Scott to speak at ISAP in the past and it was good that they brought him again this year.  He had a longer slot than in past events and so was able to go into a great level of detail in what he discussed.  He also brought his normal style of presenting which combines a lot of humor with the educational elements.  I find him a good guy to listen to.

I learned a lot of little things from him during the course of his presentation but today I want to focus on just one thing.  This relates to the processing of images using Lightroom 4 and Adobe Camera Raw in Photoshop CS6.  As he pointed out throughout his session and for those of you that don’t already know, these two things are exactly the same.  The processing engine and the controls are identical and the images can be processed in either and get exactly the same results.

What I found fascinating was the level of aggressiveness possible with the controls.  Having used the previous three versions of Lightroom, I have become accustomed to just how much I can use the sliders without the whole thing becoming a total mess.  With Lightroom 4 there is a new processing engine available and the sliders have been changed in their functionality.  I have been getting used to them and experimenting a little with what they do.

What Scott showed us was that you can really be a lot more forceful with the slider use.  Previously, if you used too much of a slider, the image would begin to look really bad.  Now, the sliders are a lot better controlled and you can use far more of the available range without everything becoming scary.  Scott’s methodology through the sequence of sliders also helps out with this.  After his lecture, I went to the laptop and had a go.  It was true.  You really can be a lot more aggressive and the results are really good rather than horrifying!  This was a great learning opportunity and will significantly impact how I approach things in future as well as making me revisit a few previous shots!