24 Sep Making Daunting Tasks A Piece Of Cake – Streamlining Post Processing
Is this post a little late to the game? For those who already use applications like Aperture and Lightroom (more about these later in the post), yes, this post is about the biggest “duh!” article you’ll have read in a couple years. However… for those photographers who have not had their eyes opened to these savior-like applications, the people who make a living making piles and piles of photos yet still rely on single image editing applications, this post is for you. Why do I STILL have a sense that this post is necessary? ‘Cause I hear of people struggling with photo management on a regular basis, and I feel compelled to write it for them. Most likely, this post is going to help that group of photographers who are at the level where they are just starting to get paying gigs, they are flirting with the idea of taking on photography seriously, or maybe they’ve been doing it for a while and can’t figure out how other working photogs are staying afloat with all of the editing, ’cause they are spending an unimaginable number of hours in post production with a steady stream of clients. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s all about getting the job done better, faster, and cheaper. Streamlining your biz is key, and post production is a giant arena which can be tweaked to really get more time back to invest in other areas.
Before I get into the meat of this topic, I want to thank Alice for entertaining my “frustrated photo editor” photo concept for this blog post (pictured above). I can say it’s the first time I’ve spent an hour to make a photo just for a blog post image.
The greatest (and unfortunately worst in some cases, you know what I mean) thing to happen to photography was the transition to digital photo sensors (digital photography). A close second – photo management software. No, I’m not talking about photoshop. Photoshop is an amazing tool, people who spend enough time in it can become digital wizards and make your head spin with endless manipulation techniques. Sorry, this post isn’t about attempting to impress you with how many ways you can take a chainsaw to your images in graphic design software. I’m going to be strictly talking about software for real-world, every day working photographers with a workload which turns-out thousands of edited images a month. If you haven’t heard of Aperture or Lightroom, I’m going to guess your workload isn’t exactly hitting thousands of images every month (cause you would have sought this solution out by now). However, you’re probably starting to take a lot of photos as you work more, the momentum and number of your photos will snowball, and you need a plan of attack on quite a few levels so that you can stay on top of the game.
The role of a photographer changed the second cameras went digital. We are no longer just photographers capturing light, sending rolls of film in for development. We now need to be proficient in a dizzying number of digital-oriented skills in-order to compete in a very over-saturated field. In my opinion, every aspect of a digital photographer’s job is equally important. After all, you are only as strong as your weakest link. The education and experience in light capturing is an obvious, but it doesn’t stop there. This skill (the ability to capture your subject and light well), amazingly the one that SHOULD define you as a “photographer,” no longer… well… is the only thing that defines you as a good photographer. Many will argue that it does, and I would say that it IS 95% of what makes a photographer great, DEFINITELY the separating factor from the sea of others. That other 5%, it’s a small part (the editing process knowhow), but a critical cornerstone of the process which ensures a photographer’s job is completed professionally from end-to-end. Without a long-term plan for that last 5%, well… it’s like owning Ferrari, but not knowing how to put fuel in the thing after the tank goes dry. The car is an engineering marvel, with all the potential to wipe the rest of the competition, but without fuel, it’s not worth a darn to anyone. And when I say “long-term” I mean just that. I’m not talking about a post processing plan that will successfully get you through one or two days, or even a month of photo shoots. I’m talking about years of consistent photo shoots, terabytes of image data you’ll need to import, organize, edit, and archive. It’s SUPER easy for image management to get out of control when the foundation for your post production process is not solid. Say you have a light load, maybe 40 shoots in the year, so you have a pretty good pile of images stored away. What happens when a client from a year ago calls you up looking for a photo? Is that an all-day task or 20 minutes of your time? That’s just one situation of many that can pop up.
Now, without getting into the nitty-gritties of editing styles, I want to talk a little about the only piece of software a successful, full-time photographer will need to get the job done, from import to finished exported photo. Software that will allow a single photographer to shoot thousands of images a month, not spend the rest of their waking life on the computer, stay organized, and keep photos backed-up safely (click here for blog post on solid backup hardware). I’m talking about shooting more, editing less, and improving consistency in your photo product. Sound like a dream? Well, it doesn’t have to be a dream any more. I’m talking about software often referred to as “all-in-one” or “photo management” solutions. The big two are Aperture and Lightroom (I’ll post links below to the software pages so you can get all the details). These pieces of software have a TON of functionality, but I’m going to only spend time on the ones that I feel make this software the best digital friend a photographer could have.
