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Monday, September 1, 2014

Wedding Photography Tips: Part 5, Workflow of a Wedding Photographer

This is the fifth and final part of my Wedding Photography series. Today, we will be dealing with a very important aspect of wedding photography, namely workflow. Of course, issues related to workflow and organizing one's photos are applicable to all kinds of photos, but wedding photography is a bit special. The reason? You usually have to deal with a large number of images, and a short time to deliver the results. A good workflow allows you to minimize the time you have to spend, maximizing your productivity. But what makes a workflow "good"? Or, first of all, what do we mean by... "workflow"?

In photography, the term "workflow" refers to the period between capturing the images until delivering them to your clients (or, to put it more generally, until the complete set of images is ready to be displayed online, emailed, sent to a printing lab, etc.). A workflow is good and efficient when, as I mentioned above, you maximize your productivity (that is, you produce the best possible results), spending the least amount of time needed.





Before I share my own workflow steps, a word of warning: there is more than one way, and there is more than one good way. I am sharing my workflow not for you to follow blindly, but as an educating tool. Read it, work with it, adapt it to your own style and needs.

Step 1 - Immediate Deleting
Once you take a photo or photos and you have a few moments to spare, check the LCD of your camera and delete obvious fails. Use this with caution, however, so that you don't accidentally delete something that can be actually saved. The more experienced you become the better you will learn how to do it properly, but here are some tips:

  • delete photos with technical issues present in an extreme degree: focus errors, underexposure or overexposure, etc. 
  • if you have more than one photo of the same series and they are all very similar to one another (e.g. 5 portraits of the same person in the same stance), delete any with problems such as closed eyes, half-open mouths, and things like that
The idea is to have in your camera only images worthy of your attention afterwards. Don't keep anything in your memory card that will obviously be thrown away later.

Step 2 - Secondary Deleting (still in-camera)
On your way back home, or at the hotel, the airplane, or whenever you have a quiet half an hour, go through the whole set of images in your memory card before you transfer them to your computer. Check again (using the zoom feature and the histogram if needed) for any obvious problems. Delete any such images, especially if you have others of the same series that are fine.

What's the point of wasting time on similar-looking images? Keep the best and move on

Step 3 - Post-Transfer Deleting

After the remaining images are transferred to the computer, and if you have followed the steps above, you should be having images that are either technically acceptable, or can be rectified easily on Photoshop (or other similar program). Before you start working on any images, open the preview jpeg (shooting NEF+JPEG can be very handy for this) and delete any duplicates. That is, if you have more than one image that is very similar to other ones, there is no reason whatsoever to work on them both. You don't have to delete the .NEF if you want to keep it, but place it on some "Archives" folder so that it's out of your way. Out of sight, out of mind. Just like in the example of step 1, if you have 5 portraits of the same person in the same stance, it's pointless to spend time post-processing all of them. Pick one, whichever you judge to be the most successful.

And remember: especially with wedding photography, people's expressions and composition in general is far more important than anything else. If you have a photo with the bride having half-open mouth and eyes like she's had one glass too many, it's a fail no matter how sharp or contrasty it is.

Step 4 - Post-processing
OK, now you are ready to post-process your images. That means, you have decided on a set of images that are technically acceptable (or can be easily fixed), that contain no duplicates, and that are solid in terms of composition/expressions. Post-process your images according to my advice, and save them according to your needs. Ideally, you should store somewhere a full-size, full-quality jpeg image no matter what the planned application. If you need to downsize for emailing, simply batch process from those full-size images.

Workflow of Post-processing:
I didn't initially plan to include this, because it depends a lot on which program you use. But, I guess I could share my own procedure in case someone finds it of benefit.

  • After I have selected the images I will work on, I open the .NEF file with View NX. For better or for worse, Nikon's own .NEF converters are the most flexible and yield the best image, so I use them.
  • I make any basic adjustments such as white balance or exposure, then save as TIFF. A full-quality JPEG is almost the same thing, really, especially for non-critical (i.e. non-professional) use
  • I open the files on Photoshop and work on them there.
  • I save as full-quality, full-size JPEG. Sometimes, for some particular cases, I might save as TIFF or PNG, depending.


Following Steps
After you have post-processed your images, most of the job is finished. Your course of action from this point on depends a lot on what you aim to do next. You might have a program that tags your images - it would be a good time to do that now. Or you might want to upload them on Facebook (parenthesis for shameless self-promotion: Amateur Nikon has its own Facebook Page, have you liked it yet?) or email them. Just remember to work from the full-size and full-quality images for any application.

Do you want a quick example of how much a workflow like this can help you? I calculated (based on the file numbering) that I took almost 400 photos during my most recent wedding assignment. I transferred a bit over 200 of them to the computer (that's about half! HALF of the photos were already deleted in-camera!). After deleting some more on the computer, I had about 150 images to work with. Since I work with a partner, I ended up deleting (or, rather, not having to work on them) another 50 or so, because we agreed that she had better versions of the same scene. So, I began with 400 images. I ended up working on 100. Draw your own conclusions regarding a) how much time this saves you; b) how the photos you end up with truly are the best possible!







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