A disclaimer here – I use Apple products, and I use Aperture, so I will refer to these kind of software solutions by the name Aperture for the sake of time at this point forward. It in no way should this be interpreted that Aperture is better than other similar solutions, it’s simply the one I chose to go with.
I’ll admit it, by default I’m not the most organized person in general. I’ll let some dishes stack up in the sink, some clothes flung about the house, and my work desk can get a bit scary at times. I can handle this at times in my personal life, but NOT in my photography business. Organization is key, especially when you start talking about big, scary numbers that go well past the thousands. I can’t try and kid myself, if 500 images get imported off my memory card and are not organized directly on-the-spot, they will never get organized. Enter my digital maid….
Before Aperture, importing photos to your computer meant dragging the images from your memory card to a folder (or set of folders) that you organized yourself on the computer. It was up to you to organize your photos, the folder structure, and naming convention. In other words… a pain in the ass. If you still “organize” this way, I don’t know how you do it if you have any kind of reasonable workload. Respect goes out to you for dedicating the rest of your life to organizing and stressing-out over file management (that would be sarcasm…). Those days are gone, if you didn’t know this already.
Aperture manages all of your photos, much like iTunes manages all of your music. With Aperture, photo management is a breeze. Plug your memory card in, Aperture will automatically ask to import your photos, and if you want them in an existing or new photo project. It can even apply preset image edits at import, saving your even more time. You organize your photos further in Aperture by making organizational units called “projects.” Think of projects like a playlist in iTunes (maybe that you’d make for a specific band you like). I create a new photo project for every shoot that I do with the date and client name. The beauty of managing my projects on this smaller scale becomes apparent after I’m all done editing and exporting a client’s images. What do I do with that photo project now that I’m all done with it? Well, Aperture can export that project in a single file form, and you can export that to an external HD you use for backups. This stuffs all of the photos from a single shoot into one file, one location that I can find, and I’m not sorting through an endless set of files. You can then call on that single project file at any time, open it back up in your Aperture application, or even transfer it to another computer with Aperture, and all your edits are intact, just like you left them. For me, photo projects only live on my main computer for a month or two before they must be exported to my backup drives, for the sake of clearing space on my computer. My average photo shoot hovers around 10 gigs of space, with some larger projects pushing 80 gigs in size. HD space on my computer is filled and cleared at dizzying rates, like the people processed through the DMV. Your photo workload and space might allow you to organize your photos by month or even by year if you only shoot rarely. That’s all up to you, it’s a trial and error path you gotta take to figure out what organization works best for you and your available HD space.
Aside from the easy way to sort, export, and import photo projects, there are a TON of ways to organize and find images that you have loaded into Aperture. You can create smart organizing for your photos by rating, keywords, dates, etc. you can sort and organize your photos as easy as it is to search your iTunes for a song. A TON of power here that I don’t think people fully appreciate. The cleverness of the photo management end of Aperture saves my butt more than I’d like to admit, and makes it a key component in streamlining my biz. The management of my files from import to exporting of the project for archiving is a gigantic time saver, and lets me sleep easy at night.
This post is going to be long enough as it is, so I’m going to try to keep my points short, and I’m acknowledging that I’m doing the photo management portion of this a giant disservice by not ranting for another 5 pages about how awesome it is. It’s something you have to experience and work with for awhile to truly appreciate and understand how great it is and exactly how many ways you can sort your innumerable amount of images. Imagine, if you can, what it was like before iTunes was created for music management. Maybe most of you didn’t give digital music a go before iTunes was created… well, there’s a reason for that (it was a pain in the ass, no surprise). Just like iTunes for music, I couldn’t imagine being a photographer without Aperture, and it’s thanks to this powerful organization.
The editing side of Aperture has a number of advantages over your standard graphic/photo design apps out there. It’s a non-destructive, present applying, batch editing/exporting machine.
First off, it’s a non-destructive editing environment. What does that mean? It means that while you edit a photo in Aperture, you never really “touch” the original file. Aperture makes an alias copy of the image which you make edits to. The edits can be changed or even undone completely at any point in time. I can go back, open a photo project from 3 years ago, and remove any and all edits from a file, the original file is still there, untouched.
The editing controls are simple, easy to understand, and can be manipulated by dragging dials or manual number inputs. It’s natively ready to handle RAW image files, and excels and leveraging RAW file editing flexibility. A pretty robust set of editing tools can be found in Aperture, most tools that any photographer will need with doing general edits.
Another feature I use ALL the time is batch edits. Talk about a huge time saver! Let me explain what I mean by batch edits. Most of my photo shoots are in a very controlled environment, meaning I’m using lighting 90% of the time, so my lighting conditions are pretty static. This means that my photos from shot to shot will be very consistent. So say I start editing a studio photo shoot. I work on the first image – getting the white balance, exposure, contrast levels, etc all where I like them, ending with a finished image I’m happy with. I then can tell Aperture to lift the edits from that image and apply them to a group of images. So if I just shot 200 photos in the studio, I only had to edit one and apply those edits to the rest! I do go through the rest and spot-check for small variations, but the brunt of my work is already done. Are the people who are reading this who are only familiar with editing in software like Photoshop feeling their jaws drop at this moment? If you are an event or purely natural light photographer, this feature may not be as powerful for you, as your lighting conditions don’t really fall under the “consistent” category, but definitely still useful.
Aperture does have a lot of editing capabilities built-in, however, for those people seeking additional functionality there are third-party plugins available to add additional editing functionality. I have a couple of these.
After getting familiar with the rating, sorting, and editing sides of Aperture, you can import, edit, and export a photo shoot of 200 images in an hour if you have a few editing miles under your belt. That’s right, I just said editing a 200 image shoot in an hour. That’s sorting out the duds, picking your favs, editing them, and exporting.
This section shouldn’t be a shocker since the exporting functionality leverages the same kind of power you’ve read about in the earlier sections above. Back in the day, you had to painfully open, edit, and export images individually. How long would that take with 200 photos? I don’t even want to think about it. In Aperture (after you are done editing your group of images, which you probably batch edited), you can select all of the images you desire to export and then enter the export menu. Here you’ll see a bunch of default exporting file formats and size which you can pick from, or you can make your own. Select desired export present and hit ok. That’s it, 200 images ready to deliver to the client. This kind of efficiency not only allows you to work faster, but since it doesn’t take you as long to do your editing and exporting, you can now deliver more edited photos to your clients without it taking much more time.
Daunting Turned Piece-o-cake
None of the things I mention above, as far as getting the job done with single image editing, is not impressive or new to the world of photography. BUT, the ability to do all of these fairly basic processes and applying them to 200 images is. Photo management and batch processing is like hiring a couple people to work for you. This software alone is the way a photographer can work full-time, spending more time shooting clients and less time editing. More time shooting means more time making photos and billing clients, and again, less time hating your life editing all the time.
Applications like Aperture and Lightroom are legit, as in, don’t think that they can’t hold their own in the editing world. They are full-fledged photo editing applications. If you are out to create some fantasy land, where you want to photoshop your model onto a flying dragon… well, then you need something like photoshop. I’m not planning on air brushing any dragons into my photos anytime soon, so I’m happy with my one application solution for my business at this point in time. Again, this is a photographer software solution, not a graphic designer app.
Wrapping up a two-hour photo shoot doesn’t have to mean you should be getting that feeling in your gut when you realize that you will have to spend a full day editing in some clumsy application designed to handle one image at a time. Life isn’t that hard, not any more.
Disclaimer and Details
Now, I only just scratched the surface of what these amazing applications can do. I literally just touched on what I feel are the practical functions working photographers need in a software solution. I’m sure you are just as tired of reading this post as I am writing it, so I’m going to leave it at that. Please visit the site below which will fill you in on all the other countless features they have to offer.
Aperture – works only on Macs, you can download a free 30-day trial of the software.
Lightroom – works on both Macs and PCs, you can download a 30-day trial.